Cellular Priority Access Service

by LCDR Angie Abrahamson, TSP Program Office

This year, the National Communications System (NCS) willpetition the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt rules forCellular
Priority Access Service (CPAS). During emergencies when cellularspectrum
is congested, CPAS will provide an authorized user who has anational
security or emergency preparedness (NS/EP) purpose access to thecellular
radio spectrum ahead of other cellular telephone users.

Disasters have shown that the mobility of cellular technologymakes cellular
telephones the communication vehicle of choice for emergencyresponders.
However, the recurring congestion of cellular radio channels thataccompanies
disasters has created a problem for rescue workers. This problemwas
highlighted during the recent tragedy in Oklahoma City on April19, 1995.
The first message the public heard from the city was “Stopusing your cellular
phones.” Cellular congestion was obstructing thecommunication efforts of
local disaster response teams. Similar congestion occurred indisasters such as
the World Trade Center bombing, the Loma Prieta earthquake, andHurricanes
Hugo and Andrew. Emergency relief personnel in these disasterscould have
benefited from a cellular priority access capability.

The National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee(GNOSTIC)
identified the need for cellular priority access service andrecommended to
President Clinton that such a service be established for NS/EPusers.
President Clinton concurred with the recommendation and, onJanuary 11,
1995, directed NCS to help implement CPAS. Since that time,representatives
from Federal and State government, the cellular industry and thenation’s
emergency responder associations have held a series of meetingsto develop
policies, rules and technical parameters for cellular priorityaccess service.
Representatives from the following organizations participated inthose
meetings: NSTAC’s Wireless Services Task Force, the National
Communications System, equipment manufacturers, cellular serviceproviders,
the Telecommunications Industry Association’s TR45 Committee, theCellular
Telecommunications Industry Association, National EmergencyNumber
Association, Association of Public Safety CommunicationsOfficers, National
Association of State Telecommunications Directors, NationalEmergency
Managers Association, American Red Cross, Oregon State Police,Virginia
Emergency Services, and representatives from California, Marylandand

The proposed rules for CPAS provide a description of the service;define the
responsibilities of the FCC, State and Federal authorizingagents, CPAS
Administration Office, service users and service providers; andprovide the
qualification criteria for CPAS authorization.

CPAS would require no special activation and would be availableat all times
on authorized instruments in equipped markets. It is not proposedthat the
provision of cellular priority access be made mandatory, onlythat service
providers which elect to provide the service do so under theprovisions of the
CPAS rules. To invoke the service, an authorized user would diala feature
code, such as “*XX.” The precise code has not beenselected, but would be a
universal code. The CPAS user would not preempt connected calls,but be
placed at the top of the queue awaiting the next availablechannel.

Standards for cellular priority access service are still in thedevelopment stage.
As a result, no service provider is currently in a position toprovide CPAS.
The Telecommunications Industry Association’s TR45 cellularstandards
committee is addressing the priority access issue in itsstandards development
work. The latest version of the Cellular Features Descriptionstandard has a
service called Priority Access and Channel Assignment (PACA).PACA
provides the queuing capabilities that will allow authorizedNS/EP
telecommunication users to go to the top of the queue for thenext available
cellular radio channel. The inter-system operation standards havealso been
modified to accommodate the PACA feature. Industry members whohave
worked on this effort are now studying PACA’s impact on the airinterface
portion of the network. The Time Division Multiple Accesssubcommittee has
begun modifying its standards, and the Analog and Code DivisionMultiple
Access subcommittees continue to study the impact issue. Giventhese efforts
to develop a cellular priority capability, service providers whowish to provide
cellular priority access should be in a position to do so inearly 1997.

There are remaining issues regarding roaming service. Initially,it is believed
that most service providers will only be able to offer priorityqueuing to users
in a single mobile switching center (MSC). Users would lose theirplaces in
line and have to start over again in a new MSC. Later, it may bepossible to
afford priority queuing between all of a licensee’s MSCs in itslicensed service
area. Inter-system roaming may be possible, but not in the nearterm.

It is anticipated that the responsibility for CPAS administrationwill be
assigned to the National Communications System. Users willrequest CPAS
through an authorizing agent who will make the initialdetermination as to the
user’s eligibility and forward the request to the CPASAdministration Office.
Users will pay the service provider as billed for CPAS. Userorganizations
should plan to presubscribe a number of cellular phones withpriority access
capability to be able to “go” when the emergencystrikes.

There are five priority levels within the CPAS system. Thecriteria for
qualification for each priority level were selected to providecellular priority
access to the leaders and key personnel who are critical to themanagement of
and response to national security and emergency situations,particularly during
the first 24 to 72 hours following an event. Since State andlocal emergency
response personnel will likely be on the disaster scene first,they are given
access priority equal to that of Federal authorities. The highestlevel, priority
1, is reserved for high level executive policy personnel withinfederal, state
and local jurisdictions. Priorities 2 and 3 are assigned to the”first
responders.” Priority 4 is for personnel who performstabilization functions,
and Priority 5 provides cellular priority access for disasterrecovery personnel.

The establishment of Cellular Priority Access Service is vital toemergency
response and recovery efforts. With the FCC technology, CPASshould
become an operational capability for the nation’s emergencyresponders in
early 1997.

For more information on CPAS, please call Lieutenant Colonel GaryFord,
Plans and Programs Office, National Communications System, at703-607-