Four images from the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM: Two officers consult each other looking at their devices, hot air balloons rise over the city, a large crowd moves through the balloon fiesta fields, four police officers talk as one points with hot air balloons filling with air on the ground behind them

Early Benefits of FirstNet: Priority and Preemption

This blog is the second in a series highlighting the 5 Early Benefits of FirstNet for public safety. FirstNet is the nationwide public safety communications platform dedicated to America’s first responders. Created through a partnership with the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T, FirstNet is a much-needed technology upgrade to connect public safety to the vital information they need—every day, in every emergency.

FirstNet is now available across the nation, with first responders (such as fire, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and emergency managers) guaranteed priority and preemption over a secure, robust network dedicated to them. Priority and preemption allow first responders to communicate without interruption over an “always-on” network.  Public safety entities using FirstNet can also boost priority levels in emergencies, keeping their first responder teams connected when lives depend on it.

Priority and preemption are a few of the crucial features FirstNet provides to first responders, especially during large planned events with thousands of participants, such as the annual International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. In years past, first responders at the festival reported poor connectivity on commercial networks due to attendees’ high volume of voice calls, texts, and social media posts. But using FirstNet, public safety’s dedicated network, for this year’s festival, they had a dramatically different—and better—experience.

FirstNet priority and preemption are in action right now helping public safety:

Reunite families – A picture is worth a thousand words, and with priority and preemption, public safety officials at the International Balloon Festival were able to quickly reunite lost children with their families because they could share photos with other public safety on the ground.

“Given so many people using their phones, [commercial networks] get overwhelmed with the amount of traffic. Everybody's sending a picture, everybody’s texting, everybody’s streaming live. This little device was connected to the FirstNet network, so it was invaluable,” said Arthur J. Martinez, Captain of Special Operations, City of Albuquerque Fire Department.

Get real-time updates – When severe weather threatened the 2018 Volvo Ocean Race in Newport, RI, the emergency management team used FirstNet to brief event personnel on the weather risks to the crowd and potential evacuation plans. Incident command shared radar maps with ground personnel and had evacuation maps ready to share digitally across FirstNet devices in the case of severe weather.

Improve situational awareness City of Richmond public safety officials experienced FirstNet’s speed and priority first-hand by using it to receive live camera and weather feeds for monitoring, pull up suspect information to aid in crime solving, or tie computer-aided dispatch (CAD) interfaces to 911 call centers. For Richmond, public safety’s network proved it could handle emergencies, large-scale events, and everything in between.

“We heavily use mobile data to be more efficient in delivering information to responders and to retrieve information independently from the communications center,” said Stephen M. Willoughby, Director and Chief of the Department of Emergency Communications, City of Richmond. “FirstNet allows us to have priority and preemption so it is available to us all the time.”

Peter Ambs, Director of the Innovation and Technology Department of the City of Albuquerque’s Chief Information Office, summed up the reason why FirstNet’s priority and preemption are vital to public safety: “We need to make sure that when our first responders and our law enforcement officials that are here protecting the public key up, they have communication on their devices,” he said. “We want to be able to have a network that is responsive to our public safety, and FirstNet provides that capability.”

For more information on FirstNet products and services, visit To learn more about the First Responder Network Authority’s public safety advocacy and innovation, visit and sign up for our newsletters here.

Learn about other early benefits of FirstNet, including Asset Tracking and Location Services

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