The Texas Interoperable Communications Coalition hosted its 11th Annual Texas Statewide Communications Strategic Planning Conference last week in Austin, TX.
Over 100 representatives from 53 different agencies throughout the state and nation attended to learn about and discuss the latest trends in communications interoperability.
This is also the time of year when voting delegates from each of the state’s 24 regional councils of government and the three tribal nations come together to vote on goals for the Statewide Communication Interoperability Plan (SCIP) and the Texas State Interoperability Channel Plan (TSICP). This year, the state’s delegates voted unanimously to accept the changes and new initiatives in the two plans.
The Texas SWIC team added some new elements to this year’s conference, including using an interactive polling application to get live feedback from attendees, something that seemed to be a hit and an occasional source of humor for the crowd.
This year’s conference was also longer than in years past (two half-days with a full day in the middle), which allowed a greater variety of speakers. Nancy Carrales from the Office of the Governor spoke about homeland security grants. Kelli Merriweather, Executive Director of the Commission on State Emergency Communications gave an update on Next Generation 911. Federal representatives from FEMA, DHS Office of Emergency Communications, and the FCC also gave welcome updates on their respective initiatives.
The crowd really enjoyed hearing from this year’s keynote presentation. Steve Povolny, Head of Advanced Threat Research for McAfee, gave an engaging talk on cybersecurity and public safety communications, and highlighted some of the scarier vulnerabilities of autonomous vehicles and the internet of things.
Disaster response was a major theme of the conference, with several speakers sharing lessons learned from the Hurricane Harvey response. Texas SWIC Todd Early led the audience in expressing thanks to all of the responders and communications personnel across the state for their efforts during Harvey.
Christy Williams and the members of the Texas Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce (TERT) received special thanks for their heartfelt dedication to impacted telecommunicators. Many speakers noted the long hours that public safety personnel worked during Harvey, often pulling 24+ hours shifts and struggling to fight off exhaustion. It is during these times that TERT members were able to provide much-needed relief to the telecommunicators, some of whom had lost everything in the storm, but were still answering 911 calls.
Keeping with the emergency response theme, Texas DPS displayed one of its mobile communications trailers, and AT&T brought one of the 72 new FirstNet SATCOLTs that will be dedicated to public safety.
FirstNet and public safety broadband was once again a big topic this year. Attendees expressed interest in seeing more public safety applications, as well as the urgent need for better wireless coverage in some of the rural areas of the state.
During group breakout sessions on training, usage, and governance of the new network, some common trends emerged. The groups all expressed the need to share dynamic maps, personnel locations, and incident action plans. They also stated that more defined governance and broadband-related training would be helpful.
An emerging technology panel featured speakers from Texas DPS and Harris County talking about the use of geographic information systems, drone video, and team collaboration apps to improve situational awareness.
The conference closed with a presentation on chat and team collaboration apps, as well as a call to action to the crowd to get involved in one of its three strategic advisory groups:
- Social Media: looking at best practices for public safety use of social media tools
- Training: working to ensure all first responders in Texas have the communications training they need to do their jobs
- Public Safety Broadband Network: exploring how to connect disparate collaboration apps, and the need for a model of data interoperability that expands on past work done with LMR
Overall, the conference covered many topics, but attendees expressed what they would like to see more of next year: lessons learned and best practices, detailed panels on FirstNet, and more about LMR planning and radio over IP systems integration.
This year’s attendees were nearly unanimous in their agreement that September is a busy month to hold this conference, so look for the next TXICC in July, with subsequent events moving to the spring in coming years.