Burson-Marsteller lobbies for first-responder push

WASHINGTON: The federal government should launch a public awareness effort as it seeks to create a wireless network that will allow first responders to communicate in times of crisis, according to Burson-Marsteller.

WASHINGTON: The federal government should launch a public awareness effort as it seeks to create a wireless network that will allow first responders to communicate in times of crisis, according to Burson-Marsteller.

The mandate to create a nationwide interoperable broadband network came earlier this year as part of The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The network is meant to enable police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals, and other public safety officials to more effectively communicate and do their jobs.

The law also created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority within the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information (NITA) Administration, to oversee its creation.

This past fall, NITA opened up a public docket to solicit comment on how it should best move forward. Most of the 133 responders who weighed in before the November deadline were companies presenting ideas on how to proceed from a technical viewpoint.  

However, Burson saw it as an opportunity to encourage the federal authority to launch an awareness effort once it began to build and implement a network. It is also hopeful it will hire a PR firm to implement such an effort, Jenifer Sarver, GM of Burson's Austin Office said.

It appears Burson was the only PR firm to comment on the project. In the coming months, FirstNet is expected to issue an RFP for an external program manager to build the network. Sarver hopes the comments her firm submitted will lead the authority to include a public awareness component.

“By keeping stakeholders and the general public well, and regularly, informed they will be far more likely to feel comfortable with, and supportive of, the [national network], and states will be far less likely to opt out of [it],” the firm said in its comments.

Sarver added to PRWeek that the law does not mandate use of the network, thus having an awareness effort is critical. Unless there is wholesale buy-in from entities around the country, she doesn't feel the proposed network will be successful.

Comments from consulting firms Accenture Federal Services and Roy J Hebert & Associates also suggested the importance of an outreach effort.

Individual members of FirstNet did not respond to request for comment on the likelihood of going forward with Burson's suggestion.

A representative from NITA said it was too soon to know exactly how FirstNet would act on the comments received. The next board meeting for the authority is December 11.

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