Police Department Changes Course, Will Use Both Public and Private Radio Channels

It looks like they are getting encryption right in Nebraska. We hope the So Cal PD’s will follow suit and not lock out scanner listeners from all PUBLIC safety communications.

COLUMBUS NE — Columbus Police Chief Chuck Sherer is changing course when it comes to restricting the public’s access to information shared between officers and dispatchers.

Sherer met with members of the local media last week to announce the department will follow a policy proposed by the Platte County Sheriff’s Office that allows people with scanners to listen to much of the radio communication.

His department will use both public and encrypted radio channels, allowing dispatchers and officers to switch to the encrypted channel — blocking scanner access — whenever sensitive information needs to be passed along.

The police department switched solely to an encrypted channel in early November as part of its transition to a new digital radio system and Sherer said at that time the department would likely “stay dark” moving forward.

“Essentially, the scanner is there for our business and some of the things we say in our business aren’t necessarily meant for public consumption,” he said in November.

The Platte County Sheriff’s Office is also going digital as it shifts to the statewide radio system.

Like the police department, that office will have both encrypted and public radio channels available, but Sheriff Ed Wemhoff said in November his plan is to only use the encrypted channel for sensitive information, such as fatalities, search warrants and details that might create a safety issue for deputies.

“I don’t have an issue with the public hearing a majority of our traffic,” Wemhoff said two months ago.

That decision helped sway Sherer, who said the police department will start using an open channel again once an equipment upgrade is complete.

The city and county agreed in November to buy a new Motorola radio console system for dispatchers that is still being installed.

That system, which makes it easier to switch from encrypted to public radio channels, will be ready “soon,” according to Sherer, who didn’t have an exact timeline for the transition.

Sherer, who became police chief in September, has said the goal of an encrypted channel isn’t to hide police activity from the public.

He noted that communication between officers and dispatchers can include people’s personal information, including driver’s license numbers, dates of birth and home addresses, as well as details about medical situations and juvenile arrests.

There’s also concern that someone committing a crime could use a portable scanner or smartphone app to monitor police activity.

While recognizing the importance of protecting police officers, The Telegram requested radio communication remain open to the media so the public can be informed about emergencies and other situations.

Since the new radio systems are digital, a digital scanner will be needed to pick up the police and sheriff’s office channels once the transition is complete.

Credit: http://columbustelegram.com


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FCC Must Upgrade Wireless Emergency Alert System, Public Safety Organizations Say

The nation’s Wireless Emergency Alert system (WEA) needs improvements that are long overdue, according to a coalition of public safety organizations that are pushing for action by the Federal Communications Commission on the issue.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other commissioners, six leaders of regional and national public safety organizations are urging the government to add new functionality they say would have been useful during several large-scale emergencies in 2017.

Activated in 2012 following enactment of the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act, WEA messages are sent to mobile phones in the event of an important message from the president; of “imminent threats to safety or life,” according to the FCC; or for Amber Alerts notifying of abducted children. 

“2017 was a year of missed opportunities for WEA use: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria; the California Wildfires; the Las Vegas Shootings,” a spokesperson for the Harris County, Texas, Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management wrote StateScoop in an email.

The new functionality requested by the groups includes device-based geotargeting that would allow for more precise selection of who receives messages.

“Without the ability to geo-target our alert originators will continue to use WEA sparingly or not at all. This is a shame. An effective WEA can literally mean the difference between life and death,” the letter reads.

The groups are also calling for multimedia alerts, which would allow the system to send, for instance, photos of abducted children instead of only text descriptions. Also on the group’s list is multilingual messaging and “many-to-one” feedback functionality, which would allow users to respond to polling questions during emergencies that would enable emergency responders to “quickly aggregate disaster impact information and more efficiently deploy scarce resources.”

The groups have asked the FCC to require that these upgrades are implemented no later than May 2019, lest future wildfires, hurricanes, and other disasters needlessly claim more lives.

Organizations whose leaders signed the letter include:

  • City of Seattle Office of Emergency Management
  • Big City Emergency Managers
  • U.S. Council of the International Association of Emergency Managers
  • National Emergency Management Association
  • National Emergency Number Association
  • The United States Conference of Mayors


Credit: http://statescoop.com


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California Wildfires Highlighted the Failures of Emergency Notification System

The Sonoma ridgeline was a sunrise of flame as Sgt. Brandon Cutting led deputies up country roads to pound on doors, hollering “Sheriff’s Office!”

Thirty minutes later, with Cutting huffing from exertion and choking in thick smoke, the evacuation of Redwood Hill was still playing out one door at a time. He followed the sound of shouts to an officer struggling to carry a disabled woman. Her house was on fire. Her shoe on the ground. The night around them was orange in every direction.

It was 11 on a Sunday night, the beginning of what would be the most destructive fire siege in California history. Frantic rescues were taking place across wine country as heavy winds ripped down power lines and the dry hills lit up in flames. Modern technology in the form of robocalls and digital alerts would not join the fight to roust sleeping residents for another half an hour.

When the warnings came, they were not received by many of those in the most peril.

Two months after the wine country fires, officials still debate whether more could have been done to give residents earlier warnings before the fires swept in, ultimately killing 44 people and destroying more than 10,000 homes.

The fires highlighted the inadequacies of the emergency warnings officials employed and have prompted a push for new safety protocols. Some of the same problems occurred two months later when the Thomas fire — the largest on record in California — swept through Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

In the end, the warnings that officials sent reached only a fraction of those in the fire’s path, and emergency agencies struggled to direct warnings to the correct geographic areas. The situation left officials frustrated and looking for answers.

“I can use my cellphone to order a pizza and it gets here,” said Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management. “Why can’t I have that same system to save people’s lives?”

Although weather forecasters told fire departments across Northern California to prepare for incendiary conditions, decisions to broadcast evacuation orders did not take place until hours after the fires started and residents were already trapped. Those caught by surprise jumped into swimming pools or water tanks, or ran through vineyards.

Fires flanked tourists and residents alike in Napa from three sides, but Napa County relied on sending cellphone text messages to the small population that had the foresight to register in advance. It uses the same tool to announce parades and water main breaks.

Electronic logs show that not until the following afternoon did the county attempt to broaden its warnings to include some 53,000 landlines gleaned from AT&T — a message asking residents to refrain from dialing 911.

The effort made no allowance for the tourists who are the lifeblood of the Napa economy. Hotel staff at a luxury golf resort pulled guests from their rooms in pajamas even as highway patrol medevac teams plucked trapped residents off the ridge above by helicopter. The deputies attempting to knock on doors couldn’t even get up the fire-blocked road.

Sonoma County sent text messages and robocalls, but records obtained under the California Public Records Act show only 50 percent of the numbers on its call list worked. An analysis of the calls shows the county tried to reach less than a tenth of those living in the targeted warning area. Fewer than a third of that one-tenth would pick up the phone.

Every county had the capacity for alerts carried on a federal system that would loudly buzz every cellphone within range of a working tower — by sending the messages either on their own or through the state. Of the eight counties hit by 14 fires that night, only Lake County employed the system. A neighboring county that had no fire, Marin, used the system to tell fire evacuees where shelters were open.

In Sonoma, where Cutting was stationed that night, emergency managers said they decided against the federal wireless warning system. County emergency manager Chris Helgren said he was worried the notoriously imprecise system would trigger a countywide panic. Mass evacuations on the single highway through town would have made the emergency even more dire. In the end, dozens died in Sonoma as the Tubbs fire swept from the mountain vale of Calistoga into a suburb of Santa Rosa.

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How to Explore the Hidden World of Radio Waves All Around You

From spy planes to rogue Wi-Fi networks, journalists and artists are using new technology to reveal a hidden world.

One day this fall, in an old factory in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, a row of ’90s-era phone pagers chirped and buzzed. Alongside their dimly-lit displays sat a receipt printer—like the kind you might find in a cash register—spewing out long spools of paper. As my eyes scanned along the printouts, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: These were pager messages of dozens of doctors and hospital staffers, filled with very personal information about patients.

The installation at this year’s Radical Networks conference was part of an artwork called Holypager by Brannon Dorsey that used a programmable radio to listen into pager message traffic. While you might think that doing this would take the skills and resources of a spy agency, it’s actually fairly straightforward for even the modestly tech savvy.

When phone pagers became popular in the 1990s, very few people understood how they worked and the technology they depended on was extremely expensive. The designers of the pager network thus got away with sending out every message unencrypted, relying on the pagers themselves to display only the messages addressed to them. Today, however, following readily available instructions and using a cheap USB radio, almost anyone can build a pager that receives every message broadcasted in their area, not just the ones addressed to them.

Dorsey’s project is part of a broader movement in which artists and journalists are using new radio technologies to explore the politics and implications of how hidden infrastructures are designed and used.

While radio might seem like an antiquated technology, it’s actually a ubiquitous part of modern life. Radio signals from Wi-Fi routers, GPS satellites, Roku remotes, wireless water meters, bluetooth keyboards, weather stations, and even echoes of the big bang all saturate the air around us.

Until recently, it was relatively difficult to explore this vast and invisible world. AM/FM radios have been cheap and readily available since the popularization of the transistor in the 1960s, but devices that let you tune outside of frequencies like the 88 MHz-108 MHz band of FM radio were hard to come by and generally cost thousands of dollars.

This all changed in the early 2010s. A group of hackers discovered that the chips that powered many cheap digital TV USB tuners could be repurposed to tune into an impressively wide range of frequencies, from as low as 24 MHz to well over 1000 MHz. Today, these software defined radios (SDRs) can be picked up for about $20 on Amazon and are supported by an active open source community.

The opportunities this new technology has presented for investigative journalists and socially engaged engineers have proven to be vast. For instance, Buzzfeed News published a major story in August that revealed the extent to which law enforcement agencies use Stingrays (devices that pretend to be cell phone towers and are used to surreptitiously track people) by analyzing data from the radio signals that planes use to report on their location.


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Off-Duty LAPD Cop Hurt, Suspect Wounded in North Hills Shooting

An off-duty officer was injured and a suspect was wounded in an officer-involved shooting Wednesday morning (December 20) in North Hills.

A call came in at 1:01 a.m. about an off-duty officer needing help around the same time officers received reports of someone being shot, according to Sgt. Andrew Kukla of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Mission Division.

Responding officers located the off-duty officer and the wounded suspect who was believed to have been shot by the officer at 8923 Orion Ave., Kukla said.

Both the officer and the suspect were taken to hospitals and were in stable condition, according to Kukla. The nature of the officer’s injuries was not immediately reported.

It wasn’t immediately clear what led up to the confrontation between the off-duty officer and the suspect.

The shooting occurred nearly two hours after another officer-involved shooting about a mile away. That no-hit shooting occurred when officers went about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday to the Palm Tree Inn Motel at 8424 Sepulveda Blvd. in response to a report of a man shooting a gun off in the motel’s courtyard.

Officers shot at the man but he was not struck, Kukla said. The suspect surrendered and was taken into custody.

Credit: City News Service, OnScene TV

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FCC Blue Alert Warns Cell Phone Users of Threats to Law Enforcement

The Federal Communications Commission has expanded the US’s emergency alert systems by adding a new alert option dubbed Blue Alert. With Blue Alert, both local and state-level authorities can push out notifications that warn the public to “threats to law enforcement.” In explaining this, the FCC says the authorities are able to push out Blue Alerts across a variety of devices, including cell phones/smartphones, satellite, cable, and through broadcast providers.

You’ve likely at times received alerts on your phone related to missing children or severe weather; Blue Alert is similar in that the alert can be sent out to everyone in the applicable region if authorities choose to use it.

Rather than warning of a potential kidnapping or tornado, though, Blue Alert lets the public know things related to threats to law enforcement. Blue Alerts can be sent out when an officer is killed or seriously injured, or if authorities have credible knowledge that there’s a violent individual on the loose who poses a threat to officers.

The public can receive alerts warning if a violent individual is located in their community, advising them to stay safe, keep an eye out, and contact authorities if the individual is spotted. The FCC explains that it has created a dedicated Blue Alert event code, enabling agencies to send out the notices using the Emergency Alert System and the Wireless Emergency Alert system.

Under the new Order that establishes this code, the FCC has established a 12-month implementation period for the Emergency Alert System to deliver Blue Alerts, as well as a longer 18-month period for the Wireless Emergency Alert system.

Credit: FCC


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AT&T Flying COW Deployed to Puerto Rico

LTE-connected drones hold a lot of potential for FirstNet-subscribers. Exploring the capabilities of this technology in wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation will help temporarily restore connectivity and assess how first responders can use the drone in the future.

AT&T has developed a drone that can function as a flying cell phone tower and helped restore cellular service in Puerto Rico.

The aircraft is called the Flying COW, for Cell on Wings. Developed by AT&T, it flies up to 200 feet above the ground and can provide voice, data and Internet service for 40 square miles.

AT&T said this marked the first time an LTE cell site on a drone had been successfully deployed for connecting residents after a disaster. 

The drone, a Pulse Vapor 55, looks like a mini helicopter. It’s fitted with LTE radios and antennas and is tethered to ground-based electronics and power systems.

Its weight exceeds the FAA’s small drone 55-pound weight limit, so it required special authorization for use. The agency says it can be used on a temporary basis while permanent infrastructure is rebuilt.

A video from February shows the device in rural Georgia, tethered to a base of solar panels and connected to fiber. Art Pregler, director of the company’s drone program, explains that the drone is well-suited to disaster recovery after a hurricane or tornado, as it is easily deployed to establish connectivity.

Pregler said the drone is also useful during wildfires because it can be moved as the fire line shifts.

A Flying COW can provide coverage to up to 8,000 people simultaneously, AT&T said. The company said it currently has just one of the devices, but it is testing additional models for deployment.

Credit: AT&T, NPR, sUAS News


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LA-RICS Approves Deal with AT&T on Potential Transfer of Region’s Public-Safety LTE Network

Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) board members approved an agreement that would transfer the LA-RICS public-safety LTE assets to AT&T, so they can be integrated into the FirstNet system if California Gov. Jerry Brown makes an “opt-in” decision.

LA-RICS Executive Director Scott Edson tweeted today that the LA-RICS joint-powers authority board this morning voted unanimously in favor of the deal.

Terms of the agreement call for AT&T—FirstNet’s contractor to build and maintain the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN)—to pay LA-RICS $6 million for the regional authority’s existing public-safety LTE assets and another $6 million for infrastructure associated with a proposed network expansion. Expected to close in March or April, the deal also calls for AT&T to provide LA-RICS as many as 3,300 replacement routers, SIMs and devices and $2.5 million in services to deploy the routers, SIMs and devices.

“LA-RICS leadership and technical engineers worked for weeks with AT&T leadership and engineers to put together an agreement that benefits all parties and greatly benefits the region’s ability to properly serve the 11 million residents of LA County, especially during a major emergency or disaster,” Edson said yesterday in a prepared statement.

AT&T would receive LA-RICS assets deployed at 75 public-safety-grade sites—13 of which are cell-on-wheels (COW) sites—and any spare equipment held by LA-RICS, according to the proposed agreement.

Before the agreement can be executed, California Gov. Jerry Brown must make an “opt-in” FirstNet decision, which would mean that AT&T would build the LTE radio access network (RAN) in the state. In addition, the deal would have to be approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants office—administrators of the federal grants used to fund deployment of the LA-RICS system.

Like other state governors, Brown is facing a Dec. 28 deadline to make an “opt-in/opt-out” decision for FirstNet. Last month, California issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a vendor willing to build an alternative RAN in an “opt-out” scenario, and evaluation of those bids was scheduled to be completed Wednesday.

“We’re excited to have reached an agreement with LA-RICS,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, said yesterday in a prepared statement. “Los Angeles and the RICS team were at the forefront of developing the nationwide public safety broadband network. So, we’re pleased to integrate their assets into the FirstNet network we will build in California, should they opt in.

“It’s our mission to build a world-class network for first responders, and this will help us deliver the highest-quality public-safety service experience to Los Angeles, California and the nation.”

Incorporation of the LA-RICS LTE system—the largest “early builder” public-safety LTE network in the country—into FirstNet has been a priority for LA-RICS officials. In addition, Edson repeatedly has noted that LA-RICS built its cell sites to the “public-safety-grade” standard established by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), so the LA-RICS infrastructure should be integrated into the FirstNet system.

LA-RICS contracted Motorola Solutions to build the LTE network after being awarded a $154.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP), which required a 20% local match. As a result, the federal government owns 80% of the LA-RICS LTE network, and LA-RICS owns 20%, which is why the proposed agreement with AT&T requires federal approvals, according to the proposed agreement.

In the spring of 2015, NTIA suspended the LA-RICS LTE project after the city of Los Angeles withdrew from LA-RICS and the scope of the broadband project shrunk dramatically, with the number of cell sites deployed being decreased by more than 65% from the original plan of 232 sites.

In addition to the 75 “Round 1” LTE sites, LA-RICS officials hope to enhance coverage in the region by using $34 million in unspent BTOP grant funds to pay for the deployment of additional “Round 2” LTE sites. Deployment of these “Round 2” cell sites would have to be completed before LA-RICS would receive the latter $6 million, which would be paid in two installments, according to the proposed agreement.

Meanwhile, Rivada Networks—a confirmed bidder participating in the California RFP process—said it is willing to pay LA-RICS more than double the amount that AT&T would pay under the proposed agreement

“Yet again, AT&T is shortchanging public safety with a low-ball offer for LA-RICS’s assets,” Rivada Networks Chairman and CEO Declan Ganley said yesterday in a prepared statement. “Rivada’s bid to build a truly statewide public-safety broadband network for all of California went in last week, and it included a far more generous offer for the LA-RICS network.

“This $12 million offer to LA-RICS is just the latest demonstration that, without competition, public safety gets taken to the cleaners. Los Angeles deserves better, and California deserves better.”

Credit: Urgent Communications, LA-RICS


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Amateur Radio Volunteers Active in Latest Round of California Wildfires

The massive Thomas Fire in Southern California has consumed more than 230,500 acres, and the emergency has caused residents in fire-threatened areas to evacuate. Amateur Radio volunteers remain active supporting communication for American Red Cross shelters in Ventura County. More evacuations are likely, although the need for Amateur Radio assistance remains dynamic.

Cal Fire said today (December 11) that evacuation operations will occur ahead of westward fire growth, speeded by low humidity and gusty Santa Ana winds, which will push the fire further into Santa Barbara, County. One of several fires that have broken out across Southern California, the Thomas Fire is far and away the largest.

Ventura County Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS)/ARES activated a week ago to support Red Cross shelters there, providing communications between shelters. Radio amateurs also have deployed to the Ventura County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). ACS/ARES expects to be deployed while shelters are open. According to ARRL Ventura County District Emergency Coordinator Rob Hanson, W6RH, the ACS/ARES volunteers are staffing four evacuation centers, in addition to the EOC.

Santa Barbara Section Manager Jim Fortney, K6IYK, told ARRL, an Amateur Radio digital network (ARDN) MESH video network has been live streaming images from several sites, as long as the network remains up.

“Loss of primary power has required using the solar power backup capabilities, but, unfortunately, the heavy smoke has made that backup less than fully reliable,” he said. In addition, some sites are down because of power outages, and at least one hilltop site was overrun by fire.

“The Santa Barbara District ARES organization works closely with Santa Barbara County OEM [and] is prepared to support any requests as the Thomas Fire continues to burn into Santa Barbara County,” Fortney said.

Rich Beisigl, N6NKJ, reported that the Fallbrook Amateur Radio Group and other groups in the North County (San Diego) are providing communication at some evacuation centers, and the Red Cross has activated its Amateur Radio group. He said a group in Carlsbad also was providing shelter communication support.

In addition to power loss to repeater sites, solar panels charging off-grid batteries have been affected by the huge plumes of smoke blocking the sun.

ARRL Los Angeles Section Manager Diana Feinberg, AI6DF, said little official use of Amateur Radio was made during the fires in her Section. “All city and county governmental radio systems, commercial cell phone networks, and landline phone systems operated normally throughout the three fires in Los Angeles County, with just a few minor power outages of short duration.” At one point, the ARES-LAX Northwest District was very briefly in standby mode when it was thought that power might become intermittent at a hospital in the Santa Clarita area.

Feinberg said the City of Los Angeles Fire Department ACS opened a net for any traffic resulting from the small Skirball Fire, which claimed a half-dozen expensive homes and shut down a major freeway during the morning commute. 

Credit: ARRL



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Sikorsky Delivers Two S-70i™ Black Hawk Helicopters to the Los Angeles County Fire Department

COATESVILLE, Pa., Dec. 13, 2017  — Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, delivered two S-70i™ Black Hawk helicopters to the County of Los Angeles at a ceremony in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. The S-70i Black Hawk helicopters will be customized to a Firehawk™ configuration to meet L.A. County Fire Department’s specifications and further protect lives and property 24/7.

A Firehawk helicopter performs aerial firefighting and additionally, can plan missions and direct other firefighting aircraft, and provide emergency medical service transport, search and rescue, and logistic support. Once modified by a specialist outfitter in 2018 with a 1,000-gallon (3,785-liter) water tank, extended landing gear, single pilot cockpit layout and a medically-equipped interior, the new aircraft will increase to five the L.A. County Fire Department’s fleet of Firehawk multi-role helicopters.

Compared to LA County’s three existing S-70A model Firehawk aircraft, the S-70i variant includes wide chord rotor blades for increased payload and maneuverability, enhanced engine power, a stronger airframe, a digital cockpit with flight management system for enhanced situation awareness, and an Integrated Vehicle Health Management System to monitor the aircraft’s operational health.  Among improved safety features, the S-70i aircraft includes a terrain and obstacle avoidance system that alerts aircrew to the proximity of potential hazards on the ground.

“We are very happy to take delivery of these two new Firehawk aircraft,” said Thomas Ewald, deputy fire chief of L.A. County’s Fire Department’s Air and Wildland Division. “With the recent catastrophic wildland fires in L.A. and the Southern California region, the need for additional effective firefighting resources, such as the S-70i Firehawk, is readily apparent.  These two additional aircraft will enhance our existing fleet and strengthen both our day and night aerial firefighting capability, ultimately improving our ability to protect the lives and property of our citizens.”

“The Firehawk helicopter is born from an S-70i Black Hawk because of its proven and robust military design, which enables it to endure the enormous physical stresses required to drop 1,000 gallons of water multiple times a day on the fire line,” said Dan Schultz, president of Sikorsky. “The advanced Firehawk platform is a third generation Black Hawk with increased engine power, speed, maneuverability, higher altitude operations and improved mission availability. We stand behind L.A. County and will continue to support them during their critical missions, ensuring they continue to save untold lives and properties with our Sikorsky products.”

The L.A. County Fire Department was the first municipal organization to purchase the Firehawk in December 2000. 

Source: Lockheed Martin

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