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Architectural Framework for Public Safety Broadband Network

Posted March 18th, 2011 by Behzad Ghaffari - Systems Engineering Chief, ERIC, PSHSB

Do we need one?

On Jan 25th, 2011, the Commission adopted Long Term Evolution (LTE) as the common air interface for the nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety in the 700 MHz band.   This order also adopted a set of LTE interfaces to ensure interoperability and roaming.  To this end, this item set a minimum level of requirements to establish the technology and standards on which a nationwide interoperable broadband network is to be developed.  This was a significant step but certainly not the last one towards nationwide interoperability.  Considerable work remains in establishing and adopting rules to ensure nationwide interoperability for this network. 

In the same item, the FCC also issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that addresses a host of issues related to achieving nationwide interoperability.  This includes questions about an architectural framework for the network. When we talk about architecture, it may sound like we are building a house; but in our case, this architectural framework will provide a view of the final network build out, a roadmap to signify the evolution steps for network, and the capabilities offered to users.  

While this notice does not dictate network architecture, it does set the stage for ways to achieve an architectural framework by inquiring about guiding principles.  Using the same house building analogy, we may not want to mandate exactly what the house should look like, but we may want in principle to ensure that it is built on one acre of land, with a kitchen, a family room, a dining room, a living room, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a basement.  There will be many different ways to design a house with these characteristics, but they are all principally built based on this given data. We proposed some guiding principles for the construction of this nationwide broadband network in the notice and sought comment on many open issues.   We look forward to reviewing the input on this very important issue, for what may be the very foundation of the public safety broadband network.

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National Women’s Heart Health Month

Posted February 10th, 2011 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

As we celebrate Black History Month, we also recognize February as National Women’s Heart Health Month. This month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Women’s Health (OWH) is hosting the Make the Call, Don’t Miss a Beat campaign to encourage women to call 9-1-1 immediately when the seven symptoms of a heart attack occur:


  • Chest pain, discomfort, pressure or squeezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
  • Unusual upper body pain, or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulder, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat


The issues surrounding Women’s Heart Health are especially important to the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. Every minute a woman suffers a heart attack in America, but according to a 2009 American Heart Association (AHA) survey, many are not aware of the key symptoms of a heart attack. More astounding is the fact that only 50% of women said they would call 9-1-1 if they thought they were having a heart attack. It is imperative for the safety of women that these statistics change; 9-1-1 is the number to call during such health events.

During this month’s observance of Women’s Heart Health and in the months to follow, please encourage yourselves, your mothers, wives, aunts and sisters to educate themselves on the symptoms of heart attack and, without hesitation or procrastination, to call 9-1-1.  It could literally mean the difference between life and death.

Please take time to visit the following websites for further information and to find out how you can participate in the Make the Call, Don’t Miss a Beat campaign. WomensHealth.gov and the Office on Women’s Health Facebook and Twitter pages.

Access downloadable TV broadcast quality sound bites by visiting the Plowshare Group’s download center.

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A First-Ever National Test of the Presidential EAS

Posted February 4th, 2011 by Lisa Fowlkes - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Yesterday we released an order that adopts rules establishing the basic framework for national tests of the Presidential Emergency Alert System (EAS).  The EAS is a national alert and warning system established to enable the President of the United States to address the American public during emergencies.  Governors and state and local emergency authorities also use it – on a voluntary basis – to issue more localized emergency alerts.  Under the FCC’s rules, broadcasters, cable operators, Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service providers, Direct Broadcast Satellite service providers and wireline video service providers are required to receive and transmit Presidential EAS messages to the public.

To date, the EAS has not been used to deliver a Presidential alert.  While various components of the system are tested regularly, there has never been a nationwide, top-to-bottom, test of the system.  In 2009, the FCC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Executive Office of the President (EOP) (collectively, the “Federal Partners”) began planning to conduct the first-ever national test.  As part of this effort, on January 6, 2010 and January 26, 2011, FEMA, along with the State of Alaska and the Alaska Broadcasters Association, conducted two “live code” tests of the Presidential EAS within Alaska.  A “live code” test uses the same codes that would be used during an actual activation of the Presidential EAS.  The Federal Partners are using the results and lessons learned from these tests to complete a test plan for the first ever National EAS test.

Why bother testing the current EAS when the Federal government is moving to next generation alerting systems such as the Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System (IPAWS)?  The answer is simple.  First, the current EAS is designed to work when other methods of disseminating emergency alerts are unavailable.  Second, FEMA has stated that the current EAS will play a primary role in IPAWS for the foreseeable future.  Consequently, it is imperative that we make sure that this system works as designed.   A national test will help us determine the reliability of the EAS and its effectiveness in notifying the public of emergencies and potential dangers nationwide and regionally.

Some may be concerned that this is just another way for the FCC to ascertain compliance and take enforcement actions.  The purpose of this test is not to play “gotcha” with broadcasters or other EAS Participants.  The purpose of this test is to determine what is working in the EAS and what is not, and to work together – FCC and its Federal Partners, state and local governments, EAS Participants and other stakeholders – to make improvements to the system as necessary.  This test will require the active participation of all EAS stakeholders in the planning and preparation leading up to the test, including most significantly, outreach.  The FCC along with our Federal Partners looks forward to working with EAS Participants and other EAS stakeholders in preparing for this test.

Although a date for the first National EAS Test has not yet been set, there are some things EAS Participants can begin to do now:

  • Work with your State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs) to review and, if necessary, update your     state’s EAS plans. 
  • Work with your SECCs to review the manner in which you deploy your EAS assets  -- particularly EAS Participant encoder/decoder equipment -- to ensure end-to-end connections and the required redundancies to minimize any single points of failure within your state’s EAS architecture;

The FCC, in coordination with its federal partners, will provide further updates about the National EAS Test.   Find out more information about the test rules.

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FCC Hosts Two from Wounded Warrior Program

Posted February 1st, 2011 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

The Wounded Warrior Program is an internship program developed by the Department of Defense for injured service members who are convalescing at military treatment facilities in the National Capitol Region. The program provides meaningful activity outside of the hospital environment and offers a formal means of transition back to the military or civilian workforce. Placing these service members in supportive work settings that positively impact their recuperation is the underlying purpose of the program.

The Wounded Warrior Program is a great opportunity for convalescing service members to build their resumes, explore employment interests, develop job skills, and gain valuable federal government work experience that will help them prepare for their adjustment to the workplace. The Department of Defense Computer/Electronics Accommodation Program provides for participating service members on assignment to federal agencies. This includes electronic equipment, transportation, sign language interpreter services, and other services they require.

I’m honored to report that the Federal Communications Commission has continuously participated in the Wounded Warrior Program since July 2008. Today, the Commission has two service members serving as emergency management interns with our Public Safety team while continuing their recuperation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Sergeant Lyndon Sampang, an Army veteran of eight years, was severely wounded on March 18, 2010 while on patrol in Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne. Prior to his assignment to Afghanistan, Sgt Sampang had completed a tour of duty in Iraq. Sgt Sampang began his internship with us on December 7, 2010.
Staff Sergeant Thomas Kowolenko, a veteran of 17 years, is a member of the Connecticut National Guard and was injured while on a training assignment at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. SSgt Kowolenko has worked as a Network Deployment Technician for AT&T since 1987 and is also a certified firefighter. SSgt Kowolenko began his internship with us on January 3, 2011.

We’re honored to have both of these extraordinary service members working with us and are grateful for their service. We’ll keep you updated on the program and their work here.

Posted in FCC Staff Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
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Solutions to Stop Use of Contraband Cell Phones by Prisoners

Posted December 31st, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

A few weeks ago a cell phone was found in Charles Manson’s California prison cell. Corcoran, California Prison authorities confirmed that Manson had been in contact with people outside the prison walls, and for some time.  Just last month, Georgia inmates are reported to have used them to coordinate a work strike across a number of the state’s prisons.

A cell phone these days is apparently something the average American cannot live without.  And, it seems, neither can the nation’s inmates. This is a major public safety concern. Today, prisons across the nation are reportedly confiscating thousands of cell phones from inmates, yet this contraband is still being used by inmates daily.

Cell phones in the hands of prisoners present a serious threat to public safety.  Despite federal and some state laws prohibiting their possession, today, thousands of prisoners nationwide are in possession of contraband cell phones and are conducting illegal enterprises despite serving time for other crimes.  An inmate’s illegal activity may involve discussions with fellow criminals outside the prison walls about drug trafficking, money laundering or intimidating witnesses – or worse, plotting their murders.  This is a national problem that has been of concern for state and local law enforcement and department of corrections officials for sometime.  And, it’s a problem the FCC is committed to help solve.

Well, some argue, just jam the cell phones.  However, that’s not easy, not preferable, and not legal.  The Communications Act of 1934 broadly prohibits jamming devices, including cell phone jammers, and the FCC cannot waive this statutory prohibition.  There is a very good public safety reason for the prohibition of jammers.  The use of jammers in prisons to stop the use of contraband cell phones by inmates could interfere with police, fire and emergency medical communications.  Already, there has been increased FCC enforcement against illegal jammers that have interfered with public safety communications and GPS signals.  Interference from jammers is likely because public safety radio communications operate in frequency bands adjacent to those used for commercial mobile communications.  National public safety groups have stated their concern about vital communications being disrupted as a result of illegal jamming.

Moreover, jammers could disrupt or prevent authorized calls, including 9-1-1 calls, from civilians living, working and travelling in proximity to a prison using jammers.  Public safety groups estimate that 50-75 percent of all calls to 9-1-1 centers are made from cell phones. We expect that this trend will continue to grow with more than 270 million commercial wireless customers nationwide today.  The FCC is committed to making sure that these calls are not disrupted by illegal jamming activities.

Last week, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) submitted its report – Contraband Cell Phones in Prisons: Possible Wireless Technology Solutions available at Contraband Cell Phones in Prisons, Possible Wireless Technology Solutions  – to Congress.  The report, written in coordination with the FCC, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the National Institute of Justice, investigates and evaluates wireless jamming, detection, managed network access, and other technologies that might be used to prevent contraband cell phone use by prison inmates.  The report provides an overview of the characteristics and capabilities of various technologies.  NTIA finds that:

Prison officials should have access to technology to disrupt prison cell phone use in a manner that protects nearby public safety and Federal Government spectrum users from harmful disruption of vital services, and preserves the rights of law-abiding citizens to enjoy the benefits of the public airwaves without interference. 

As detailed in the report, the FCC has taken quick action to defeat contraband cell phone use in prisons that does not involve the use of cell phone jamming devices.  There are new and emerging technologies now available that work.  One such technology the FCC calls “contraband cell phone capture,” which is designed to capture cell phones calls inside the prison, analyze whether the calls are from legitimate devices or not, and prevent completion of calls from unauthorized cell phones, in effect making those cell phones useless to inmates.  Prison administrators are able to do this without affecting the legitimate use of cell phones by prison authorities within the prison and by the public living or working in close proximity to the facility to make 911 emergency or commercial calls.  

The technology for contraband cellphone capture can be configured to detect the approximate location within cellblocks of contraband cell phones thus allowing for search and seizure.  Oftentimes, other contraband is swept up in these searches.  When operated under appropriate court ordered warrants, detection devices can collect information about inmates’ use of contraband cell phones, thus aiding in the interdiction of ongoing criminal enterprises being conducted behind bars.  The technology works very effectively, capturing inmate cell phone calls from the very beginning. In fact, this past September Mississippi became the first state in the Nation to deploy this technology at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.  In the first month alone, more than 216,000 unauthorized calls were intercepted, and the rate of attempts showed a sharp decline once inmates realized those calls would not go through.  Other states – Maryland, South Carolina, California, and Texas – are evaluating call capture systems, as well.  In the end, prisoners would no longer have incentive to use contraband cell phones because they simply won’t work behind prison walls.

The FCC stands ready to work with our federal partners, lawmakers, states, counties and cities on this important issue and can assist them with navigating the regulatory landscape as they move forward with legal ways to deal with this issue.  The goal is to find and implement the most effective and precise technological options to defeat contraband cell phone use in prisons as quickly as possible without adopting technologies that could endanger the public.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Critical Infrastructure Protection Month

Posted December 21st, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

On December 3 of this year, the President issued a Proclamation that December is Critical Infrastructure Protection Month.  In the Proclamation, President Obama said, "[M]y Administration is committed to delivering the necessary information, tools, and resources to areas where critical infrastructure exists in order to maintain and enhance its security and resilience."  This effort is a central focus for the Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.  The Bureau’s mission is to ensure public safety and homeland security by advancing state-of-the-art communications that are accessible, reliable, resilient, and secure, in coordination with public and private partners.   As part of the nation’s national security protection programs, the Bureau is a key contributor in protecting communications facilities that are a critical component of the nation’s infrastructure.

There are several critical infrastructure sectors and each sector has an Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC).  As part of our responsibilities in critical infrastructure protection, we support the Communications ISAC by providing subject matter expert liaison staff.  The mission of the Communications ISAC is to facilitate voluntary collaboration and information sharing among government and industry in support of Executive Order 12472 and the national critical infrastructure protection goals of Presidential Decision Directive 63.  The intent is to gather information on vulnerabilities, threats, intrusions, and anomalies from multiple sources in order to perform analysis with the goal of averting or mitigating impact upon the telecommunications infrastructure. 

In addition to terrestrial communications with which we are most familiar, the space-based Global Positioning System (GPS) is inextricably integrated into most of the critical infrastructure sectors.  Although it has not yet officially been designated as a critical infrastructure sector, we are helping, in association with DHS, DOT and other agencies, to protect the GPS positioning, navigation, and timing receivers from interference and jamming.   

Although we are involved in many other areas related to public safety and homeland security, the Bureau has a vested interest in collaborating with state, local and Federal partners to do whatever we can to protect the critical infrastructure related to communications.  The work of the Commission and more specifically the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau is an integral part of protecting our nation, and as the President also said in his Proclamation, "Working together, we can raise awareness of the important role our critical infrastructure plays in sustaining the American way of life and developing actions to protect these vital resources."  We are committed to doing so.

See the proclamation.

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Moving Forward on Next Generation 911

Posted December 21st, 2010 by Jamie Barnett - Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Today, the Commission adopted a Notice of Inquiry which initiates a comprehensive proceeding to address how Next Generation 911 (NG911) can enable the public to obtain emergency assistance by means of advanced communications technologies beyond traditional voice-centric devices.  This represents the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s next step in implementing the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan.

In the telecommunications industry overall, competitive forces and technological innovation have ushered in an era of advanced Internet-Protocol (IP)-based devices and applications that have vastly enhanced the ability of the public to communicate and send and receive information.  Unfortunately, our legacy circuit-switched 911 system has been unable to accommodate the capabilities embedded in many of these advanced technologies, such as the ability to transmit and receive photos, text messages, and video.  However, we have begun a transition to NG911, a system which will bridge the gap between the current 911 system and the evolving technological environment.
This November, I had the chance to visit Arlington, Virginia’s state of the art 911 center, which is at the forefront of the move toward NG911.  With 70% of our nation’s 911 calls originating from mobile phones, the evolution of our 911 system to one which not only accepts, but welcomes, text and multimedia messages is crucial.  The advances in our NG911 system pave the way for first responders to attain maximum situational awareness of an emergency before stepping onto the scene.  Additionally, it allows consumers, who often rely on text and multimedia messaging, to feel comfortable in the fact that the 911 system is responsive to their unique needs in the new media environment. 

Furthermore, the switch to an IP-based system allows the 911 system to manage 911 calls dynamically.  Often, when a major disaster occurs, the 911 system becomes congested due to surges in emergency calls to the local answering point, resulting in dropped and blocked calls.  The NG911 system, by dynamically managing calls, will allow calls that are destined for particular answering points to be routed in an efficient and effective manner, preventing the congestion that often accompanies major emergencies.

Accordingly, today’s NOI seeks to gain a better understanding of how the gap between the capabilities of modern networks and devices and today’s 911 system can be bridged and on how to further the transition to IP-based communications capabilities for emergency communications and NG911.This NOI will move us closer to forming a new regulatory framework for NG911 that adapts to evolving public expectations in terms of the communications platforms the public would rely upon to request emergency services and ensures that our nation’s 911 system is at its most effective in the future.  The Bureau remains committed to ensuring that our nation’s 911 system serves the American people in the best possible manner.  This NOI furthers the process begun in the National Broadband Plan of ensuring that the transition to NG911 is effective and efficient and adapts to the changing communications environment.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Creating Interoperable Communications for First Responders

Posted December 10th, 2010 by Jennifer Manner - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Today we took a very important step in ensuring nationwide interoperability for public safety broadband communications.  The Public Safety Bureau, based on the recommendations of the FCC's Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC), is working toward a technical interoperability framework . The ERIC recommendations were developed following a thorough review of fifteen interoperability showings from early builders of 700 MHz public safety mobile broadband networks, as well as extensive comments by the public safety community.

This technical framework will help ensure from day one that interoperability is achieved among all public safety broadband networks. It also moves us closer to ensuring that the nation will not face the same magnitude of problems previously identified by the 9/11 Commission and others regarding the limitations and inability of America's first responders to effectively communicate with one another during 9/11 and then, subsequently, during and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  We look forward to our continued work with America's first responders, state and local emergency managers and hospital emergency departments to make sure their broadband communications needs are met.

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9-1-1's Next Frontier

Posted November 23rd, 2010 by George Krebs

This morning Chairman Genachowski, Public Safety Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett and a collection of FCC staff visited a state-of-the-art response facility at the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center in Arlington, Virginia. Following the vision laid out in the National Broadband Plan, the event marks the announcement of steps to revolutionize America’s 9-1-1 system by harnessing the potential of text, photo, and video in emergencies.

Our communications needs are increasingly reliant on mobile devices. In fact, 70% of 9-1-1 calls originate from mobile phones and users rely regularly on texts and multimedia messages. While a subsequent evolution of our 9-1-1 system seems a natural -- and obvious -- step for digitally aware citizen, our current 9-1-1 system doesn’t utilize the superb, possibly life-saving potential within our existing mobile devices. With videos, pictures, texts -- and other untold mobile innovations surely on the horrizon -- next-generation 9-1-1 will position public safety officials a step ahead with critical real-time, on-the-ground information.

After a tour of the high-tech operations room, Chairman Genachowski and Admiral Barnett spoke to the promise of next-generation 9-1-1. Here's an excerpt from Chairman Genachowski's speech.

"Even though mobile phones are the device of choice for most 9-1-1 callers, and we primarily use our phones to text, right now, you can’t text 9-1-1. Let me reiterate that point. If you find yourself in an emergency situation and want to send a text for help, you can pretty much text anyone EXCEPT a 9-1-1 call center.

"...It’s time to bring 9-1-1 into the digital age."

Read the rest of the Chairmans’s speech, view more photos and see the benefits of Next Generation 9-1-1 after the jump.

(This is cross-posted on Blogband. Please leave comments there.)

Posted in Events Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau National Broadband Plan Office Of Chairman

Securing Your Online Surfing and Transactions

Posted November 2nd, 2010 by Vernon Mosley

Leaves are falling, the summer seems like a blur, the kids are knee-deep in homework, and the boxes and bubble wrap from newly purchased computer laptops and their slim-downed cousins, netbooks, have finally made their way to the basement for storage.  If you haven’t already checked, now is the time to see what anti-virus and firewall software was provided with your computer, and to learn how to use these tools. 

Anti-virus and firewall programs protect computers from a host of potentially dangerous programs that can wreak havoc not only on their computer hosts, but can spread to any other computer connected to the same network.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is there are things you can do to protect yourself and your kids from malicious software that may be downloaded to your computer without your knowledge when you are surfing the Internet. 

1.  Make Sure Your Anti-Virus or Firewall Software is Up-to-Date.  Chances are that trial versions of anti-virus and firewall protection software were installed on your computer when it was purchased.  These trial versions typically last for 30 to 60 days after the computer is first turned on by the user.  After the trial period expires, the software is generally not as effective at keeping your computer safe from the latest germs.  You need to keep anti-virus protection current to maximize the protection against malicious attacks. 

2.  Check With Your Internet Service Provider to See if it Offers Anti-virus and Firewall Protection.  If you do not already have anti-virus or firewall software, your Internet service provider may offer it, perhaps even at little or no additional charge.

3.  Check Your Computer’s Built-in Defenses and Use Them.  Some types of spyware can send keystrokes entered by a user to a hacker.  The hacker can then use passwords entered by users to hack into online accounts.  Anti-virus software can quite often detect these types of programs and remove them.  I run my scanning software every week.  Make it a habit.

Recent versions of Windows support a spyware scanner called Windows Defender that is built into the computer’s operating system. It can check to see if software germs have been able to penetrate a computer’s defenses and are sitting quietly in the background recording information about websites visited.  Apple computers also come with software defenses, such as a built-in firewall.

4.  Use Strong Passwords and Change Them Frequently.  When was the last time you changed your login passwords to your online accounts?  How disciplined are the kids at changing their passwords?  You should use inventive, long passwords that are hard for hackers to guess, and not any passwords with personally identifiable information.  Passwords with a mix of letters, numbers, and punctuation are best.  And, if the password has already been compromised via a key-stroke logger discussed above, frequently changing online passwords may minimize the risk of a hacker using a password they have uncovered.

5.  Secure Your Wireless Environment.   Most computers are enabled for wireless (Wi-Fi) communication, which can introduce security vulnerabilities when information flows over open airwaves between the computer and the connection to the Internet.  Fortunately, data-scrambling techniques, known as encryption algorithms, make it difficult for hackers to understand information that they might intercept over the air.  Everyone with a Wi-Fi connection should encrypt their connection. We posted a video and tip sheet  on this last week. 

If you keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up-to-date, use strong passwords, and secure your wireless network, you will substantially increase the security of your online surfing and transactions.  These tips are summarized – pass them on!

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Consumers
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