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The coming years promise to be transformative in how first responders use wireless communications. At the forefront of these improvements is the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program. The PSCR is a joint effort between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Based in Colorado, the PSCR has long been a partner with public safety in improving technology for first responders, including leading many improvements to voice communications over land mobile radio. As part of the FirstNet authorizing legislation in 2012, NIST and the PSCR were granted up to $300 million from spectrum auction proceeds to lead efforts to improve wireless broadband communications for public safety professionals.

With this funding, the PSCR plans to focus on four major areas of communications improvements:

  1. Supporting the Development of Mission Critical Voice over LTE: As a supplement to existing land mobile radio networks, the PSCR is seeking to accelerate the development and implementation of mission-critical voice communications over wireless broadband networks. This includes championing improvements to the global 3GPP LTE standards and addressing how wireless broadband devices can seamlessly communicate with land mobile radio networks.
  2. Enhancing Location-Based Services: Whether responding to an incident, tracking first responders in dangerous situations, or providing situational awareness to incident commanders, location-based services are important tools for public safety professionals. PSCR and others are working on improving the accuracy of these services, so that first responders and incident commanders know exactly where their team is in precarious situations like burning high-rises, fast moving wildfires, and active shooter situations. The PSCR location-based services roadmap can be found here.
  3. Improving Public Safety Analytics: The third focus of the PSCR is improving how public safety analyzes and leverages information to better carry out its responsibilities. PSCR is leading efforts to look at how data analytics can enhance the response, communications, and operational effectiveness of on-the-ground personnel. The PSCR analytics roadmap can be found here.
  4. Rethinking How First Responders Interact with Technology: The final focus of the PSCR is improving how first responders interact with technology. In many instances, what works for the general public may not work for first responders. Smartphones with touchscreens might not be practical for firefighters in full gear or in reduced visibility environments. The PSCR is looking to help steer new technology developments to support the unique needs of first responders.

Those interested in following these topics and others can subscribe to the PSCR newsletter on the PSCR’s website.

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