In its meeting next week, the FCC will unveil its new Homeland Security Bureau, elevating concerns about how emergency responders communicate. The legacy of emergency responders in term of information management is a most unfortunate tale that most policy observers are all too familiar with. In short, the legacy is one of dedicating spectrum that is used only be a single agency (say, the local fire department) with specially made (and very expensive) equipment that is generally quite antiquated. The result is, quite literally, a recipe for disaster.
There is a better way. The FCC's new Homeland Security Bureau would do well to begin viewing first responders as part of a “safety enterprise” that should use an enterprise architecture. Like most enterprises, this architecture should take advantage of the power of the Internet protocol and economies of scale from using commercial, off the shelf equipment. Significantly, local agencies need not and should not abandon their old equipment, but should develop an architecture that views legacy radios as only one part of an information management network. This network can connect all sorts of entities that may be relevant to emergency response (say, electric utilities), but only authorize access on a need-to-use basis (rights management, if you will).
It remains to be seen what the FCC's agenda is for the new bureau, but one along the lines noted above is spelled out in a recent report of the Aspen Institute based on a recent conference (another one of Charlie Firestone's) and authored by yours truly. Copies are available here.