The Texas Public Safety Broadband Program
The Texas Public Safety Broadband Program (TxPSBP) was formed within the Texas Department of Public Safety and charged with the planning and coordination of activities for the Texas portion of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Program (NPSBN). TxPSBP is funded through the State and Local Implementation Grant Program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The TxPSBP has been responsible for preparing the State and its many stakeholders for the successful implementation of the NPSBN through the following activities:
- Outreach and education with public safety professionals
- Data collection and requirements gathering from state stakeholders
- Support to the Harris County LTE early builder project
- Recommending revisions to the Statewide Communication Interoperability Plan
Outreach and Education
Texas is home to more than 85,000 law enforcement officers, almost 62,000 EMTs and paramedics, and over 67,000 firefighters. In a state with 254 counties spread across 268,820 square miles, the task of engaging these professionals in an educational dialogue was and continues to be a major undertaking.
The TxPSBP outreach and education team is comprised of professionals with extensive backgrounds in public safety and communications. The team has conducted meetings with every state council of government and regional planning commission, as well as all three Texas Tribal Nations. In addition, the team provides presentations and educational services within many regional, statewide, and national conferences. Since the outreach and education team was established in 2013, more than 26,000 stakeholders have been engaged within hundreds of conferences, workshops, and meetings
Data Collection – Capacity Planning
Understanding public safety’s coverage and capacity needs is necessary for FirstNet and the NPSBN to be successful. In 2014 and 2015, the states and territories conducted a comprehensive survey of the public safety community to better understand their capacity needs. This Mobile Data Survey asked respondents about their current wireless broadband usage, including types and numbers of devices and applications.
More than 1,100 public safety entities in Texas responded to the Mobile Data Survey. The TxPSBP compiled this information and submitted a report to FirstNet in September, 2015.
Data Collection – Coverage Mapping
The TxPSBP conducted a second round of data collection in 2016 for network coverage planning. The team worked with representatives of the Rural Strategic Advisory Group to develop a phased deployment approach to building the NPSBN in Texas. Drawing on dozens of different data sets, the resulting map and report provided helpful insight to FirstNet in preparing its state plan for Texas.
The team also collected statewide GIS data on 9-1-1 calls and hurricane evacuation routes in order to establish and depict a baseline coverage objective. During the spring and summer of 2016, the Texas outreach team facilitated town hall-style meetings and coverage-mapping workshops hosted by all 24 Texas councils of government and regional planning commissions. These efforts also included tribal representation and additional meetings hosted by other stakeholder groups.
Using an online tool customized specifically for this effort, public safety professionals were able to annotate a digital map, noting areas of their respective jurisdictions they identified as needing priority coverage. Overall, 83 agencies provided feedback in the form of nearly 800 annotations. The result of this effort was submitted to FirstNet in September of 2016.
Texas/Harris County LTE Partnership
After Hurricanes Rita and Ike, Harris County, TX officials recognized that public safety needed a dedicated wireless broadband network during emergencies. In 2009 (three years before FirstNet was established) Harris County proposed the use of port security grant funds to build an LTE broadband network that would be made available to the area’s first responders and other public safety personnel. As the discussions progressed, the Texas Department of Public Safety joined the effort, serving as an administrative link between Harris County and the federal entities involved.
The State of Texas and Harris County received a waiver in 2011, granting a Special Temporary Authority (STA) that allowed the county to begin the build-out of fourteen public safety broadband sites in the Houston/Harris County area. The agreement also included a mobile site and an extended-range test site in College Station, TX.
Following the establishment of FirstNet and the full allocation of band class 14 to public safety, Texas and Harris County entered into a Spectrum Manager Lease Agreement with FirstNet in 2014. Harris County grew its network to a total of 37 sites before AT&T was established as FirstNet’s commercial partner for the nationwide deployment of the NPSBN.
As a public safety broadband early builder, Harris County LTE was an ideal proving ground for the NPSBN. From building a new and unique network to supporting special events such as the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Super Bowl LI, Harris County obtained valuable data and lessons for FirstNet and NPSBN stakeholders across the US. Harris County decommisioned the network in March of 2018, but continues to be a leader in the pursuit of interoperable applications and data.
Brazos County Sheriff’s Office
The Brazos County Sheriff’s Office in Bryan, TX, was one of the earliest and most active users of the public safety broadband network in the nation. Using a single cell site connected to Harris County’s LTE network, the department equipped more than 70 of its vehicles with Band 14 modems as their primary source for mobile data. The network proved its value on multiple occasions in which the commercial cellular networks became congested, such as during Texas A&M University football games and in the wake of severe weather incidents.
The future promises to be eventful for public safety broadband, as FirstNet begins to build-out the NPSBN and develop its key services and applications. Stay apprised of events, activities and related news, by taking advantage of the following resources and opportunities:
- The TxLTE website and blog will be routinely updated to provide up-to-date information, including links to other resources
- The FirstNet newsroom page features press releases and blog posts on the latest NPSBN topics from around the country.
- Request a speaker. The Texas outreach team looks forward to providing your group with up-to-date information on the status of the NPSBN and answering any questions from your team. To schedule your meeting, contact the outreach team at LTE@dps.texas.gov.