This year’s Annual Report to Congress highlights the significant contributions the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) made to public safety communications technology throughout fiscal year (FY) 2022. The report, titled “Advancing Public Safety Communications Through Innovation and Insight,” details the forward-thinking, state-of-the-art technology made available to the public safety community through FirstNet and ongoing efforts by the FirstNet Authority to enhance the nationwide public safety broadband network.
Public safety insight drives FirstNet forward
FirstNet is a network built for public safety, by public safety. This has been our driving goal since our founding legislation 11 years ago, and it is only achievable through ongoing engagement with public safety.
To that end, in FY 2022, our team conducted more than 1,850 engagements with over 49,000 public safety stakeholders. We used these engagements to gain valuable insights into their experiences using the network, their critical communications needs, and their recommendations for improvement. The feedback we collect guides the FirstNet Authority’s activities and the priorities laid out in our Roadmap. We also use these engagements to help public safety address and resolve challenges to operationalizing the network and support program oversight.
FirstNet grows in users and capabilities
The network grew by more than 30 percent, with 3.7 million network connections by September 30, 2022, the end of the fiscal year. FirstNet grew in users, as well. Nearly 22,000 public safety agencies and organizations were using FirstNet by the end of FY 2022, with more than 4,000 agencies and organizations subscribing this past fiscal year alone.
The network also experienced substantial growth in solutions, capabilities, and service offerings. During FY 2022, 100 new devices were approved for FirstNet use; 50 new FirstNet Verified apps were added to the FirstNet App Catalog for a total of 200 apps; and 50 deployables were added to the FirstNet fleet, bringing the total number of Satellite Cells on Light Trucks (SatCOLTS) and other form factors to 150.
With continued growth across the FirstNet ecosystem, first responders have access to more features and capabilities that help them perform their work safer and more effectively.
FirstNet deployables aid in disaster response
The FirstNet deployable fleet proved key in responding to some of 2022’s most impactful weather events.
At the start of FY 2022, the massive Marshall Fire in Boulder, Colorado, left thousands of residents without homes. Firefighters across the state and neighboring public safety personnel from Wyoming responded to tamp down the destruction, which was fueled by winds with Category 2 hurricane-like speeds. The fire damaged local infrastructure, but first responders using FirstNet were able to connect to the network due to the deployables on site. The mobile satellite units, which included multiple SatCOLTs, a Communications Vehicle, and compact rapid deployables (CRDs), were quickly deployed to provide support to responding agencies. The Communications Vehicle, a result of one of the FirstNet Authority’s first network investments, was transformed into an additional SatCOLT. It was also used as an operational base for incident command staff and the FirstNet Response Operations Group (ROG), the unit at AT&T that operates the deployable fleet.
In September 2022, the FirstNet ROG supported Southeastern states and areas of the Caribbean when Hurricanes Fiona and Ian made landfall. Both Category 4 storms caused major power outages and presented potential communication issues for first responders. For Hurricane Ian, the ROG staged FirstNet SatCOLTs, CRDs, and mobile broadband kits, along with other deployable assets to ensure connectivity. Making use of new technology, the ROG also used an amphibious vehicle to deliver a CRD to Sanibel Island, Florida, when Hurricane Ian washed away several portions of the Sanibel Causeway. The FirstNet ROG’s responsiveness and planning provided valuable services to ensure the FirstNet network remained stable during these catastrophic events.
Ensuring the continued evolution of FirstNet
While events like wildfires and hurricanes are unexpected, the FirstNet Authority strives to ensure that first responders have the right communication technology in place when they need it.
In support of that charge, the FirstNet Authority approved an investment in May 2022 to address one of public safety’s top critical communication priorities — in-building coverage. The investment aims to support network expansion where public safety operates, including police headquarters, fire stations, and emergency operations centers. With this investment, public safety agencies are able to better access the FirstNet network’s unique capabilities, including mission critical services and priority and preemption, when operating indoors or at temporary field locations.
Network investments are guided by the direct feedback we receive from public safety. Through these investments, we are advancing the network beyond its contractual baseline, responding to first responders’ evolving operational needs, and ensuring FirstNet remains relevant and technically innovative to support public safety.
In another effort to advance public safety communications innovations, we partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division to launch the Public Safety Immersive Test Center (PSITC). Located at our technical headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, the facility is designed to help answer key research questions about the future of user interfaces and location services for public safety training and operations.
In August 2022, the FirstNet Authority applied for the renewal of its Band 14 spectrum license at the Federal Communications Commission, to ensure the network remains available for first responders.
Through these innovative efforts, the FirstNet Authority is working to advance the network and public safety communications.
Advancing public safety communications through innovation and insight
The FirstNet Authority has proven to be a driving force in public safety communications technology. We continue to press forward with the mission that Congress gave us to ensure the ongoing development and improvement of the FirstNet network. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and all of our federal, state, local, and tribal stakeholders to further enhance public safety communications.
Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates.
For information on FirstNet products and services or to access your subscriber account, visit FirstNet.com.