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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 6:20 am | Mostly Cloudy 43º


Expert Andy Seybold Plays Role in Creation of National Public Safety Communications Network

Federal tax bill signed by Obama includes a provision that could open new doors for the way first responders receive information

When President Barack Obama signed last week’s tax bill, he did more than extend a payroll tax deduction and unemployment benefits. The legislation also includes a section that could revolutionize how public safety officials communicate, according to Santa Barbara technology expert Andy Seybold.

“I look at fire and police agencies that only have voice communication as blind,” Seybold said. “We will give them eyes.”

He said it’s a communication solution that could have aided first responders during Santa Barbara’s Tea Fire in 2008.

During the wildfire, residents overloaded commercial networks, forcing public safety officials to rely on a segmented network that prevented certain agencies from communicating with each other.

“When there are major disasters, commercial networks get jammed and public safety can’t count on it,” said Seybold, a mobile computing consultant and founder of Andrew Seybold Inc. “Public safety needs their own piece of spectrum.”

Two and a half years ago, Seybold joined the Public Safety Alliance, which lobbied Congress to reallocate a piece of spectrum for public safety’s nationwide interoperable network for solely its own use. The alliance has opened new opportunities, according to National Sheriffs’ Association president Paul Fitzgerald.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for more than 36 years, and I’ve never seen an issue that united public safety officials as this has,” he said.

But some argued against the initiative. First, a public safety network requires higher standards, and dissenters thought the cost was too high. Therefore, they said it would be more cost effective to auction off the spectrum for commercial use. Second, some didn’t understand why public safety couldn’t share spectrum with commercial networks.

“We got a very cold reception,” Seybold said. “They are worried about the national debt and are looking at the fact that this spectrum could be auctioned for $3 billion that could go toward national debt. But if you put in perspective that our national debt grows at $4.5 billion a day, what we’re talking about is less than one day of national debt. So our argument was, this is really an investment in public safety.”

During the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, one of the biggest problems was that police officers couldn’t talk with firefighters because public safety spectrum is spread out all over, Seybold said.

But a nationwide public safety broadband network would go beyond efficient voice communication, he said. It would provide the video tools and interconnectivity that most people have with their smartphones.

For instance, first responders would be able to immediately receive blueprints of virtually any building, dispatch could stream live footage of a developing scene through a dashboard camera, and paramedics could electronically send the results of an ultrasound so doctors could start treating a victim.

“If we have all these tools in front of us, we will catch more people and be safer,” Seybold said.

Retired Ithaca, N.Y., Police Chief Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, said sometimes speed and efficiency mean the difference between life and death.

“These are the kinds of things that happened, in my career or today, because of the lack of ability to transmit data in a way that is fast and reliable with the bandwidth that is necessary,” McEwen said.

It would also give rural areas access to broadband services that they never previously had exposure to, he said.

But do the benefits outweigh the costs when the nation is trillions of dollars in debt?

“That’s the important question — if it is a smart investment at this time,” Santa Barbara entrepreneur and Noospheric founder Jacques Habra said. “What if there’s a major earthquake, and what’s the cost for not having a (nationwide) system? Look at the potential human loss. America is one of the top nations that puts human safety first.”

Now, McEwen said, the government will set up the First Responder Network Authority in the next six months that will serve as the governing board.

“Once we have a reliable service to get information quickly,” he said, “it will save lives and make work more efficient.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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