INTRODUCTION AND OVERALL COMMENTS
The first main category of CTL’s work addressed by the panel, Public Safety Communications, is discussed in this chapter. The PSCR Division of CTL evolved from a program that was established in 2002 to provide research and development for public safety innovations and technologies.1 Since its inception, PSCR has played a unique role supporting research with a focus on the distinctive requirements of future public safety communications “so that the public safety community can more effectively carry out their mission to protect lives and property during day-to-day operations, large-scale events, and emergencies.”2 PSCR undertakes quarterly portfolio reviews to “monitor program effectiveness, mitigate risk [and] improve outcomes generated by PSCR.”3
The WN Division of CTL also works on the Public Safety Communications program. Funded in this effort by PSCR, WN focuses on “development and performance aspects of Mission-Critical Communications.”4 This includes in particular the Mission-Critical Voice (MCV) portfolio, discussed below. (Separately, WN also works on the Metrology of Advanced Communications as discussed in Chapter 4.)
In 2012, PSCR was called to play a significant part in the future of broadband public safety communication; the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 20125 (the “Act”) appropriated $300 million from spectrum auction proceeds to NIST to be used as specified in Section 6303 of the Act as shown in Box 3.1.
Although the funds were appropriated in 2012, NIST was not granted borrowing authority and thus had to wait for the auction proceeds to become available before it could carry out the activities specified in the Act. The first portion of the allocated funds ($100 million) became available to PSCR at the start of FY 2016, the second allocation ($186.4 million) became available July 2016, and the final allocation ($13.6 million) became available FY 2017. The Act specifies that at the end of FY 2022, all appropriated funds that are unused will be returned to the Treasury.
1 The PSCR effort was originally a joint effort between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Office of Law Enforcement Standards (now the NIST PSCR Division within CTL) and NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences.
2 NIST, Undated, “This is CTL,” U.S. Department of Commerce, Boulder, Colo., p. 10.
3 Dereck Orr, NIST, “Pulling the Future Forward: Accelerating Public Safety Communications Research,” presentation to the panel on June 25, 2019.
4 NIST, Undated, “This is CTL,” U.S. Department of Commerce, Boulder, Colo., p. 16.
5 P.L. 112-96, signed into law on February 22, 2012.
In 2013, PSCR began a process of engaging stakeholders to identify the needs and technical requirements for future broadband public safety wireless communications. Stakeholders including public safety practitioners (police, fire, emergency medical service [EMS]), industry, academia and local, state and federal agencies provided input to identify and prioritize research needs that were specific to public safety and were not being met by efforts in industry or academia. This process resulted in the development of research portfolios in the following areas:
- Location-Based Services (LBS)
- Public Safety Analytics
- Enhanced UI/UX
Along with two crosscutting efforts:
- Resilient Systems
The crosscutting efforts are focused on use cases that were identified as being important to PSCR stakeholders.
PSCR is using a variety of different mechanisms to achieve the requirements set forth by the Act. These instruments include internal research, research collaborations with government partners, external research grants and cooperative agreements, and prize challenges. Each research portfolio listed above includes a mix of these different instruments. Starting in FY 2017, PSCR began awarding grants for research and development projects focused on priority areas within the research portfolios that were not being addressed through internal research. To date, PSCR has funded 46 grants and cooperative agreements.
Prize challenges were devised as a mechanism to cost-effectively foster innovation in areas where the other research instruments were unlikely to achieve the desired outcome. They seek to raise awareness of public safety-specific technical issues, engage innovators around the world,6 and facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration between participants, public safety, industry and government. PSCR prize challenges began in 2018. An example is the 2018 Unmanned Aerial Systems Flight and Payload Challenge, which addresses the trade-off of flight time versus payload that proves critical in the public safety domain. The 10 teams that participated developed drones at low cost that optimized energy efficiency and flexibility. Incentive prizes such as this are awarded throughout different phases of the challenges to encourage participants with the best ideas. Prize winners are also incentivized to make their software open source to increase the potential impact on the public safety ecosystem.7
As of June 2019, PSCR has 30 technical staff, 5 administrative staff and 2 support staff for a total of 37 employees. The workforce includes 16 permanent employees and 21 term employees. The permanent staff all have bachelor’s degrees and 7 have master’s degrees. There are no Ph.D.-level staff working in PSCR although some of the research portfolios include Ph.D.-level staff from other organizations in NIST. Unique among the four CTL divisions, PSCR has a greater number of term appointees than permanent ones, owing to the anticipated sunsetting of the funding from the spectrum auction in FY 2022, at which point the term appointees would no longer be working in CTL under current assumptions.
Overall Public Safety Communication Discussion
The PSCR has adequate and stable near-term funding to carry out its mission. The technical quality of the team is excellent and the communication among team members is highly supportive of a collaborative, highly productive and interdisciplinary culture. The PSCR is a critical part of the public safety community and provides the leadership on communications research as well as on requirement gathering for the community. The importance of PSCR’s mission will likely extend past the anticipated end of funding after 2022.
CTL staff has identified an appropriate set of projects to support future public safety communications needs. This work is centered on requirements gathering, research across six key technology areas, multi-stakeholder events, and standards work.
The process for the future strategic selection of new projects—to continue PSCR impact—was less clear from the standpoint of this review.
The PSCR staff is consistently and diligently engaged in the important task of disseminating its findings to the broader community of public safety professionals and stakeholders.
The prize challenges in general have the beneficial short-term impact of making the community aware of what’s possible and to highlight those groups that are doing great work in relevant areas.
6 Only teams with at least one U.S. citizen are eligible for the cash prizes.
7 In some cases, it is too soon to measure the impact of the prize winners—for example, the 2018 Differential Privacy Synthetic Data Challenge was completed in May 2019.
The PSCR is a unique national resource, and its scientific output and research need to be continued and made broadly available in order to ensure the highest impact of the work for the first responder community.
The CTL physical infrastructure is adequate for the current programs in public safety communications.
There is substantial evidence that PSCR has accomplished a significant amount in multiple areas of interest to its stakeholders in a short period of time.
ASSESSMENT OF TECHNICAL PROGRAMS
Across the six portfolios identified in the above section “Introduction,” PSCR has established a strong set of research components critical to future public safety communications. While significant work remains to be done, to date the PSCR has provided the community a number of accomplishments, outlined below. These contributions would not have been possible without the significant funding provided through the Act.
Mission Critical Voice
Several goals related to MCV were explicitly stated in the Act. These goals include the following: (1) accelerate technical and systems research to develop of mission critical voice communications, (2) enable public safety prioritization, (3) enable authentication capabilities, and (4) develop standard application programming interfaces.8 Two divisions of CTL, PSCR and WN, contribute to this portfolio. The current activities in PSCR for MCV include: active participation (including contributions) to the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) standards body;9 maintenance of the list10 of certified devices that meet appropriate protocols and standards for access to, use of, or compatibility with the nationwide public safety broadband network that FirstNet and their network partner, AT&T, build and maintain; research in critical open source tools that lower the barrier to entry for researchers and companies to perform research in the area of MCV; and development and improvement of tools, datasets, and models for public safety, commercial broadband operators, and outside researchers to simulate networks from the radio layer down through payload. (The authentication activities are part of the Security portfolio discussed below.) WN conducts work such as Device-To-Device (D2D) Communication, Mission Critical Push to Talk (MCPTT), and other areas.11
Future activities include: producing an inexpensive, trusted, and scientific measurement system that can be used by public safety practitioners and industry as a fair baseline and comparison of MCV capabilities; developing generic call models for public safety MCV that describe public safety’s existing Land Mobile Radio (LMR) use; creating a prototype system and release open-source software and capabilities that can be used by industry to create inexpensive solutions for public safety that bridge existing, non-Inter-RF-Subsystem Interface (non-ISSI) capable LMR systems with 3GPP standard interfaces (interworking function/application server) on broadband networks; and implementing direct comparisons of LMR and broadband capabilities for MCV.
8 From The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-96).
9 Specifically in the 3GPP TS 36.579 family of specifications and the 3GPP Core Network and Terminals Working Group 1 for Mission Critical Services.
10 The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-96) directed NIST to ensure the development of a list of certified devices. PSCR authored the process document for this requirement and maintains the list (J.D. Kahn, “Process Document for the NIST List of Certified Devices,” October 24, 2017, https://www.nist.gov/communications-technology-laboratory/pscr/process-document-nist-list-certified-devices).
11 See NIST, Undated, “This is CTL,” U.S. Department of Commerce, Boulder, Colo., p. 21.
Through FY 2019, PSCR has expended approximately $41 million for MCV activities. The three primary accomplishments presented to the review team included the following:
- PSCR maintains the list of certified devices that meet appropriate protocols, and that list has been updated on a monthly basis with the most recent update being of August 6, 2019.
- PSCR has undertaken the role of representative for U.S. public safety at key standards organizations. Albeit not a research and development role, the NIST role at 3GPP (who formulates all of the worldwide cellular standards) has provided key value for FirstNet implementations and future cellular implementations. For example,
- Recently, PSCR informed a delegate from FirstNet to the 3GPP Core Network and Terminals Working Group 1 (CT1) that a configuration table in 3GPP TS 24.483 needed many parameter changes.
- PSCR interacts with delegates from various companies and organizations while informing 3GPP CT1 regarding required fixes in the reference specifications for Mission Critical Services.
- The internal research within NIST has focused on testing methodology for determining voice intelligibility. It is expected that this work will continue and provide additional results and impact. Primary research accomplishments to date include the following:
- Studies of quality of experience (QoE) and subsequent metrics aimed at providing a high QoE including: end-to-end access time, speech intelligibility, voice quality and intelligibility, and probability of access and retention.
- Initial M2E (mouth-to-ear) latency measurements comparison for Project 25 (P25) trunk and direct radio systems. This work can be used as a comparison when using 3GPP defined PTT user access time.
- Voice quality and intelligibility analysis using Modified Rhyme Test (MRT) developed by the NTIA’s ITS.
Challenges and Opportunities
The review team focused on two of the three focus areas as discussed above: (1) involvement in the standards bodies and (2) MCV internal research.
Although not a research and development (R&D) function, the NIST role with the standards bodies and maintaining the certified device list has been valuable both from near-term as well as long-term perspectives. It is critical that the public safety community be represented by technically informed personnel in order to address highly technical issues within the standards bodies.
Recommendation: CTL’s participation in standards bodies concerning Mission Critical Voice should be driven toward specific goals that should be explicitly agreed upon by the user as well as the research and development communities. Those goals should be internally and externally vetted.
The MCV Internal Research, representing a substantial amount of the PSCR expenditures, appears to be in its initial stages. This research is building on a great deal of work by NTIA, and it is interesting to note that there are not many cooperative interactions between the organizations. The specific role of this work versus the work done by other organizations (i.e., ITS [part of NTIA]; the Department of Homeland Security’s Advanced Research Projects Agency; and DoD) was not made available to the panel but would be a useful input for planning research and standards. Although the radio
systems are unique, the problems that are to be addressed are very similar to those being addressed by these other organizations. Such interactions with other researchers could quickly allow bigger strides in resolving public safety MCV challenges.
There appears to be no roadmap of technology development for MCV and thus no knowledge of how the projected future development of technologies might be used to focus the various R&D efforts. Such a roadmap could assist CTL in coordinating with other federal entities and would justify the relatively small expenditure of resources needed to develop it.
Key Recommendation: The PSCR Division should develop a research and development roadmap for mission-critical voice, considering how the various activities it includes therein can be used as integral elements. CTL should consult on the roadmap’s development with other organizations, both government and commercial, to determine overlap of technology development. CTL should conduct its own critical technology assessment to inform its roadmap.
PSCR aims to demonstrate capabilities that first responders can reply upon in three major research areas in LBS: (1) indoor mapping, (2) tracking, and (3) navigation. A major effort has been in pre-incident planning, by developing a point cloud database of major non-residential indoor environments, as well as sensor data fusion (i.e., fusing sensor data to participants). PSCR has engaged extensively with external organizations to build research capacity in the area of indoor LBS.
Some of the key accomplishments of the PSCR’s LBS program include the following:
- 32 scientific and engineering articles have been published in the field of indoor localization and specific applications to public safety with. 15 projects have been launched (12 grants, 1 contract, 3 NIST projects) that have engaged 140 R&D personnel, including 90 students and postdocs.
- PSCR has demonstrated that point clouds could be transformed to IndoorGML (Indoor Geographic Markup Language)12 networks for use in indoor navigation.
- The Point Cloud City projects have already proven critical for two different LBS initiatives: (1) The Indoor Mapping and Navigation Pilot, and (2) internal PSCR research focused on object anonymization and scene classification—highlighting the importance, but lack of available, point cloud data sets for research.
- Work in the Indoor Mapping and Navigation Pilot has also made several key contributions to geospatial standards: (1) A public safety application domain extension (ADE) was created for the CityGML13 (City Geographic Markup Language) standard and (2) the concept of an ADE was added to the IndoorGML standard, along with a new public safety specific ADE. The new CityGML and IndoorGML Public Safety ADEs provide a mechanism to enrich building models with new features and attributes required for public safety use cases. Interestingly, prior to this pilot, the concept of an ADE did not exist for IndoorGML. However, early on in the pilot it became clear that in order to serve effectively as a navigation model for the public
- safety use case, or any specific use cases for that matter, the concept of an ADE would need to be extended to the IndoorGML standard.
Challenges and Opportunities
In addition to ongoing efforts in mapping and navigation, the PSCR Division is preparing to launch a multi-year, multi-phase large-scale prize challenge that will engage innovators across industry and academia to meet or exceed the public safety responder community’s desire for sub-meter indoor localization accuracy without the need for pre-deployed dedicated infrastructure. The challenge will occur in at least three different building environments and will mirror other challenges by seeking direct FirstNet14 involvement and partnerships. The first track will focus on identifying the highest performing sensors in each of five categories broadly defined as: inertial-based, imagers and scanners, signals of opportunity, external anchors, and cooperative ranging. In this track, teams will be evaluated based on the performance of their sensor using test scenarios designed to stress that sensor category. The second track will focus on identifying the highest performing multi-sensor fusion algorithms. In this track, teams will be evaluated based on their ability to generate accurate positions of first responders by fusing the individual sensor data from the first track just mentioned as it is streamed in “real-time” to participants. This prize challenge, if executed successfully, will offer a great opportunity to engage the broader indoor LBS and data analytics community to introduce innovative solutions for the PSCR program.
The generated data from the Point Cloud City project is valuable for a wide range of other PSCR research, and will bring new opportunities in localization, object anonymization, and scene classification.
Recommendation: The PSCR Division should explore some of the recent developments in the 3GPP standardization group related to indoor localization enhancements using cellular networks and consider adding such to its own research agenda.
Public Safety Analytics
The CTL analytics group staff is composed of five key personnel who are on loan to PSCR. Two of these individuals hold Ph.D.s, and all are experienced researchers. They are supplemented by several contractors who perform project research, principally at universities, under the guidance of the internal staff. The skill sets of the staff members are varied and complementary, which is a positive characteristic.
The principle accomplishments have been achieved by the external contractors monitored by the internal personnel. CTL stood up an external research program as of June 2017, with contracts that were fully engaged sometime after that date. The research portfolio includes research projects in emergency medical services analytics, firefighting analytics, crosscutting research in video analytics, differential privacy prize challenge, social media incident streams challenge (first-generation and a coming second-generation challenge), analytics container environment framework to support scalable streaming analytics, collaboration with Baltimore CitiWatch,15 and a planned challenge in automated streams analytics for public safety. The output of this research has principally been conference papers and open-source software.
14 The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, was created by the Middle Class Taxcut and Job Creation Act of 2012. Situated within the Department of Commerce, FirstNet is given the mission of developing and operating a nationwide broadband network for first responders.
While it is still early in the process to judge the outcomes from these research projects, there are some projects that stand out as potentially very useful. These include the work in: developing privacy analysis, developing metrics to assess video quality for analytics processing, and collecting relevant data sets for doing video analytics comparisons. The privacy issue in video analytics is of growing public concern, and it is timely and appropriate that CTL addresses this area in their long-term research portfolio.
In 2016 PSCR published the Public Safety Analytics R&D Roadmap16 following an analytics summit. PSCR has undertaken many activities— both intramural and extramural—since that time that might need to be considered in its long-term planning.
Key Recommendation: CTL should update its roadmap for public safety analytics, taking into consideration projected future areas of interest.
Challenges and Opportunities
Key challenges for the public safety analytics program include defining metrics to ensure that the overall portfolio is on track to produce (in the long term) results that will be useful to the public safety community through instilling into the performers the importance of quantifying impact or potential impact of their research. The metrics should allow for comparison of their work against similar work being done worldwide. These metrics could be very useful for the internal NIST researchers to gauge the performance of their contractors. The video analytics work is a start to understand the metrics that can be used to develop tangible operational metrics, and the work between CTL and Baltimore CitiWatch looks very promising for supplying validation data for those metrics. The video metrics work and the creation of useful data sets has the potential to be magnified in future research efforts.
The prize challenges in public safety have beneficial short-term impact of making the community aware of what’s possible and to highlight those groups that are doing great work in relevant areas. The work of the PSCR Division might benefit from giving consideration to how this effort will produce long-lasting infrastructure, talent, and tools for public safety beyond the end date of the competition.
Enhanced User Interface/User Experience
First responders face many unique communication challenges. The challenges vary based on factors such as task, environment and equipment constraints. In addition, broadband communication capabilities along with new sources of information have the potential to dramatically increase the amount of data available to first responders. Innovative tools and techniques that enable first responders to interact with these new capabilities and systems are needed. To facilitate this, the UI/UX portfolio focuses on UI research, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)-based research and UX research. This portfolio includes internal and external research along with prize challenges. Seven external grants and cooperative agreements were awarded in 2018.
The major accomplishments of the PSCR UI/UX portfolio include the following:
16 NIST, 2016, Public Safety Analytics R&D Roadmap, NIST Technical Note 1917, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.
- PSCR has built a UI/UX research and development team to demonstrate the importance and utility of UI/UX design for public safety. The team has significant collaboration with the interdisciplinary Atlas Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
- Two surveys of the public safety community were conducted to identify the required functionality for future communications systems. These surveys included 7,000 responses from public safety professionals and 200 in-person interviews. The findings from the interviews have been published as NIST reports.17,18 Additionally, PSCR has a publicly available search tool for identifying quotes from the interviews based on a variety of criteria. This information could be useful in influencing the design and development of public safety technology.
- Three unique VR environments with scenarios for fire, police, and EMS were developed to serve as test platforms for potential UIs. These environments are instrumented to facilitate qualitative and quantitative measurements on the performance of UI prototypes. Notably, this set of tools is open source and available to the public.
- PSCR has completed a prize challenge to create a heads-up display (HUD) with unimpeded visual aids and has an ongoing prize challenge focused on haptic interfaces. Both of these challenges utilize the VR test environments. The interest of external partners in the prize challenges is increasing. Although FirstNet participated in judging the HUD challenge, there were no external partners. Currently PSCR has a number of official partners for the haptic challenge including the FirstNet Authority, AT&T, MSA, and West Metro Fire Protection District (CO).
Challenges and Opportunities
Effective UI/UX design is one of the keys to the public safety community taking advantage of the new technologies enabled by broadband communication capabilities. By providing resources such as the first responder survey findings and open source VR tools, PSCR has the opportunity to facilitate expanded UI/UX research and development. In addition to the prize challenges, PSCR might consider other ways to raise awareness and understanding of public safety research problems to engage a broader community in the research and development. One potential avenue for reaching a broader academic audience would be use of the resources in education.
PSCR plans to launch several new UI/UX prize challenges and do continued development on new VR environments. UI/UX emerged as a priority for public safety stakeholders and it is critical to successful integration of new technologies into public safety operation. It is necessary to think about how to keep UI/UX in the forefront, particularly after 2022.
Key Recommendation: The PSCR Division should consider integration of the UI/UX (user interface/user experience) research and prize challenges with the other PSCR portfolios as appropriate provided efficiencies can be gained by such integration. The division should consider developing a methodology and process for studying UI/UX along with the study of new technologies.
17 NIST, 2018, Voices of First Responders—Identifying Public Safety Communication Problems: Findings from User-Centered Interviews. Phase 1, Volume 1, NISTIR 8216, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.
18 NIST, 2018, Voices of First Responders—Examining Public Safety Communication Problems and Requested Functionality Findings from User-Centered Interviews Phase 1, Volume 2.1, NISTIR 8245, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.
Though CTL considers PSCR security as a primary responsibility of FirstNet and its partners, CTL still identified use cases for security authentication that would be valuable to FirstNet. CTL has dedicated its efforts in this focus area and has built technology solutions around it.
A resource of about 10 personnel from CTL and other organizations within NIST have been dedicated to supporting PSCR security.
CTL invested heavily in PSCR security areas with funding levels of $2.2 million in FY 2018 and $2.6 million in FY 2019. Highlighted accomplishments from CTL’s PSCR security program are the following:
- CTL supported 3GPP standardization efforts, including mandating elliptic curve implementation, analyzing drivers with 256-bit algorithms in 5G (5th Generation Wireless Network), and enabling applications to understand security postures with cellular connections.
- CTL PSCR program has built Mobile Single Sign-On (SSO) capabilities for improving authentication for public safety first responders.
- CTL has developed and published a NIST Interagency or Internal Report (NISTIR), Security Analysis of First Responder Mobile and Wearable Devices.19 This document reviews the current and potential use cases of mobile and wearable devices by first responders and then analyzes these devices from a cybersecurity perspective. Ultimately, the goal of the document is to identify security objectives for mobile and wearable devices to assist jurisdictions with selecting secure devices and to enable industry to design and produce secure public safety devices.
- CTL launched and expanded the “SIM Card Use for Public Safety” challenge to investigate the possibility of using SIM card as a storage container for user credentials. PSCR will award up to $100,000 to the winning teams that successfully propose and demonstrate their idea on how they will securely store a file on a SIM card; create a mobile application that accesses a credential stored on a SIM card; and authenticates to a FIDO220 (Fast IDentitiy Online) service provider. CTL has partnered directly with FirstNet, AT&T, IBM, and Nok Labs for this challenge.
- CTL developed a unified secure information access framework, called ICAM (Identity, Credential and Access Management), to meet the first responder community needs.
- CTL provided a test bed where industry, FirstNet, PSCR, and other research organizations can evaluate and incorporate public safety communication research objectives.
Challenges and Opportunities
Besides performing research in mobile access authentication, the PSCR Division has opportunities for protecting user applications and user data in the PSCR mobile environment. User
19 NIST, 2018, Security Analysis of First Responder Mobile and Wearable Devices, Draft NISTIR 8196, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., January.
20 A joint effort between the Fast Identity Online Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to create authentication solutions.
applications need to be certified before installation. User data can only be accessed from authorized applications and with right privileges.
Recommendation: CTL should proactively seek best practices from industry and other government organizations for both mobile application and user data protection.
CTL has heavily leveraged collaboration partners from industry and other NIST organizations in the cyber security studies. This practice could result in lack of core competencies for its own team. CTL may consider devoting more resources for building up an internal research team in better support of PSCR stakeholders and development of its own core technologies.
Cyber security is essential for PSCR stakeholders. New cyber threats, new operational requirements, and technology advances present continuous challenges to the CTL PSCR program, especially when the 5G cellular system is in service. Providing proper support after year 2022 will be a challenge and an opportunity for the CTL PSCR program.
The PSCR resilient systems portfolio is limited to specific use cases around rapidly deployable and fault tolerant networks that are valuable to FirstNet. There is significant resilient systems research across multiple sectors that can be directly leveraged by FirstNet and public safety. The resilient systems portfolio is comprised of prize challenges and external research.
- In 2018, PSCR designed and launched the UAS Flight and Payload Challenge. The competition was designed by NIST to support field operations for first responders. UAS operations in a public safety realm entail a tradeoff between payload versus flight time. There are different missions capabilities enabled by Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) of a UAS but their flight time is nonetheless limited. The parameters of payload capacity, energy source and flight time imply design trade-offs in the quest to optimize the vehicle for efficiency and flexibility. This prize challenge was thus designed to help public safety operations by keeping a UAS and its payload airborne for the longest time possible with vertical and hovering accuracy. Additionally, at a cost of less than $20,000 per UAS, this challenge shows first responders that there may someday be an affordable drone in their toolkit to carry wireless networks for emergency operations.21
- In 2017, PSCR funded six grants to evaluate or enhance the resilience of public safety mission critical systems in the face of connectivity challenges. This includes traditional research, evaluation prototypes, and enhancements to existing systems. All six grants should be completed by the end of 2019.
Challenges and Opportunities
Building on the results and lessons learned from the first UAS challenge, PSCR is designing a second Unmanned Aerial Systems Flight and Payload Challenge. The goal is to push the current limits of
21 Adapted from Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2019, Implementation of Federal Prize and Citizen Science Authority: Fiscal Years 2017-18, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C., June.
designing affordable UAS that can be used to carry wireless networks into areas that are not accessible to typical deployable units.
Recommendation: CTL should continue to work closely with FirstNet stakeholders to identify research needs relevant to the resilient systems use cases of interest to FirstNet.
PORTFOLIO OF SCIENTIFIC EXPERTISE
To build the scientific expertise necessary to carry out the mission as mandated in the Act, PSCR has established research, testing and development expertise that aligns with the needs of their stakeholder population. PSCR has grown its permanent technical staff to 15, utilized experts from other organizations in NIST, funded 46 grants and contracts with teams from academia, industry, and public safety, and created a series of prize challenges open to innovators around the world. This approach to developing scientific capabilities is driven by the limited term of the $300 million funding from the Act. It has resulted in significant accomplishments in each of the four research portfolios as well as the two crosscutting areas. (See “Introduction” to this chapter, above.)
ADEQUACY OF FACILITIES, EQUIPMENT AND HUMAN RESOURCES
PSCR facilities and equipment are adequate to the mission. The PSCR team moved into a newly renovated building in early 2018. Their laboratories are well-equipped, and they also have a mobile research vehicle that provides a mobile research laboratory capability.
PSCR is comprised of a mix of permanent and term employees. Less than half of the staff (43 percent) are permanent employees. Term employees generally come from other government organizations as well as universities. The expiration of funding in 2022 makes it challenging to attract the best talent due to PSCR’s limited ability to hire permanent employees. As the 2022 end date approaches, PSCR will likely find it increasingly difficult to attract highly talented term employees as well.
PSCR is addressing key issues in public safety, and it is likely that the research mission will continue to be of importance beyond the 2022 end date of the appropriated funds from the spectrum auction.
Key Recommendation: CTL should evaluate the possibility and pros and cons of a strategic expansion of PSCR’s internal research staff aimed at ensuring continuity of research in key priority areas in particular after fiscal year 2022 when the spectrum auction funds will have been spent or no longer be available. In addition, CTL should develop a plan for leveraging the expertise developed through the prize challenges.
DISSEMINATION OF OUTPUTS
Dissemination is a key component of the PSCR goal to create a public safety ecosystem and this is an area where PSCR has established a strong and successful effort. PSCR has many different avenues for disseminating results. Every year since 2016, PSCR has held a multi-day stakeholder meeting with attendees representing the many different sectors interested in public safety communications. The 2019 stakeholder’s meeting held in Chicago had 486 attendees. The breakdown of attendees was as shown in Figure 3.1.
During the stakeholder’s meeting, results from each of the portfolios and crosscutting areas were presented along with talks and panels from stakeholders. In addition there were demonstrations of capabilities developed. These meetings give stakeholders the opportunity to learn about the latest developments, provide input and interact with each other.
PSCR has made a point of requiring deliverables such as data sets, application programming interfaces and open-source tools—all of which encourage the growth of the public safety ecosystem and can be utilized by others and built upon. These results are freely available via the PSCR website and many have been integrated into prize challenges to facilitate new efforts. In addition, prize challenge winners are incentivized to make their winning systems open source. Results of PSCR activities are also published in appropriate scientific conferences and journals as well as in NIST reports.