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Public Safety Communications Program


CTL advances public safety communication technology by researching, developing, and accelerating the adoption and implementation of critical communications capabilities for first responders.


America’s first responders deal with emergencies every day. And whether it is a routine traffic stop, a multi-alarm fire, or a large-scale event, such as Hurricanes Harvey and Sandy, or the attacks on 9/11, the ability of first responders to communicate with each other--on-scene as well as through incident command--remains one of the most critical determinants of success for emergency response. The primary means of communication for first responders is Land Mobile Radio (LMR), a proven narrowband technology that is used for mission-critical voice communications; LMR is also known as "push a usa-button to talk" technology. In 2019, almost all information, such as changes in fire behavior, personnel and asset location, status updates, and weather conditions, are transmitted via these radios.

At CTL, we imagine a world in which future technology—for example, highly deployable drones with autonomous flight controls—serve as communications hubs, allowing for not only voice communications, but location-mapping, video analytics, and real-time weather updates. We imagine that all of this information could be easily transmitted to first responders’ broadband devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and even heads-up displays. Putting this technology in the hands of first responders would help them assess emergency scenarios safely and smartly before sending in personnel, reduce harm to people and damage to property, and avoid unnecessary injury or death. At the CTL, we believe that innovative technologies can help, and we are working to accelerate their arrival. 

This work is done primarily through our Public Safety Communications Research Division (PSCR) and our Wireless Networks Division (WND).

The PSCR Division is the primary federal research laboratory for public safety communications technologies and the headquarters of public safety communications related research performed at NIST. PSCR’s mission is to research and develop critical technologies and feature sets to equip public safety organizations with smarter and more effective life-saving technology. They bring together expertise from across the NIST organization to solve the most challenging public safety communications problems: enhanced user interfaces for dangerous environments, mission critical voice, location based tracking, analytics, communication system security and resiliency.

PSCR works closely with public safety, government, and industry stakeholders through workshops and summits to publish research and development roadmaps which are leveraged to develop targeted strategies and program plans. PSCR also works closely with its federal partners - including FirstNet and Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and Office of Emergency Communications - to ensure effective coordination mechanisms are in place to support our shared public safety mission.

CTL’s Wireless Networks Division focuses on Device-to-Device (D2D) Communication as well as Mission-Critical Communications. WND works to provide the public safety community with a better understanding of what to expect from new and emerging networking technologies, and accelerates the standardization and utilization of such technologies. Specifically, WND

  • Provides the public safety community with the performance analysis tools needed to better understand emerging network technologies and facilitate the evaluation of worst/best case network deployment scenarios
  • Investigates how well new technologies support public safety requirements
  • Develops quantitative requirements for public safety communications and next generation network standards in support of public safety communications needs

Advances in broadband wireless technologies developed by standards developing organizations (SDOs) such as 3GPP and IEEE 802 offer unprecedented capabilities that have the potential to improve the effectiveness of first responders. WND’s efforts are aimed at evaluating whether or not those emerging solutions meet current public safety needs, and what improvements are necessary to meet future needs.


Created March 25, 2019, Updated August 11, 2021