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Two men and one woman stand in front of a Yankton Police truck. One of the men wears a police uniform.

FirstNet Boosting Communications for Tribal First Responders

April 4, 2019

This blog is a repost of an article originally published in the Spring 2019 edition of TribalNet Magazine.

Just one year into FirstNet’s five-year buildout, the network has seen an increase in LTE coverage by more than 50,000 square miles. As the network continues to expand, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) and its network contractor AT&T are working to ensure that FirstNet and its unique capabilities are available to all first responders — whether located in dense, urban sprawls or remote, rural regions.

As part of this effort, AT&T launched a fleet of 72 deployable network assets to provide extra coverage for emergencies or in support of large planned events. These deployables, which include Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs), are available upon request and at no cost to FirstNet subscribers. Tribal public safety agencies that are subscribed to FirstNet are already taking advantage of these solutions to bolster communications during emergencies and planned events.

FirstNet’s deployables were recently used by the Yankton Sioux Tribe Police Department in South Dakota, where rough terrain physically limits LTE coverage. During a critical search-and-rescue mission, the department reached out to the FirstNet Authority and AT&T, which deployed a SatCOLT within hours. Yankton Sioux Tribal Police Chief Chris Saunsoci said, “In situations like these, communications is critical, and time is of the essence. Knowing the mission was focused in an area with limited coverage, we requested a FirstNet SatCOLT to boost our connectivity. Communications were in place within hours of our request, helping us carry out our operation.” 

Last summer, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation also leveraged FirstNet deployables for their annual FireLake Fireflight Balloon Festival, a two-day event that attracts as many as 34,000 people to the small community of Shawnee, Oklahoma. In preparation, Tim Zientek, Tribal Director of Emergency Management, coordinated with AT&T to set up deployable network assets for the event. The FirstNet deployable on site provided dedicated bandwidth for local first responders, ensuring reliable communications even when commercial networks were congested. Zientek noted, “Anything and everything that was tied to the FirstNet tower or connected to it has performed flawlessly.”

Public safety departments alerted the FirstNet Authority when they recognized the need for dedicated deployable assets, and we are pleased to now support this program to help public safety across the country, including in tribal communities. As the network continues to evolve, the FirstNet Authority is collaborating with federally recognized tribes to identify public safety communication needs, gaps, and potential solutions. The team is using this dialogue to inform future solutions for the network and ensure the tribal community’s voices are heard.

For more information about connecting with FirstNet or to request a tribal consultation, email the Tribal team directly at