At the FirstNet Authority, one of our top priorities is incorporating the public safety community’s experiences into actionable solutions on FirstNet. That’s why we convened a cohort of emergency management professionals from across the country to tell us about how FirstNet works in the real world. The group gave us valuable feedback about how they currently use FirstNet for emergency management, the challenges they’ve faced, and what they’d like to see in the future – which informs how we invest in the growth of the network.
Facilitated discussions and operational capabilities workshops
To form the emergency management cohort, we reached out to emergency managers in each of the ten FEMA regions. Seven joined the cohort, representing Alabama, California, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Utah, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The cohort met virtually every month. We conducted discussion-based exercises that incorporated a range of FirstNet topics, including the deployables fleet and the Advanced Network Status Tool.
In one of the monthly sessions, the cohort helped us improve the materials for a facilitated discussion addressing different emergency scenarios, like a derecho in Wisconsin or a hurricane in Maine. We examined the use of public safety broadband at each of the four phases of emergency management: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.
With their thoughtful feedback, these improved materials are now being used for all facilitated emergency management discussions hosted by the FirstNet Authority— that any public safety agency can request from their public safety advisor.
In-person meeting at 5x5
After our series of virtual meetings, the cohort met in person at 5x5: The Public Safety Innovation Summit in San Diego.
At 5x5, the cohort worked on how to prioritize future coverage improvements and determine where additional sites might be built using limited resources. This feedback informs the FirstNet Authority and our contractor AT&T as we consider future investment in the growth of the network.
The cohort also participated in an operational capabilities workshop. The emergency managers each ranked five of their most challenging capability gaps for their organizations. Then FirstNet Authority staff facilitated a discussion on possible ways to bridge or address those gaps from a technology perspective. In the context of a simulated emergency, cohort members shared the types of technology they would use, how they would communicate from the emergency operations center to the field, and why certain capabilities are key to their response operations.
Benefits for emergency managers
In addition to these exercises, workshops, and feedback sessions, the cohort reviewed FirstNet Authority products and programs developed for emergency management and the larger public safety community.
These reviews were beneficial for both the FirstNet Authority and members of the cohort. Some of the benefits included:
- The newest version of the FirstNet Authority’s Emergency Management Resource Guide, published in September 2023, has new sections recommended by the cohort about push-to-talk solutions that integrate with land mobile radios, high-power user equipment that enhances signal power at the edge of the network, and the Cell Booster Pro that boosts FirstNet coverage indoors.
- When reviewing the Advanced Network Status Tool in FirstNet Central, several cohort members realized they were not taking full advantage of the tool’s capabilities to view cell site-level information. They worked with their agency’s network administrators to get the appropriate account permissions.
- An introduction to the capabilities of the FirstNet Lab in Boulder spurred efforts to conduct network testing to help identify connectivity challenges for a location in Maine.
Next steps—opportunity for your agency?
As the 2023 cohort sunsets, we are looking for participants in the next cohort for 2024. Do you have thoughts about public safety broadband in emergency management? I’d love to hear from you. Bruce.Fitzgerald@firstnet.gov or contact your public safety advisor.
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