New Mexico’s CIO on FirstNet: ‘The Pressure Is On Now’


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WATCH: The state’s IT secretary, Darryl Ackley, discusses the huge decisionpoint for states on building a nationwide public safety broadband network, and his focus on “trying to future-proof” his agency.

New Mexico Department of Information Technology Secretary Darryl Ackley serves as the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ liaison to FirstNet, the federal authority tasked with developing a nationwide broadband network for the nation’s first responders. We sat down at the organization’s national conference earlier this week and discussed the development of the network, and what it means for New Mexico and the nation.

On Sept. 29, FirstNet delivered official state plans to every governors across the nation, starting a 90-day “shot clock” in which they must decide whether to allow FirstNet and its private sector partner AT&T to build out a public safety radio access network in their state, or “opt-out.” If a state opts out, it is required to build its own network of towers that is interoperable with FirstNet’s nationwide efforts.

New Mexico already made the decision to have FirstNet build out the network in their state August 1. However, as an “early builder,” the state acted as a testbed for FirstNet well before the decision had to be made. “For us the decision goes back years,” Ackley told Route Fifty. “We’ve been, in our state, operating essentially a firstnet network at a number of events.”

“It’s become part of our DNA, really.”

As of this publication, twenty-five states and territories have chosen to opt-in to FirstNet and AT&T’s plan to build and operate the network in their state. Other states will need to weigh the risk of building and maintaining the radio access network at their own expense versus the customization and alternative partnership opportunities it may provide.

“It means the pressure is on now,” Ackley said regarding the 90-day deadline for his undecided colleagues.

From New Mexico’s experience as a testbed, Ackley believes the completed network will provide significant additional support for first responders. “Situational awareness” has increased through just the initial applications.

“The feedback from the officers is we still use the radio, but we use it for the right things,” Ackley said. “As you talk about the wider picture, I think that this really puts public safety … at the crux of a digital revolution.”

He did provide a note of caution to not expect the public safety environment to reflect the commercial application world overnight.

“What you can get away with in a commercial environment is different from a public safety one where you have rules regarding evidence, you have rules regarding due process and the privacy of information,” Ackley remarked. “I think it’s going to take some smart thinking to see those things play out the way they have on the commercial side.”

Beyond FirstNet, Ackley is focused on “trying to future-proof the agency.” He explained how the organization is spending its time focused on “what’s over the horizon we need to be prepared to meet” to allow the agency to “evolve into the business partner for the application of technology and less be the provider of service or the guys who say no.”

“When you approach the conversation starting with the business, I think there’s an initial reaction—especially if it’s the first go at that—of ‘Woah, why are you getting into my business? You’re the IT guy. Just tell us what server to buy.’ So there’s a burden on us to demonstrate that our intent is to be value add and to really enable those business functions.”

RELATED on Route Fifty: Full coverage of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers annual conference in Austin, Texas

Mitch Herckis is the Senior Director of Programs for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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