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NPSTC Home NPSTC Newsletter Volume 9 Issue 1, March 2009

Chairman's Column
By Ralph Haller

Chairman's Column As we move into the New Year, NPSTC, like other government entities, is looking at ways to work efficiently using \ technologies…

Bridging Systems Interface: A Voice over Internet Protocol Specification for Public Safety
By Anna Paulson

Advances in telecommunications technology and the ever-increasing need for system interoperability have pushed the capabilities of traditional public safety communications networks…

Two-Way Paging, Cost-Effective and Valuable Resource for Public Safety
By Doug Aiken

TwoWayPaging In 2007, Jim Weichman, Systems Manager, City of Richmond, approached the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) seeking their assistance on a two-way paging initiative he had developed for emergency group alerting in Richmond, Virginia…

Spotlight on Organizations: How the Missions of OEC and OIC Support Homeland Security and Public Safety Communications

OEC and OIC Support Ensuring interoperable, secure, and resilient communications is one of the high priority missions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)…

What Is Frequency Coordination and Why Is It Required?
By Doug Aiken

FrequencyCoordination All applications to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a new license and most modifications to an existing license require Frequency Coordination…

Welcome to the Technology Education Web Page

The NPSTC Technology Committee is pleased to announce a new service on the NPSTC website… maximizing communications capabilities and making users aware of the latest technological development, deployment, standardization, and regulation…

OEC Sponsors National Conference on Emergency Communications

DHS's Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) is hosting an invited colleague conference to promote coordination… for communications during natural and man-made incidents and disasters…

Regulatory Update
By Bette Rinehart

regulatory Two Groups Aim to Change Traveler's Information Stations Regulations. The FCC is asking for comment on two Petitions for Rulemaking to modify the Traveler's Information Stations (TIS) regulation

Chairman's Column
By Ralph Haller

Chairman's Report As we move into the New Year, NPSTC, like other government entities, is looking at ways to work efficiently using technologies. We held our Governing Board meeting in February via conference call with the Governing Board, Committee Chairs, and invited guests. From the feedback received by Governing Board members and Participants, the meeting was productive and the call-in format worked very well.

On March 20, at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) conference in Las Vegas, those who are attending the conference are welcome to join us for a 4-hour informal “meet and greet” Governing Board session from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., in Room N219. IWCE has graciously provided us a meeting room and we will also have a conference call-in phone for those who may want to listen to what we are doing. This is an opportunity for interested persons to meet and greet NPSTC's Governing Board and learn about NPSTC, and will also be a brainstorming session for those assembled. All are invited to come and tell our leaders what they should be concentrating on to improve public safety communications. In addition, there will be NIIX training offered in Room N219 from 11:00 a.m. until noon. In June, we will be doing our traditional meeting format in Washington, D.C. and will discuss the effectiveness of this new combination teleconference and open meetings.

In November, the Governing Board named an executive task force to review NPSTC's structure and process to make sure we are ready to tackle 2009 with the support we have available. Times are hard now and more local public safety people cannot travel. We want to have the most participation possible within current economic conditions. We all have to look at how we operate making sure that we use limited resources effectively. The NPSTC Governing Board members are prudent in their decision to look at our systems and processes and make sure we are on track for a successful future. The executive task force will be providing progress reports at the next two meetings with some recommendations at the June meeting. We have begun the outreach process by having the IWCE meeting and we will look for other public safety gatherings for future informal sessions.

We appreciate the work being done by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials – International (APCO) standard development committee, which is working to make the NPSTC Common Channel Naming Report an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard. We are hoping that it will be out for comment by April with an end-of-year final approval. Special thanks to Carlton Wells (State of Florida Communications), Steve Devine (Missouri State Highway Patrol), Don Root (California Office of Emergency Services/San Diego Sheriff's Department), and John Powell (formally University of California Berkeley Police Department and currently Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program support) for their work at the National Coordination Committee (NCC) many years ago that started the development of this common radio nomenclature. All of them came back to the NPSTC process and helped to develop the final product. We appreciate your efforts.

Please check our website for updated information on our member organization's activities. It is loaded with great information, including a brand new technology education page to help you get through some of the pitfalls of understanding communications technology in language we can all understand. If you have any suggestion for improvements, please email them to

Bridging Systems Interface: A Voice over Internet Protocol Specification for Public Safety
By Anna Paulson

Bridging Systems Interface Advances in telecommunications technology and the ever-increasing need for system interoperability have pushed the capabilities of traditional public safety communications networks. Traditionally, emergency-responder communications systems were comprised mainly of analog, two-way radios – known as land mobile radios (LMR) – that operated in the VHF or UHF regions of the radio spectrum. Today's public safety networks may need to integrate cellular phones and Internet Protocol (IP)-based voice and data systems with traditional LMR and dispatch systems from an increasing number of manufacturers. Safety agencies often rely on bridging solutions to communicate with other agencies and to link disparate communications technologies with conventional equipment.

Bridging solutions translate outgoing traffic from an endpoint device on one type of system (e.g., a handheld VHF radio) then pass the translated traffic to its intended recipient (e.g., a manager's IP telephone or to a radio connected to another system). The endpoints are either directly connected to the bridging solution or to a remote bridging device via another network. The connection between two bridging systems is more commonly known as a Bridging System Interface (BSI). Conventional bridging devices typically use an analog voice signal as the basis for interchange between LMR systems. The BSI addresses the connection between bridging devices and extends the range and capabilities of networks. Agencies are increasingly using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) -based connections to transmit voice communications between bridging devices.

Although VoIP itself is standards based, there are many ways to implement VoIP between bridging devices; as a result, each implementation is essentially proprietary. Bridges and gateways that are based on digital VoIP technology must either connect to bridging systems from the same manufacturer or drop to a “lowest common denominator” connection. These types of connections negatively affect communications because they introduce latency problems and drop support of common features such as caller ID and encryption. Currently, there is no way to guarantee that one manufacturer's VoIP-based equipment will successfully interface with another's. To address this problem, the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES) within the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) led the creation of the Public Safety VoIP Working Group in 2006.

The Public Safety VoIP Working Group is a coalition of public safety officials and VoIP vendors brought together to create VoIP specifications, or implementation profiles, that will solve the interoperability problem using today's VoIP technologies. The group developed a BSI Core Profile, which would support group voice communications across multiple bridging solutions, support static or dynamic configuration and activation, meet temporal (access-time or latency) quality standards, and mitigate audio quality degradation issues due to improper codec selection or tandeming. Since its finalization in September 2008, over a dozen manufacturers have implemented the BSI Core Profile into their bridging devices. The Working Group is currently developing a BSI Enhanced Profile, which would extended the capabilities of bridging systems by allowing for transmission of priority information, permitting resource arbitration, implementing a control plane, and improving user-awareness of connected channels.

Development of the Public Safety VoIP Working Group BSI Core and Enhanced Profiles has increased the safety of the public and emergency response community by extending the effectiveness and capabilities of their communications networks. Experience gained during the BSI Profiles development process will promote the rapid adoption of a compliance assessment program, test procedures for which are already under development. Compliance assessment is the guarantee to agencies that bridging devices operate as expected and advertised. BSI Profile-compliant products reduce the cost of system design and installation. Reduced upfront costs will increase an agency's buying power when deciding how to most effectively use the limited budgeted and grant dollars available for equipment purchases.

DHS, OIC, and NIST/OLES will partner with manufacturers to demonstrate the use of BSI as an interoperability specification between bridges at IWCE 2009. The demonstrations will be held in room N206 at the Las Vegas Convention Center and are currently scheduled for 1:00 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday March 18; and at 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Thursday March 19. Currently, there are eight bridge manufacturers scheduled to participate in this demonstration.

Anna Paulson is an engineer with the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences in Boulder, Colorado. She is currently working developing test tools for the BSI that will help determine if an implementation is compliant to the specification.

Bridging Systems Interface

A Sample Bridge Interconnection Scenario Using the BSI

Two-Way Paging, Cost-Effective and Valuable Resource for Public Safety
By Doug Aiken

Editors Note: This article first appeared in the January/February 2009 IMSA Journal, Volume XLVII, Number 1.
Two-Way Paging In 2007, Jim Weichman, Systems Manager, City of Richmond, approached the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) seeking their assistance on a two-way paging initiative he had developed for emergency group alerting in Richmond, Virginia. NPSTC is a federation of organizations whose mission is to improve public safety communications and interoperability through collaborative leadership. IMSA is an original member of NPSTC. NPSTC's volunteer member organizations are recognized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as leaders and policymakers for the broader nationwide public safety communications community.

Weichman was frustrated that Part 24 spectrum in the 900 MHz band, the intended band for two-way paging applications, was unavailable to public safety. “The irony of paging,” says Weichman, “is that public safety is the leading user of paging technology yet has not had access to the main paging band.“ Two-way paging systems provide a core means to communicate immediately between large numbers of first responders and dispatch. With message acknowledgement and other standard features, two-way paging provides dispatch the ability to know when recipient pagers receive a message, when users read the message, and the reply and status of the users. Weichman adds, “Paging devices are one of the most affordable means of communications for public safety. This capability is very important to the fire service, where many firefighters are volunteers and must be dispatched from wide geographic areas to an incident in a cost-effective manner.”

Why Two-Way Paging?

Weichman presented the benefits of two-way paging for public safety at NPSTC's Quarterly Governing Board meeting in September 2007. He cited the recommendations of the FCC's Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communications Networks, which stated in part:

“…[P]agers benefited from having a long battery life and thus remained operating longer during the power outages. Two-way paging operations remained generally operational during the storm and did provide communications capabilities for some police, fire, and emergency medical personnel, but could have been more widely utilized. … Finally, although it is unclear whether this function was utilized, group pages can be sent out during times of emergencies to alert thousands of pager units all at the same time.”

Further evidence of the efficacy of two-way paging for public safety in emergencies, came from the Arlington County After-Action Report on the response to the September 11th terrorist attack on the Pentagon, which noted:

“The paging system, when available and used, seemed to be the most reliable notification device. However, most firefighters do not have pagers. The paging message to members of the NMRT directed personnel not to “callback,” but to report directly to the Arlington County Fire Training Academy. Other page and voicemail messages directed a confirmation callback, adding to an already overburdened telephone system.”

Two-Way Paging Enhances Interoperability

The only two-way paging protocol implemented in the 900 MHz band is ReFLEX, the benefits of which include simulcast digital paging; feedback as responders receive, read, and reply to messages; and the ability to send/receive pages and email. Two-way paging enhances interoperability. For example, says Weichman, if the device shares interoperability with another ReFLEX terminal, when the device leaves one coverage area and reappears in the coverage area of the roaming partner over the Internet, the device will continue to receive messages as if it was in its home network and the user needs to do nothing to accomplish this. “Users can roam between networks by scanning control channels, which provides for a level of interoperability not offered by other technologies yet,” says Weichman.

This is a relatively inexpensive device and infrastructure with secondary applications. “The only roadblock and the reason it has not been widely implemented in public safety is the lack of spectrum for commercial-off-the-shelf devices that operate at 900 MHz, in an environment where the entire 900 MHz narrowband Personal Communication Service (NPCS) allocation has already been auctioned,” Weichman says.

Approaching the FCC

Prior to petitioning the FCC, NPSTC researched public safety's potential access to commercial paging, conducted a review of the defaulting paging licensees to demonstrate how spectrum is available, and compiled a chart of defaulted paging licenses. The proposed letter recommended that the FCC do three things: Audit the band and determine whether licensees have met their obligations; identify abandoned narrowband PCS spectrum; and allow public safety direct access to the band.

NPSTC's letter to the FCC stated that “private two-way digital paging has emerged as an important technology in strengthening emergency preparedness. The Commission's extensive work examining Hurricane Katrina and other catastrophic events indicate that effort should be directed to expanding two-way paging opportunities for public safety.”

Specifically NPSTC asked the FCC to examine the availability of channels in the 901-902/930-931/940-941 MHz band where the Commission has granted geographic licenses in the narrowband PCS auctions and determine whether capacity can be made available to public safety agencies. NPSTC's letter stated, “This information will afford the Commission, public safety agencies, and current licensees opportunity to broaden use of this spectrum by assisting emergency response.”

Commercial Two Way Paging Is Not a Viable Alternative

Weichman says an inhibiting factor in moving forward is the perception that there is no need for two-way paging technology because there is no commercial market for it. Public safety requirements are clearly different from commercial user requirements, and, in public safety, it has become a new and useful technology. Although several commercial paging carriers offer two-way paging service in the 900 MHz band, the extent of coverage is not clear. But, more fundamentally, these services do not meet the mission-critical communications requirements of public safety. The standards of performance, redundancy, and diversity of networks in the public safety service and those of commercial operations, including paging, remain substantially different.

NPSTC's letter to the FCC noted that, “The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has published a standard addressing the installation, performance, operation, and maintenance of public emergency services communications systems and facilities. The Standard for the Installation, Maintenance and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems states: The paging system shall be under the direct control of the authority having jurisdiction where used as a method of emergency dispatch.”

The emergency nature of public safety operations demands that messages be delivered immediately, in seconds. While achievable with dedicated, private systems, commercial two-way paging service has a built-in delay of at least a minute before messages can be delivered. Additionally, commercial networks do not currently offer an acknowledgement feature for group messaging that is available in private systems. To receive message acknowledgement, group members must be signaled sequentially, one at a time, an unrealistic circumstance for even medium level public safety deployments. Commercial two-way paging systems also have significant coverage gaps in rural and remote areas.

An FCC Examination and Proceeding Would Benefit All Interests

NPSTC's letter stated that, “Two-way paging equipment currently operates only in the 901-902/930-931/940-941 MHz band. The band provides exclusive licensing and has mature standards mitigating interference between licensees. As noted, the segment is assigned licenses on a geographic basis through the Commission's auction procedures. Market conditions surrounding the segment and those circumstances where public safety agencies have gained access to the band through a waiver indicate sound basis for further inquiry.

NPSTC concluded, “that a detailed analysis of the channels actually used in the 901-902/930-931/940-941 MHz band would afford all interests, public safety, licensees, manufacturers and others, opportunity to evaluate alternatives that would provide access to public safety. NPSTC urges that the Commission's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and its Wireless Telecommunications Bureau commence an internal review of the status of these frequencies and invite public participation to determine how best the 900 MHz band can assist public safety.”

Current Status of Wireless Alerting Working Group Efforts

Weichman became part of the solution when he volunteered to chair NPSTC's Wireless Alerting Working Group, which will work to develop educational materials on the alerting and notification issues; assess spectrum bands of interest; meet with the FCC to discuss potential spectrum availability; and seek support for recommended solutions.

In July 2008, Weichman, NPSTC's Regulatory Advisor, and other NPSTC representatives met with the FCC to discuss this underused spectrum and the benefits for public safety, encouraging the FCC to audit the band for utilization by the commercial carriers. It was a positive meeting, Weichman says. The Working Group has developed a draft band plan asking for eight nationwide control channels. With additional spectrum for capacity, public safety could build out those channels and develop interoperability policies across the nation. The spectrum could be managed by the Regional Planning Committees or through individual licensing. USA Mobility, one of the two nationwide paging providers, does not agree with NPSTC's position and has submitted letters to the FCC stating that public safety should use commercial alerting rather than build out private systems.

An Open Invitation to IMSA Members

Your voice can become part of the collaborative work of NPSTC's member organizations to improve public safety telecommunications. Although only the representatives of NPSTC's 15 Member Organizations make up the Governing Board and are entitled to vote, NPSTC participants make a valuable contribution to the field nationally and locally, and to their organizations. NPSTC actively seeks out the participation, expertise, and feedback of public safety and other individuals to be included among the many voices discussing and debating communications technology, interoperability, spectrum, planning, policy, and legislative issues. NPSTC participants can share their points of view in numerous ways. If your schedule or cost constraints preclude you from attending our quarterly meetings, you may participate in the meeting via an open toll-free teleconference line, or throughout the year on our active listservs and teleconferences.

NPSTC's ongoing dialogue on national public safety telecommunication issues affects policies and technologies that affect local organizations every day. For more information, please visit or call 866.807.4755.

Chief Doug Aiken, Chief of the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid in New Hampshire, is NPSTC's Vice Chair and a member of the International Municipal Signal Association.

Spotlight on Organizations: How the Missions of OEC and OIC Support Homeland Security and Public Safety Communications

Spotlight Ensuring interoperable, secure, and resilient communications is one of the high priority missions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Among some of the main components that make up DHS such as the U.S. Secret Service, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are the Directorate for Science and Technology (S&T), and the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD).

S&T, the primary research and development arm of DHS, is the home of the Command, Control, and Interoperability Division, which develops interoperable communication standards and protocols for emergency responders, cyber security tools for protecting the integrity of the Internet, and automated capabilities to recognize and analyze potential threats. This is the division that houses the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC).

NPPD, charged with the mission to reduce risk through an integrated approach that encompasses both physical and virtual threats houses the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications (CS&C) with the mission of assuring the security, resiliency, and reliability of the nation's cyber and communications infrastructure, and is the home of the Office for Emergency Communications (OEC).

The SAFECOM program is a communications program that provides research, development, testing and evaluation, guidance, tools, and templates on communications-related issues to local, tribal, state, and federal emergency response agencies working to improve emergency response through more effective and efficient interoperable wireless communications. OEC supports SAFECOM's development of guidance, tools, and templates while OIC supports SAFECOM-related research, development, testing, evaluation, and standards.

Department of Homeland Security
Directorate for Science and Technology (S&T) National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD)
Command, Control, and Interoperability Division Office of Cybersecurity and Communications
Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) Office for Emergency Communications (OEC)

Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC)

OIC's mission is to develop tools that include standards, reports, and guidelines, and promising technologies to enhance overall planning and coordination at all levels of government. OIC supports promising technology through research, testing, and evaluation programs.

Multi Band Radio: OIC is in the process of developing and testing a prototype multi-band, multi-mode portable radio capable of providing uninterrupted communications between local, tribal, state, and federal emergency response agencies operating in the various public safety radio bands.

Radio Over Wireless Broadband (ROW-B): Because the LMR and broadband systems serve specific and different needs, they were not designed to communicate with each other. The lack of interoperability between these two systems may compromise emergency response operations when emergency responders using a broadband system are unable to communicate with emergency responders employing an LMR system. Through the ROW-B project, OIC is working to connect existing LMR systems with advanced wireless broadband technologies, such as laptops and smart phones.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP): Computer networks are increasingly being used to transmit voice communications among radio systems using VoIP. The Bridging Systems Interface (BSI) is the first interface that OIC and its project partners have developed and tested. When implemented into bridging equipment, the BSI provides a common, efficient connection point between disparate VoIP-based radio systems. OIC is working with emergency responders and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to define a common connection for bridging devices that use VoIP.

Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS): OIC is currently working on an early warning system that will have the capability to provide the public with national emergency alerts via certain mobile devices. Congress established CMAS through the Warning, Alert, and Response, Network (WARN) Act. Designed to ensure that a warning is received in advance of disasters, CMAS will serve as one piece of a comprehensive, national alert and warning system and will support innovative technologies that effectively transmit geographically-targeted emergency alerts to the public via their mobile devices.

To accommodate the emergency response community's growing reliance on data communications equipment in recent years, OIC has increasingly focused its efforts on developing data messaging standards.

The National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) develops and disseminates standards and processes that improve information sharing among many government and public entities. OIC's Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) and Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL) Distribution Element (DE) standards were recently added to NIEM's format for standards and processes. NIEM's inclusion of the CAP and DE standards will effectively reduce the time and resources required for emergency responders to exchange information.

Hospital Availability Exchange Language (HAVE) and Resource Messaging (RM) Standards - In late 2008, OIC debuted two new EDXL standards, HAVE and RM. The HAVE standard allows emergency responders to exchange information regarding the status of hospital resources – including bed availability, available services, capacity, and other key operational elements of the hospital. OASIS, an international standards organization, introduced HAVE and RM into its suite of standards in November 2008. These are now standards that may be used and implemented worldwide, creating a unified and uniform approach to emergency response communications.

Project 25 (P25) Standards: At the request of Congress, OIC is worked with NIST, the Department of Justice, and the P25 Steering Committee to develop and implement a Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) that validates that P25 standardized systems are indeed P25-compliant and that equipment from different manufacturers can interoperate.

Project 25 Inter-RF Subsystem Interface (ISSI) Test Tool (ITT) - The P25 ISSI ITT recently won the Department of Commerce's Gold Medal Award for Scientific/Engineering Achievement. The ITT team received recognition for exceptional ingenuity in identifying, developing, and promoting a technical solution that enables industry members to implement new interoperable communication standards. The ITT, an open-source software tool, will accelerate the development of P25 standards and is essential in the testing of emergency response and public safety radio interfaces.

Office of Emergency Communications (OEC)

Spotlight In response to the communications challenges during and after Hurricane Katrina, Congress established OEC in April 2007.

In July 2008, DHS released the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP), the nation's key strategic plan targeted at improving emergency response communications. The NECP identifies the capabilities and initiatives needed for communications operability, interoperability, and continuity of communications for emergency responders nationwide. The NECP drives measurable improvements by setting strategic goals and identifying national objectives to enhance governance, planning, technology, training and exercises, and disaster communications capabilities. It provides recommendations and milestones to guide emergency responders and government officials to make measurable improvements in emergency communications over the next 3 years.

In 2008, 56 states and territories developed Statewide Communications Interoperability Plans (SCIPs); OEC's Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program (ICTAP) is working closely with the states to help them implement the SCIPs and align them with the goals and objectives of the NECP.

OEC currently hosts SCIP workshops to provide support to states and territories to help them develop and align their plans with the NECP. As of February 2009, 48 states had signed up and 16 workshops have been completed. The outcomes of the workshops have included action plans to prioritize SCIP initiatives, priority lists of desired technical assistance needs, action plans to create working groups for sustainable funding, and strategic roadmaps.

In February 2009, OEC released its Nationwide Summary of Statewide Communications Interoperability Plans (SCIPs) that provides a consolidated analysis of the 56 SCIPs by highlighting common themes, trends, and best practices. The document does not endorse any particular SCIP, but rather demonstrates the complexity of the interoperable communications environment while creating an awareness of the commonalities found within it. The document is an excellent tool for every Statewide Interoperability Coordinator to understand the national emergency response communications environment as well as to inform future OEC projects, tools, and technical assistance efforts.

Communications Unit Leader (COML) Training - The COML plays a critical support role within the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS establishes basic principles, practical tools, and a definitive nomenclature and structure for supporting incident-based emergency response. The COML is responsible for integrating communications and ensuring that operations are supported by communications. Since the national rollout in August 2008, OEC has conducted 20 All Hazards courses, with 500 participants successfully completing the course. The COML Working Group finalized the Train the Trainer Course, to be available in the spring, and is also working on a communications unit awareness course that will be available online eventually.

In 2008, OEC funded the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program, $50 million, for governance, training, and exercises. A very comprehensive Technical Assistance Catalog is available on SAFECOM's site. Types of services are categorized into six major topic areas:

  • Governance and Standard Operating Procedure Support
  • Communications Unit Training and Support
  • Communications Operations Support
  • Communications Systems Engineering Support
  • Tactical Communications Enhancement Support
  • Communication Assets Survey and Mapping (CASM) Support

For more information on OIC and OEC and their public safety telecommunications programs, visit

What Is Frequency Coordination and Why Is It Required?
By Doug Aiken

Frequency Coordination All applications to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a new license and most modifications to an existing license require Frequency Coordination. What is Frequency Coordination and why is it required? Hopefully, this article will introduce you to the answers.

Frequency Coordination for public safety frequencies is performed by private, non-profit entities. A list of the public safety coordinators is available at Many Frequency Coordinators provide other services besides frequency coordination to help agencies with the licensing process. The most common service is help with filling out the FCC application form. Any public safety agency that holds an FCC license would be wise to check out the services and help the Frequency Coordinators can provide.

So what do these Frequency Coordinators do with your license application? They perform two primary functions. One is administrative. They check the application for errors that would result in the FCC rejecting the application. All applications are sent electronically to the FCC and the FCC processing program checks for errors, so if the Frequency Coordinator misses an application error, that application is sent back and the Frequency Coordinator must then correct the error and resubmit. Correcting errors to the frequency and technical information on an application results in fewer errors in the FCC license database. Over the years, many errors involving station coordinates and wrong frequencies have been seen on licenses. Correcting existing errors and preventing any new errors reduces the chance of accidental interference from or to a new applicant.

The other primary function of Frequency Coordinators is selecting new frequencies for an applicant. The FCC licenses frequencies in two ways, “shared use” frequencies and “exclusive use” frequencies. Shared frequencies, those below 470MHz, are assigned on a shared geographic basis. This means the licensee is not guaranteed that the frequency licensed is only available to the licensee in a given area. You may need to “time-share” the frequency with another agency. Exclusive frequencies, those above 470 MHz, are assigned to only one licensee in a given area. There are mileage and other technical rules that determine when an exclusive frequency can be reused. The Frequency Coordinators use specialized database searches and frequency propagation modeling programs to find the best frequency to use for an application.

What do you need to do to help the Frequency Coordinator find a new frequency for you? First, and very important, is to get accurate latitude and longitude coordinates for your site (tower) location(s). Also required is the ground elevation and height to the tip of the transmit antenna. A good option to find accurate coordinates is to use a GPS unit. Make sure it is set to read out in degrees, minutes, and seconds and set for NAD83 map coordinate system. A good source for ground elevation is the site or building plot plans or to have a surveyor determine the elevation. Other information needed is the height of the towers or the buildings your antenna is mounted on. Only ask for the minimum transmit power needed to provide coverage to your service area. Be prepared to work with the Frequency Coordinator if they come back and ask if you can use a down-tilt or directional antenna. In spectrally crowded areas, these items can make a huge difference in finding a good frequency for your agency to use.

Frequency Coordinators provide valuable services to licensees as well as to the FCC. They can help fill out and insure the accuracy of applications. They select the best frequencies for your agency's use. They will help you with other technical issues such as the correct class of station or modulation code to use. Most important, they provide protection to licensees that can result from selecting a poor frequency for use by the licensee.

Dave Buchanan is the Chair of the Spectrum Management Committee

Welcome to the Technology Education Web Page

Technology Education The NPSTC Technology Committee is pleased to announce a new service on the NPSTC website. The Committee works to ensure that the public safety and public service communities maximize communications capabilities and to make users aware of the latest technological development, deployment, standardization, and regulation. Within this Committee, the Technology Education Working Group has built a resource to help the field understand both the basics and complexities of technologies and associated issues of regulation and standards.

What You Will Find Here

The Working Group will tackle topics related to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) matters; using the 700 MHz, 4.9 GHz, 5.2 GHz, and 5.8 GHz bands for public safety communications; trunked, conventional, multi-site, and simulcast issues; and standards such as P25 and International Association of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Current Resources

Understanding the FCC. These first products walk the public safety user through an interactive slide show on filing comments with the FCC. These are detailed, easy-to-follow presentations with links to the FCC website.

  • Participating in the process, aka, Making your Voice Heard at the FCC: A NPSTC tutorial on filing comments, replies, and other documents in FCC proceedings
  • What questions are being asked by the FCC, and/or What is the FCC Thinking? A NPSTC tutorial on searching for FCC documents to clearly understand what is being asked, or Why the FCC decided one way rather than another.
  • What have others said or recommended as their part of Participating in the Process? A NPSTC tutorial on searching comments, replies, and other documents in FCC proceedings.

Land Mobile Radio (LMR) 101. Beginning with the basics and moving to a thorough discussion of the Project 25 (P25) standards history, process, and current status.

Next Generation (NG) 9-1-1. A look at the history of 9-1-1, the development of NG 9-1-1, and how it affects you.

Coming Soon

700 MHz Backbone. A history that provides context and understanding of the complicated evolution of 700 MHz for public safety.

4.9 GHz Demonstration Project. A technological explanation of at how Pinellas County, Florida, tested varying implementations of 4.9 GHz technology to connect local systems to Department of Defense systems to provide information sharing that would be vital in disaster situations.

Interested in Additional Topics?

Please email to request presentations or discussion on other technology topics.

OEC Sponsors National Conference on Emergency Communications

What: “Effective Communications for a Secure Nation”
When: April 22-24, 2009
Where: Chicago, Illinois, Hilton Chicago
Why: Discuss tangible ideas and best practices to address emergency communications capabilities.

Sponsors DHS's Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) is hosting an invited colleague conference to promote coordination between local, state, tribal, and federal first responders and the private sector for communications during natural and man-made incidents and disasters. The agenda will focus on discussions of tangible ideas to address the critical challenges facing the emergency communications community and to identify real-time recommendations and solutions to increase practitioner involvement, coordination, and partnerships.

The conference will include a series of Leadership Discussions to encourage attendees to identify solutions, break down barriers, and increase knowledge of best practices. Plenary sessions and speaker panels will cover the following.

  • National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) implementation
  • State and local governance planning and coordination
  • Information sharing on grants and tools development

OEC expects the conference to attract over 300 multi-discipline practitioners, government officials, and industry representatives from around the country. OEC has extended speaking invitations to key officials in both the new U.S. administration and in local government

Attendees can register online by accessing the conference website; the advanced registration deadline is April 10, 2009.

Regulatory Update
By Bette Rinehart

Regulatory Update

Two Groups Aim to Change Traveler's Information Stations Regulations

The FCC is asking for comment on two Petitions for Rulemaking to modify the Traveler's Information Stations (TIS) regulation. Highway Information Systems Inc. (HIS) wants to re-title the service from TIS to “Local Government Radio Service”; change references to stations from TIS to “Local Government Radio Stations”; permit broadcast of any non-commercial content deemed relevant between the licensee and any governmental entities with whom the TIS licensee cooperates; and remove the requirement that the stations be located near roads, highways, or transportation terminals. The American Association of Information Radio Operators (AAIRO) seeks clarification of one TIS rule section for assurance that any message that impacts a person traveling or about to travel can be transmitted and that determination of impact is up to the sole discretion of the person operating the TIS.

Comments on both Petitions for Rulemaking are due March 16; Replies are due March 30.

FCC Guidance on Amending 800 MHz Regional Plans

The FCC has provided some guidance and deadlines for amendment of 800 MHz National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee (NPSPAC) plans in Regions not affected by the Canadian or Mexican border. All existing NPSPAC plans must be amended to change the frequency allotments from the “old NPSPAC” (821-824/866-869 MHz) range to the “new NPSPAC” (806-809/851-854 MHz) range. The FCC has established two different plan amendment procedures for Regions in Rebanding Waves 1 through 3:

  • Amendments that are Rebanding Related Only Due April 13, 2009
    The only amendment is to subtract 15 MHz from its existing allocations/allotments. These amendments are considered “streamlined” and will not require adjacent Region concurrence; the FCC review process will also be streamlined.
  • Amendments that include non-Rebanding Related Changes due June 10, 2009
    The amendment includes other changes in addition to shifting the existing allocations down 15 MHz. A Region planning to file this type of amendment must notify the FCC by April 13, 2009, and the amended plan must be filed by June 10, 2009. Adjacent Region concurrence is required and the amendment will be placed on Public Notice by the FCC.

If a Region believes that it cannot meet the June 10 deadline to complete additional amendments to its Plan, a Region can file a streamlined amendment by April 13 and follow up with a traditional plan amendment at a later date; the June 10 deadline would no longer apply.

FCC Responds to Petitions for Reconsideration of Amended 800 MHz Canadian Border Band Plan

The FCC has denied Sprint Nextel's Petition for Reconsideration of the amended 800 MHz Canadian border band plan released in May 2008. Sprint Nextel argued that the FCC's decision to add eight frequencies to the public safety pool in Canadian Border Region 3 (860.7625-860.9875) was unnecessary because there was ample spectrum at the bottom of the band to accommodate public safety. Sprint also noted that allocating eight frequencies at the top of 860 MHz would provide almost no separation between Sprint and public safety's operations. The FCC reiterated that the eight frequencies will be needed as a spectrum home for public safety incumbents displaced from the “new NPSPAC frequencies” in Canadian Border Region 3 which contains the most public safety incumbents of any Canadian Border Region.

The FCC also clarified that it had not intended to change the filing process for Planning Funding Requests and that licensees within 30 km of Akron or Youngstown, Ohio, or Syracuse, New York, are considered to be located in Canadian Border Region 7 and subject to the power and antenna height restrictions designed to limit signal strength at the Canadian border.

Digital Television (DTV) Transition Deadline Extended Until June 12, 2009

Legislation extending the DTV transition deadline from February 17, 2009, until June 12, 2009, was passed in early February. Full power stations that continue to operate in the analog mode after February 17 must, by March 17, provide the FCC notice of the date on which they will cease analog operations. That date can be June 12, 2009, or any date prior to June 12.

Public safety agencies deploying systems in the 700 MHz band must protect any incumbent full-power broadcast TV stations until June 12 or until the incumbent has ceased analog operations. Of the original 70 plus broadcast transmitters blocking public safety deployment, 65 were still on the air in early February. After the DTV transition delay, about 20 stations were still planning to cease analog operation on February 17 and several others were planning to go off the air by April 1.

Bette Rinehart is Chair of the Editorial Working Group and Vice Chair of the National Planning Assistance and Coordination Working Group.

Important Dates
Date Event Location
May 7-8 APCO Seminar: Women in Public Safety Comms Orlando, FL
May 13-15 USA/Canada Interoperability Border Forum Niagara Falls, NY
June 10-11 NPSTC Governing Board Meetings Arlington, VA
June 10-11 NENA Annual Conference TBD
June 20-24 NSA Annual Conference Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Publication Information

npstc quarterly is the newsletter of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC). NPSTC is a federation of organizations whose mission is to improve public safety communications and interoperability through collaborative leadership. Funding for the NPSTC newsletter is provided by the Department of Homeland Security, Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) and the Office of Emergency Communications (OEC). We welcome questions, comments, and story ideas. Please contact the Support Office at 866 807-4755 or by email at

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