UVM Seeks Defined Lane of Communication
Chief Lianne Tuomey is a 36-year police veteran and has served in every facet of law enforcement. She joined UVP Police Services in 2000 as Deputy Chief. She was promoted to Chief on May 18, 2009. Zach Borst began his emergency response work at 17 as a volunteer firefighter for Putney. He joined UVM as the Emergency Manager in 2015 and is the chief technology manager for police and emergency services. Borst is the Vice President of the newly formed Vermont Emergency Management Association.
Would you give us an overview of UVM Police Services?
Tuomey: UVM Police Services has 36 employees – 23 sworn officers and an around-the-clock dispatching center. Police Services averages 10,000 calls per year. Our key divisions include the patrol division, bike patrol, criminal investigation, emergency dispatch, and community engagement and outreach.
Borst: Our primary means of communication is LMR. UVM supports two separate LMR systems – one for non-public safety and a separate for public safety. The public safety LMR system is P25 and encrypted based on Chittenden County standards. Our cell phones are a parallel primary means of communication. We support our mobile data processes in the police cruisers by utilizing a mobile hot spot. There are cell phones in each cruiser for phone and texting use. We use body cameras and store all footage in the cloud.
Why did you subscribe to FirstNet?
Tuomey: We needed a defined lane of communication just for public safety. Officer safety is of primary importance to me. Anything we can do to enhance communication only improves safety. We subscribed as soon as it was offered.
Borst: Prior to subscribing, Police Services had to utilize the campus Wi-Fi. The priority and pre-emption features are huge to us. We have commencement coming up on May 19. We easily have an extra 10,000 to 20,000 people on our campus at commencement, depending on the weather. The cell towers are maxed out. With FirstNet, we won’t have to compete for service. Ease of use is also important. Previously, we relied on GETS and WPS. It was very underutilized. You must dial an extra number for priority service. As a Tier 3 agency, we never saw any discernable difference in service. With FirstNet, we don’t have to dial an extra number and we are already in the priority lane.
How has FirstNet influenced your technology plans?
Tuomey: We are now updating our dispatching consoles. The update is being done with a goal of maximizing our use of technology. I continue to hope that all of the towers promised to Vermont will go up and that the national system will work as planned. We need to be prepared for that.
Borst: With the dedicated connections and coverage provided through FirstNet, we hope to make more use of streaming on-scene video back to dispatch or the Incident Commander. This could greatly enhance our situational awareness. The value of having a live stream was evident during the 2017 fire in Torey Hall. We were able to redirect one of our fixed location cameras toward the incident. It was a great help in directing resources to address the incident as it progressed.
What advice do you have for first responders considering subscribing to FirstNet?
Tuomey: Before subscribing, you must consider the availability of the signal. You may have to wait to subscribe until the service is provided at a critical level. Keep paying attention to the FirstNet rollout and check on what is planned for your area. I had the amazing experience of hiking to the base of Mt. Everest. Throughout the hike I always had a cell signal. Why was there coverage in Nepal, but not in Vermont? The difference is that there is a commitment to getting the service. We need that kind of commitment in this state.
Borst: It is important to embrace the fact that technology is a part of our response now. As first responders, we have an obligation to the community to have the best communication system possible. The FirstNet team has been very helpful. They have brought services and devices to us and showed us our options. We haven’t felt pressured. We have felt like they were really trying to help us. The service has been good. We also like the FirstNet app store. Knowing that these applications have been vetted gives us a greater degree of trust that it will work as described. We like that the applications are focused on the critical work of first responders. We like the end-to-end encryption that is part of the FirstNet service. We move a lot of sensitive data and discuss critical information that’s important to keep secure. As part of a college community, with some really smart students, we like the added protection against hacking.
Has UVM utilized any Push-to-Talk applications?
Borst: On the emergency management side, we are using Motorola WAVE Broadband Push-to-Talk. WAVE is a work group communication tool that utilizes Android phones and tablets and allows group and private calls and text, emergency calls, presence status, location sharing and mapping and voice and data encryption. We have also used the Enhanced Push-to-Talk function for our non-public safety side, but have yet to use it for public safety.