Targeted Stakeholder Engagement on potential Implementation Models for a Public Safety Broadband Network in Canada

From Public Safety Canada, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

Current status: Closed

The Government of Canada, through the Federal Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) Task Team, engaged with diverse stakeholders on implementation models for a potential Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN). Public Safety Broadband Networks are secure high-speed wireless data communications networks. These can be used by emergency responders and public safety personnel to communicate with each other in emergency situations and during day-to-day operations, and hold the potential to improve the effectiveness and safety of first responders and the public safety community.

Why

Feedback received from this targeted stakeholder engagement allowed the Government of Canada to better understand the potential benefits of a Public Safety Broadband Network, and will support decision making moving forward.

Who

The potential deployment of a PSBN network requires collaboration between multiple sectors.

Targeted stakeholder engagement included the following groups: federal, provincial and territorial authorities, Tri-Services (police, paramedics and firefighters), municipalities, industry (e.g., commercial carriers, telecommunications sector and related equipment providers), critical infrastructure operators, representatives from rural and remote communities, Indigenous community representatives, academia and international public safety counterparts.

Engagement activities began through the creation of specific working groups comprised of members from the first responders community, federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments.

What

The targeted engagement focused on common or unique elements that would need to be considered for a variety of potential implementation models, such as existing capabilities and innovative solutions, technical/security requirements, public safety user requirements, infrastructure, spectrum licensing conditions and efficient use of spectrum, governance, costs, and revenue sources.

What we heard

Background

In May 2016, Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) Ministers committed to accelerated stakeholder engagement on options for the potential development of a Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN). The Government of Canada undertook a range of activities in 2017-18 to engage diverse stakeholders and produce evidence-based analysis for a potential PSBN – a secure high-speed wireless data communications network designated for public safety use.

Work was undertaken by the Federal PSBN Task Team – comprised of representatives from Public Safety Canada (PS), Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS) – and the FPT Interoperability Working Group (IWG).

To assist in advancing the file, the FPT IWG agreed to create two sub-working groups to focus on specific aspects of a PSBN: Governance and Deployment Options and Use Case and User Requirements. These sub-working groups had an extended membership that included representatives from federal and provincial/territorial governments, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and tri-services’ (police, fire, paramedic) associations.

Stakeholder Engagement

Three types of broad stakeholder engagement sessions were held: 1) stakeholder workshops; 2) user requirements sessions; and 3) conference presentations/targeted meetings.

Stakeholder workshops and user requirements sessions

The PSBN Task Team undertook a series of one-day stakeholder workshops in six cities across the country, as well as one online engagement session. More than 200 stakeholders participated in these workshops.

In addition, five full-day and four half-day user requirements sessions were held in eight cities with approximately 135 first responders (dates and locations are outlined in Table 1).

Members from the FPT IWG and its sub-working groups assisted with the identification of stakeholders interested in attending the sessions. Additionally, logistical information for the workshops was shared through existing stakeholder distribution lists and stakeholder engagement activities were posted to Public Safety’s webpage on PSBN.

All sessions were held between September 2017 and March 2018 and had representatives from many jurisdictions, including: Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The PSBN Task Team also worked separately through the FPT IWG and other FPT fora to engage stakeholders in Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Table 1: Summary of Workshop Locations and Dates
Location Date
Stakeholder Workshops
Winnipeg, Manitoba October 12, 2017
Halifax, Nova Scotia November 29, 2017
Vancouver, British Columbia December 12, 2017
Quebec, Quebec January 18, 2018
Toronto, Ontario January 25, 2018
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador February 14, 2018
Online session March 19, 2018
User Requirement Sessions
Kingston, Ontario June 28, 2017
Fort McMurray, Alberta September 8, 2017
Mississauga, Ontario September 14, 2017
Winnipeg, Manitoba October 11, 2017
Fredericton, New Brunswick November 2, 2017
Halifax, Nova Scotia November 30, 2017
Vancouver, British Columbia December 13, 2017
Quebec, Quebec January 19, 2018

Stakeholder workshops

The stakeholder engagement workshops were designed to promote open discussion on three broad areas of focus: the current state of emergency communications; the risks, benefits and drawbacks of various potential PSBN deployment approaches; and the business case for a PSBN. The user requirements workshop focussed on the priorities and needs of users for a potential PSBN.

At each session, stakeholders were encouraged to draw on their experience and identify additional topics for discussion, particularly recent events in their jurisdictions which may have demonstrated challenges and successes related to public safety communications. Events proposed and discussed by stakeholders included: the 2017 flood and wildfire seasons in British Columbia; the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster; annual flooding and snow storms in the prairies; and Atlantic coastal issues.

Some of the most frequently discussed challenges facing current emergency communications, included: interoperability; coverage; network reliability; and the role of commercial providers and the private sector. Education and awareness, as well as training and network security were also mentioned in several workshops.

Interoperability and wireless coverage issues were woven through most conversations and were most often pointed to as the underlying challenges facing agencies and jurisdictions. Stakeholders flagged these as key considerations moving forward.

Coverage was most often discussed alongside a range of related challenges, including network reliability, resiliency, redundancy and saturation. It was also referred to when discussing physical infrastructure, in-building wireless coverage and other “dead-zones”, as well as challenges with commercial providers to ensure network availability during emergencies or large-scale events (e.g. festivals, sports). The issue of coverage highlighted urban – rural differences and the need for addressing a wide range of challenges.

Among urban-based stakeholders, issues with in-building wireless coverage were an important consideration, with some suggesting that changes to building codes could help ensure consistent practices. Network saturation was also a key discussion topic that stakeholders thought was becoming a more prominent issue, particular during emergencies or large-scale events (e.g. festivals, sports) when a significant number of people access mobile networks, and in light of the absence of priority and pre-emption for emergency responders. Although network saturation were raised by some rural-based stakeholders, poor or absent coverage was more often highlighted as the biggest issues facing rural communities.

Stakeholders believed commercial providers would have a key role to play in solving the issues necessary to deploy a PSBN; however, they highlighted the fact that these providers would be motivated primarily by commercial, rather than public safety interests.

Interoperability was viewed by stakeholders as one of the challenges they could exert more control over. While the key workaround was founded in strong relationship-building between agencies and jurisdictions, stakeholders viewed the root causes as being both technology-based and a reflection of organizational cultures.

When speaking about how organizational cultures can have a role in poor interoperability, stakeholders cited factors such as internal governance, information-sharing policies and practices and the tensions between operational needs and other priorities.

When discussing challenges regarding how to remain current with technology, stakeholders focussed on a lack of financial resources as an underlying cause. This was a key issue raised by stakeholders from rural, remote and northern communities, who felt that a shift to more modern mobile technology is limited in part by the lack of a lucrative “business case” for commercial providers to improve existing infrastructure.

Issues related to technology-based interoperability were also mentioned. For instance, voice interoperability through Land Mobile Radio (LMR) was cited as a key example where not all public safety users in a given province and territory were necessarily connected to a province/territory-wide system. The urban – rural divide was most prominent when speaking of lower density areas with smaller tax bases, as they frequently highlighted the lack of resources available to support equipment maintenance – let alone upgrades or training.

When examining potential PSBN deployment approaches, stakeholders’ analysis consistently identified more benefits and fewer drawback in relation to a public-private model as it could provide the opportunity to leverage the strengths of both the strictly private or strictly public models, including access to capital funding, quicker deployment timelines, and opportunities for cost-sharing, while maintaining public oversight. However, stakeholders spoke of the need to ensure an equitable agreement between public and private parties to mitigate against the interests of one party monopolizing the other, i.e. (to effectively balance economic and public interests).

Finally, stakeholders examined other considerations for a potential PSBN business case, the need for a tailored approach, and the cost of maintaining status quo.

According to many stakeholders, one of the benefits of a tailored approach, with varied deployment timelines, was the opportunity to allow for some regions or agencies to forge ahead while still providing a longer-term roadmap for others. They also spoke of the importance of understanding regional contexts as well as the need to accommodate unique regional circumstances across Canada; while most agreed on the need for a national body to ensure interoperability, several stakeholders suggested that each region would likely need to modify their deployment approach to best fit their situations and to bring public safety organizations on board.

For most, the cost of maintaining status quo was viewed as the continuation of the current scenario experienced with LMR systems, a “cumbersome, fragmented system that is quickly aging” and incurring more costs by “patching things up” to make them work in the short-term, rather than addressing long-standing issues. Some stakeholders also emphasized that doing nothing would only lead to further interoperability challenges, as well as limit the ability for public safety interests to be reflected in a PSBN should commercial providers or the private sector undertake the initiative to offer a “PSBN” alternative. It could also potentially limit any large-scale buying power or economies of scale.

User requirements sessions

DRDC-CSS, in partnership with the PSBN Task Team, led work on the user requirements sessions. During these sessions, stakeholders were asked to validate a series of PSBN use cases to determine whether the narrative, the actors, the assumptions, and user capability needs were accurately represented. These sessions provided an opportunity for possible future users of a PSBN to identify and discuss specific needs and features for a potential PSBN for Canada.

In all, stakeholders validated 31 use cases. Some use cases were validated at multiple workshops to ensure a sufficient number of qualified individuals, with varied roles, provided feedback.

A diverse group of stakeholders, ranging from: municipal/provincial/federal first responders; emergency management personnel; critical infrastructure operators; security personnel; association representatives; academics; and network administrators took part in the sessions and offered robust input.

The information gathered will form the basis of an evergreen document on user requirements. Moreover, the findings from these workshops will serve to identify user priorities for the short-, medium-, and long-term. The sessions also served to underscore the value of a national PSBN and the possibilities it could provide for first responders.

Overall, stakeholders were supportive of the development of a PSBN for Canada, and hopeful that the preliminary engagement and analysis would lead to a truly “made-in-Canada” solution.

Conference presentations/targeted meetings

To ensure that all stakeholders for a potential PSBN were engaged, a total of 35 presentations were made at conferences (e.g., Paramedics Association of Canada Expo; Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group Annual Workshop; Search and Rescue SARscene) and targeted association meetings (e.g., Canadian Tri-Services Emergency Management Council Meeting).

The sessions were tailored to the group that was being engaged and they provided an overview of the work completed to date and allowed the PSBN Task Team to better understand the perspective of specific stakeholder groups.

Request For Information

A Request for Information targeting the private sector was launched by ISED in November 2017 and closed in January 2018, the results of which contributed to the evidence-base for a potential PSBN for Canada. Key high-level findings from the RFI were also shared with members of the FPT Interoperability Working Group to support ongoing work.

International Engagement

In addition to domestic engagement, the PSBN Task Team also met with international counterparts. A number of countries – notably the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Korea – are working on the development or deployment of their respective PSBNs. Each one has implemented a unique approach adapted to their national circumstances to tackle the challenges they face in operationalizing their networks.

The PSBN Task Team regularly met with governments from these countries to share lessons learned and best practices.

Representatives from the PSBN Task Team also participated in the Public Safety Wireless Broadband Leaders Forum – an international forum for governments to discuss PSBN developments. Key areas of focus for this group include: the evolution of international mobile standards; new developments in the global marketplace; leveraging lessons learned; and sharing strategies for procurement, policy development, program management and network operations.

Next Steps

Based on the findings from the engagement activities, a proposed way forward was presented to FPT Ministers Responsible for Emergency Management in May 2018. To strengthen emergency preparedness communications in Canada, Minister endorsed guiding considerations for the development of a potential PSBN across the country.

Drawing on all of the discussions and feedback from the engagement sessions, the RFI, and international engagement, guiding considerations were collaboratively developed with stakeholders.

  • Best practices and lessons learned from pilots and trials would be leveraged to inform PSBN deployment;
  • Deployment timelines would differ across Canada according to each jurisdiction’s priorities and capabilities;
  • LMR networks would likely co-exist with a PSBN over the medium-term (10-15 years);
  • The short-term focus of the PSBN would be to provide secure, interoperable wireless data communication services;
  • Existing wireless infrastructure would be leveraged as much as possible to reduce costs;
  • Linkages should be built with other public safety communications initiatives (e.g., public alerting) and governance mechanisms; and
  • Funding programs at all levels of government should be leveraged to address coverage and capacity challenges.

Acknowledging the benefits of a potential PSBN for Canada, Ministers also supported the establishment of a Temporary National Coordination Office (TNCO) in partnership with FPT officials. FPT jurisdictions identified governance as a foundational priority and a critical step in creating a national approach for a PSBN. To address this issue in the short-term, FPT governments, municipalities, and tri-service representatives have proposed the creation of a TNCO to lead work on the PSBN while long-term options and recommendations are developed.

Key functions of the TNCO include serving as a single point of contact for stakeholders, and developing and recommending strategies to operationalize the FPT Minister-endorsed guiding considerations. More information can be found on the TNCO’s webpage.

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