Episode 7 - Red Grasso, North Carolina First Responder Emerging Technologies Director & Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for FirstNet in North Carolina

Red Grasso - North Carolina First Responder Emerging Technologies Director & Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for FirstNet in North Carolina

State of Public Safety Communications in North Carolina

North Carolina has a strong state interoperability executive committee whose membership has good ideas and provides great direction.

The state has a good statewide land mobile radio (LMR) system called the voice interoperability plan for emergency responders (VIPER). The system was designed for portable radio coverage throughout the state and serves not only as the interoperability platform, but also the day to day platform for many of counties and local municipalities. With about 30 LMR systems in the state, there are opportunities to collaborate and address interoperability.

Grasso views himself as a resource for the decision makers. There are many state agencies involved with the first responder community, and they have to make their own decisions addressing broadband and their agency’s needs. There is the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network being provided by FirstNet built with AT&T, but there are other carriers offering very similar services. The executive committee has to think about what interoperability means, how to make sure the first responder community is supported, how information is exchanged, what applications can be used, and how to make sure everyone has the access they need.

Questions and Issues

Grasso believes in crawl, walk, run when it comes to public safety broadband. In the crawl stage, an agency evaluates the carrier to meet the needs of today – agencies do not want to lose any functionality, but should also consider additional benefits. “There is a lot of time and energy being put on the run portion of where we’re going, that people kind of forget the crawl.”

In the walk stage, after a provider is chosen, there are more questions regarding interoperability. Agencies are not sure if their carrier can easily exchange data with an agency that uses a different carrier. Professional conversations and marketing materials make the current situation cloudy. This is the conversation that will be happening in the next three to five years. However, it is important to understand the run stage that will be happening about 10 years from now.

Evolving Uses of Broadband

“If you’ve ever been to one fire station in the United States, you’ve been to one fire station...when you talk about one station individually, that changes the conversation.” Adoption is different from agency to agency.

Grasso is very excited about the technology. There is a ton of research on a digital assistant that will provide information about the incident or maybe all of the history of a location. There is also excitement about virtual reality, augmented reality, apps, and devices. “I think it will be very interesting to see how much technology adjusts operations and how much operations impacts technology.” It’s a two way street.

What makes North Carolina Unique?

“We’re taking a look at statewide [interoperability], not just state level.” North Carolina has the executive committee, a fulltime SWIC in emergency management, a separate SPOC, and a separate statewide LMR manager – but the 3 of them have great personal and professional relationships.

The level of collaboration between public safety agencies is exceptional, especially when considering the high number in such a small geographic area. One of the greatest opportunities for North Carolina is recognizing that all of the individual agencies have the authority for their jurisdiction, and the state has an opportunity to make sure their voice is heard.

Trends and Issues Nationwide

The important conversations are about where this country is going to be at when we are running. As a nation, we need to determine what data interoperability will look like, what local control looks like, and what the applications and technology will look like – Nationwide is the perfect place to have some of those conversations. North Carolina is adding their voice to make sure their needs are met, but not so forceful as to silo themselves into separate polices.

“I think the biggest ground that we broke was to have the vision to create the first responder emerging technologies program, so we’ve got a permanent program…We were able to get a program in North Carolina that’s focused on this.”