Major events in any community are a massive planning effort—like the Presidential Inauguration, for instance. For public safety, they mean planning to stay connected over open airways, which is achieved over public safety spectrum bandwidth (often referred to as the 700 and 800 MHz public safety band).
Having enough bandwidth is key to effectively coordinating staffing and communications resources. However, it comes with its challenges—and that’s what a grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is working to address with partners at the National Regional Planning Council (NRPC) and the Association of Public Safety Communication Officials International (APCO).
The grant is helping regional planning communities (RPC) secure Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licensing capabilities and public safety spectrum bandwidth, allowing agencies to better respond to major incidents or plan large public events.
So why does staying connected matter and how is S&T’s grant specifically helping?
Strengthening our nation's public safety infrastructure and building out a coordinated communications network that integrates federal, state and local resources is essential for the nation's, and our citizens’, security. In simple terms, it means fire, police and emergency responders can be there to help when and where they are needed most.
That is more easily said than done as there are currently wide disparities among public safety networks used by each level of government; allocations are scattered across several bands, and technology appears to defer to the lowest common denominator. There is also a lack of integration between and among the various networks that public safety and emergency response entities rely upon, not to mention that bandwidth—like so many things—is a finite resource.
That’s why S&T’s grant is funding improvements to the Computer Assisted Pre-Coordination Resource and Database System (CAPRAD), the platform for regional planners to pre-coordinate 700 and 800 MHz spectrum and distribute regional public safety radio channels.
“We’re excited to do our part to help public safety agencies obtain the licenses they need and have the resources and bandwidth available to secure major events like the inauguration,” said Sridhar Kowdley, S&T program manager for the P25 Compliance Assessment Program. “This partnership with APCO and NRPC is critical to ensuring fair and equitable allocation and usage of public safety spectrum.”
Beyond addressing limited bandwidth while maintaining efficiency in an interoperable multi-regional and wide-area solution, CAPRAD also utilizes a licensing module that allows applicants to file their FCC 601 applications online and submit a license application to regional planning committees. Such licensing helps coordinate the use of bandwidth among various public safety entities, and this feature played out favorably when used for the recent Presidential Inauguration.
“Recently, the state of Maryland used the system to apply for an FCC license that can be used throughout Region 20 for a new deployable radio system for the District of Columbia,” said APCO Director Farokh Latif. “The FCC granted the license and the District tested and evaluated the deployable system for its use in the Presidential Inauguration event in 2021. The testing was successful, and the system was deployed during the Inauguration. By utilizing the deployable CAPRAD trunking system, it removes extraordinary incident or special event radio traffic from local communications systems and maintains capacity and resource availability for first responders engaged in jurisdictional operations.”
Other advancements that users of the CAPRAD system can look forward to are upgrades that allow for modification of existing licenses; and, in addition to supporting new FCC applications, they also account for better mapping functionality, improved planning document retention, and optimized spectrum management tools utilization. This solution allows improved web-based licensing services to be connected to the CAPRAD database while retaining the planning portion of CAPRAD currently utilized by RPCs. In addition, the recent CAPRAD upgrade adds search capabilities where RPCs can easily inspect co- and adjacent channel licensees based on up-to-date FCC license data. Together with APCO and NRPC, S&T worked with the CAPRAD developer to enhance these capabilities in a cost-effective manner, leveraging existing solutions in the marketplace to ensure that RPCs have the resources they need without taking a hit to their budgets.
All these advancements are of great benefit, but the last piece to the grant support is critical. And that piece is training. Due to the volunteer nature of the RPCs, it is critical to have a program in place that not only upgrades this critical system but also regularly addresses much-needed RPC training and refresher courses for volunteers with varying degrees of experience. As new people begin to participate in the 700 or 800 MHz RPC in their region, training needs to be available for users outlining RPC responsibilities, the RPC process and current issues impacting RPC’s and the RPC process. APCO and NRPC continue to develop an online training program that offers new RPC participants exposure to recommended best practices and policies as they work to support public safety applicants in their area.
S&T’s work with APCO and NRPC is an ongoing effort that has helped enhance public safety communication capabilities; through this partnership, S&T will continue to support CAPRAD improvements to improve spectrum licensing efforts and training for public safety.
“The ability to enhance communications and ensure that regional public safety agencies have the spectrum they need is essential,” said Kowdley. “S&T has been leading the CAPRAD effort for seven years and continues to upgrade software and provide training for public safety users nationwide.”