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(The author, Roberta Stempfley, is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Strategy and Emergency Communications, National Protection and Programs Directorate.)
Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the first updated National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) since the original in 2008. The NECP is the Nation’s over-arching strategic plan for enhancing emergency communications capabilities and interoperability nationwide. The updated NECP addresses the increasingly complex communications landscape that the public safety community uses to keep America safe and secure. The plan provides a roadmap for improving emergency communications for traditional emergency responder disciplines such as law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services, while recognizing the importance of engaging non-traditional disciplines including public health, public works and transportation agencies.
The 2014 NECP focuses on three priorities over the next several years: (1) Maintain and improve emergency responders’ current Land Mobile Radio systems; (2) Ensure emergency responders and government officials plan and prepare for the adoption, migration, and use of broadband technologies, including the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network; and (3) Enhance coordination among stakeholders, specifically within processes and planning activities across the emergency response community.
As we have seen from the response to various emergencies and incidents maintaining interoperable emergency communications is critical to saving lives. In the case of the Boston Marathon bombings, emergency response efforts, which spanned federal, state, local, public works and private industries, relied upon communications via traditional public safety radios, as well as social media, emergency alert systems, and commercial wireline and wireless networks. The 2014 NECP recognizes that many of today’s technologies did not exist in 2008. This plan incorporates traditional and non-traditional communications methods including methods that allow first responders and public safety officials to better share information and enhance situational awareness.
The updated NECP was developed in coordination with over 350 federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, as well as private sector stakeholders. While the technologies have changed and will continue to evolve, one thing remains the same – the public safety community requires the ability to communicate in any situation. The Department remains committed to working with our stakeholders as we implement the new plan and forge a path ahead for the next generation of emergency communications.