A Local Perspective on Public Safety Data Communications


Battalion Chief for IT and Communications for the Baltimore City Fire Department, Patrick Walsh. Photo courtesy of FirstNet Maryland.

FirstNet Maryland, Maryland’s team working to prepare for the nation’s first Public Safety Broadband Network, recently published the following interview with Battalion Chief for IT and Communications for the Baltimore City Fire Department, Patrick Walsh.  Chief Walsh is a member of Maryland’s Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC), representing the north-central region of Maryland.  Other local representatives include:

  • Western Maryland: Kevin L. Lewis, Director,  Division of Emergency Services, Washington County
  • Eastern Maryland: Wayne Darrell, Emergency Services Director, Kent County
  • Southern Maryland: Tony Rose, Chief, Communications/911, Charles County Emergency Services
  • National Capital Region: Harash Segal, CIO, Montgomery County

From FirstNet Maryland’s Newsletter:

Q&A with SIEC Member Pat Walsh 

  1. Through your seat on our Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee you’ve been involved in Maryland’s planning for FirstNet from the beginning. . . what do you think the Network’s most important benefits to public safety . . . will be?  While we’re still very much in the planning stage of this enormous project, the core item is to provide a public safety grade broadband system. Many years ago we tolerated radio communications that were intermittent, lacked coverage, and just weren’t dependable. Today we recognize the need for a dependable radio communications. The same is occurring with data. As public safety personnel utilize data systems more, these systems become fixtures in the operation. The civilian grade broadband, especially wireless systems, just don’t support public safety in a manner that is necessary. Having a dependable broadband system will provide the foundation for moving ahead with data applications that will soon become just as important in the performance of duties and safety of personnel as voice systems have become today.
  2. In your daily job you’re the Battalion Chief of Fire IT/Communications for the Baltimore City Fire Department. Thinking about what you do every day, what do you think about the Network’s most important benefits to Fire and EMS at your agency?  IT and Communications provide support to those performing the job of public safety. The commanders of an event and the officers on the street are dependent upon wireless voice and data. We have the voice system in place. FirstNet will provide the broadband system built and maintained to a public safety standard, that we control.In my department we have Mobile Data Terminals on our Suppression and EMS units. We have a Mobile Command Unit with multiple computer terminals on board. Our EMS units use patient tracking software via tablets at every event. All of this data is being transmitted on civilian grade cell service. When we have a weather event, a large emergency or planned event or just a vendor having problems, we lose our connectivity. That could mean a loss of mapping to the commanders of an active shooter event, or updates on a 911 call going to responding units. It could mean the transport officer at a mass casualty event won’t be able to see live hospital status reports. We can do better and with FirstNet we will have the backbone we need to maintain our connectivity and provide the support our public safety personnel require.
  3. You recently handled BCFD’s communications for the Star-Spangled Spectacular: a 10-day event in September that drew a million people to downtown Baltimore . . . and that included visits from the President and Vice President. . . Did you encounter any challenges where a dedicated broadband network for public safety would have helped or that would have allowed your team to do anything differently? . . . I spent the week in our Mobile Command Unit which we used as the communications control center. While the unit was in a location that had a fiber feed, most of the units we were supporting were utilizing wireless connectivity. And we not only had land units but we also had a number of waterborne assets, from federal, state and local jurisdictions. . . Our contingency plans, whether for a weather event, mass casualty or something that went bang, all had to cover the anticipated loss of wireless data systems. A dedicated broadband system would have severely lessened the risk of losing that pipeline. Now I’m not saying that a dedicated broadband system will be bullet proof. We also had contingency plans for loss of radio systems. But a dedicated public safety broadband system would severely lessen the risk of loss. At the same time, a more reliable system would lend itself to support more mission critical applications. . .

Read the whole interview with Chief Walsh here.