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City-wide communications enable coordination after hurricanes

February 16, 2023

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida, holds the title of the oldest city in the United States. With hundreds of years of history, beaches, and world-renowned events like the Nights of Lights, the area in northeastern Florida is a popular tourist destination with up to nine million visitors throughout the year.

St. Augustine is located on the coast, below sea level. “With high tide, wind, or just a bad storm, we're going to have some flooding,” explained Dee Brown, Public Information Officer with the St. Augustine Police Department. And the area is no stranger to hurricanes – there have been six Category 1 surges in St. Augustine in six years. Public safety agencies have worked to clean up the city in the aftermath of major storms with regularity. According to Reuben Franklin, Director of Public Works for St. Augustine, “What holds us together is communication.”

FirstNet Drives Seamless Mutual Aid Response

When hurricanes or other large storms hit St. Augustine, all public safety resources are deployed to support response and mitigation efforts. The police department is responsible for liaising with the city’s public works department to set up detours and barricades so public works employees can work on downed power lines and other utility issues. Officers also act as “boots on the ground” to coordinate with other public safety agencies, working through the emergency operations center command staff to share messages and exchange information.   

“We’re tasked with getting the word out to people,” described St. Augustine Police Department Assistant Chief Anthony Cuthbert. “That includes using FirstNet to get resources in and out and working with command staff at the emergency operations center and incident command.”

Because so many agencies are involved in different aspects of securing the city – whether in the aftermath of a storm, during a large planned event, or daily response with a large influx of tourists – communication is critical to ensure all partners are informed and working as a single unit. A handful of city police and fire personnel made the switch to FirstNet several years ago, and by July 2021, all city agencies joined FirstNet. Agency personnel citywide are connected via an interoperable network that provides reliable communications when they need it most.

“The entire premise of emergency response in our community hinges on mutual aid agreements, which means that our sheriff's office and our police department have to work seamlessly, as do our two fire rescue units, because they're really working as one,” explained John Regan, St. Augustine City Manager. “This one element of communication allows us to use the best resources of both the county and the city.”

Always On, Always Ready

Public safety in St. Augustine serves a constantly changing population with the regular ebb and flow of tourists, and FirstNet ensures their connectivity remains stable throughout the city. “It's much more reliable than the system that we were using previously. So, overall, it's been a tremendous improvement for us,” explained Chief Carlos Aviles of the St. Augustine Fire Department.

Additionally, agencies in St. Augustine have been able to implement new technology using FirstNet to give responders more tools to do their jobs quickly and efficiently. Assistant Chief Anthony Cuthbert highlighted the effect this has had on their ability to serve the community, stating, “The service is just been so fantastic that we've been able to provide a whole new level of customer service.”

Whether during planned events, disasters, or emergencies, first responders need tools that just work. They don’t have the time to troubleshoot technology issues in the moment, so they rely on devices to support them when they need it. City Manager John Regan likened this to water coming out of a faucet. “It reminds me of when you turn on the faucet and water comes out. No one really thinks about it,” he said. “With FirstNet, during emergency operations, the phone works. I don’t really think about asking anyone if they have service or not, and no one is telling me they don’t have service. That’s success.”     


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