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Four Tech to Protect participants code in collaboration at a table filled with laptops, a Haptics Challenge judge tests virtual reality simulations, a FirstNet Authority speaker at TEEX UnderFire gestures in front of an audience

The FirstNet Ecosystem: Spurring Innovation

December 16, 2019

From natural disasters to critical incidents and everyday emergencies, first responders have experienced time and time again why communication is so crucial to their operations. Since its creation, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) has worked with first responders to understand what they need in a network and what technologies can support and enhance those efforts. The FirstNet Authority is committed to exploring and advancing future technologies and has supported several innovation contests encouraging entrepreneurs, researchers, and public safety professionals to come up with solutions that help emergency responders. For these contests, the FirstNet Authority has joined forces with other agencies with strengths in grants, coding, and technology to promote innovation for public safety technologies.

For example, the FirstNet Authority has partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on several initiatives.

  • Most recently, both agencies announced a collaboration with the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to sponsor the Accelerate R2 Network Challenge, seeking innovative ways to address disaster response and resiliency challenges. Applications are being accepted to propose innovative ways to address disaster response and resiliency challenges, and $1,000,000 will be awarded to the winning applicant(s).
  • The NIST Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division hosted the Haptic Interfaces for Public Safety Challenge beginning in March 2019 in partnership with the FirstNet Authority, among others. Development teams and haptic providers created prototypes of haptic interfaces to assist first responders.
  • In April 2019, NIST PSCR, in partnership with the FirstNet Authority and others, sought contestants for the Expanding the SIM Card Use for Public Safety Challenge to explore whether it is possible to use a SIM card as a storage container for public safety credentials to help first responders quickly and securely authenticate applications.
  • Throughout 2019, the FirstNet Authority and NIST PSCR have collaborated with other partners on the Tech to Protect Challenge. This open innovation challenge consists of ten individual coding contests focused on user interface/user experience, location-based services, security, public safety mission critical voice, and public safety analytics. The initial round of in-person contests and online submissions concluded in November 2019, and selected finalists will compete in the final round in Washington, DC in Spring 2020.

The FirstNet Authority has also partnered with non-government organizations to support similar efforts.

  • In March 2019, the FirstNet Authority was one of several agencies to join Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s Product Development Center as they hosted their annual Under Fire technology showcase, where participants pitched and demonstrated ideas for innovative technologies to help first responders. Five finalists were selected as winners, with ideas ranging from biometric sensors to smart city technologies.
  • In 2018, the David Clark Cause launched Call for Code alongside founding partner IBM. Call for code brings together developers, human rights experts, and other specialists to help develop technological solutions to address some of the world’s greatest challenges, including recovery from natural disasters. The FirstNet Authority contributed subject matter expertise for the 2019 contest.

While the individual goals of these contests differ, they all seek to enhance first responder operations, allowing public safety to more effectively and efficiently perform their operations, save lives and protect their communities. This aligns with the mission of the FirstNet Authority. To carry out that mission and guide the growth, evolution, and advancement of the FirstNet network, the FirstNet Authority released its Roadmap earlier this year. That document outlines the key areas that will help prioritize the FirstNet Authority’s programs, resources, investments, and partnership activities for the next several years.

One way the FirstNet Authority is fulfilling the Roadmap and spurring innovation is by providing opportunities for public safety officials to see current technologies using FirstNet at the FirstNet Innovation and Test Lab in Boulder, Colorado. For example, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security, worked to develop various scenarios testing video applications using open source tools and data. This was the first organization external to the FirstNet Authority and FirstNet, Built with AT&T, to conduct experiments at the lab.

Through the Roadmap and by establishing the FirstNet network, the FirstNet Authority has built a new marketplace for public safety. And through engagement with first responders and programs and activities such as these challenges, the FirstNet Authority is driving innovation forward.

For more information on FirstNet Authority’s public safety programs and the many ways FirstNet is helping to transform public safety communications, contact your local Public Safety Advisor or visit

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