Panel Urges Adaptable Next-Gen Public Safety Communications Network

The Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology, which makes policy recommendations to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, also said leadership is needed by a non-profit organization devoted to this goal.

Recommendations for crafting a next-generation public safety communications network are included in a Jan. 31 report from the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology. VCAT, which reviews and makes policy recommendations to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, wrote the report after holding meetings and seeking input from the communications industry and public safety. While they won't find the recommendations surprising, the report may help in solidifying the case for a national, flexible network that can adapt to new requirements and incorporate new technologies, according to committee members.

"Public safety service is among the most important functions that government provides," said Vint Cerf, chair of the committee and vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. "In the 21st century, we have an opportunity to re-invent public safety communications, taking advantage of smart devices that use digital and packet-based communication technologies. This report is aimed at improving communication options available to first responders."

The committee recommends putting a non-governmental non-profit organization in charge of development of standards to support the network's creation, with the report describing NIST's Smart Grid Interoperability Panel as a model. The report says the panel "has been an effective mechanism for serious work on the elaboration of standards and requirements and identification of useful specifications for Smart Grid devices."

The report recommends that the network's architecture:

  • incorporate commercial technology where appropriate
  • extend commercial technology to achieve robustness
  • provide for backward compatibility or interoperability through standards adoption and/or development where feasible, including interoperation with existing and new 911 systems
  • give high priority to cost-effectiveness, ease of use, and affordability
  • take advantage of Internet and other packet-based technologies to support multi-media communication and mobile ad hoc network formation
  • incorporate assigned public safety spectrum and other data communication spectrum assignments and include opportunity for sharing where feasible
  • incorporate strong, federated authentication and other security technology to positively identify and authorize personnel and equipment permitted in the system
  • incorporate advanced position location capabilities, including indoor and underground location
  • make extensive use of open national or international standards and, where appropriate, open source software

The network should be able to adapt to new technologies as they are developed, it states.

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