FirstNet for Emergency Response: Improved Incident Information will Benefit Responders and Public

November 29, 2017
FirstNet will become a platform for emergency managers during incidents and major events.
FirstNet will become a platform for emergency managers during incidents and major events.

Lesia Dickson, FirstNet Outreach and Consultation Lead (Region 6 - OK)
Aislynn Turner, FirstNet State Plans Coordinator

Article originally appeared in IAEM Bulletin's October Issue

Lives of citizens and responders depend on first responders’ ability to communicate in disasters and emergencies. That is why FirstNet was created – to develop a wireless, mobile broadband network, modernizing public safety communications to keep first responders connected on a single, nationwide network when it counts the most.

The idea for FirstNet originated with and for the public safety community in light of the findings and recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which called for interoperable communications for all U.S. first responders. Ever since the 9/11 Commission Report was released, the public safety community has been advocating to Congress for their own dedicated spectrum. In 2012, Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, effectively creating FirstNet.

FirstNet will become a platform for emergency response voice and data exchange during incidents and major events.  Emergency managers already depend upon voice and data communications to run systems, apps, stream video and more.  But the unfortunate reality is that during times of the most critical need for communications, network congestion drastically limits or completely isolates emergency responders from exchanging the data that they need to make better decisions in order to save lives and property. 

FirstNet will change that.

FirstNet has entered into a 25-year contract with AT&T that will revolutionize emergency communications:

  • AT&T will provide priority and preemption services to all primary FirstNet users – including emergency managers and public safety communications units. This means that congestion will no longer take away a responder’s ability to reach resources that they need.
  • AT&T will provide this priority and preemption capability on all of their LTE bands; thus, public safety can take advantage of the massive infrastructure already in place from this nationwide carrier network.
  • AT&T is committing to an extensive build-out of additional coverage – investing $40 billion into network infrastructure as part of the FirstNet contract—and greatly enhancing rural coverage for response.

States are currently reviewing individualized plans that FirstNet submitted to each state and U.S. territory containing details about network deployment for that specific state/territory. Governors of several states have already “Opted-In” to the network, meaning that public safety agencies within those states can begin subscribing to FirstNet service right away.  If a Governor “Opts-Out”, they must build a Radio Access Network (RAN) within their state at their own expense that is interoperable with the FirstNet Core. This is so that the FirstNet network remains a single, interoperable network across the entire nation, even within states that choose to build their own RAN.

Hear more directly from IAEM's representative to the FirstNet's Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), Joe Sastre:

In fact, interoperability was at the heart of the FirstNet initiative – even before apps and smartphones were a reality.  One of the most exciting aspects of the FirstNet network is the extensive application ecosystem – FirstNet will provide a public safety app store that houses apps from large software companies as well as apps that are written locally and regionally by developers, and in some cases by first responders themselves.  These apps will help responders reach information that they need and act upon that information in the field more effectively.

Where will a dedicated, interoperable data network for public safety and emergency response take our industry?  The sky is the limit!  Apps, video, situational awareness – everything becomes enhanced with more coverage, more reliability and more speed.  Internet of Things (IoT) opens up access to information that can be achieved without a responder risking their safety.  Drones in the air and under water will allow for better assessment of structural issues, for example.  Sensors will give more accurate flood, weather and wind information to responders in the field.  Additionally, nationwide scale will encourage manufacturers to invest in new devices and other technology enhancements.  Best of all, these capabilities are becoming a reality more quickly than ever imagined because of FirstNet’s partnership with a world-class provider that is assuring priority on their already extensive network. 

The FirstNet network provides a host of other capabilities related to devices, customer care, credentialing, a public safety home page, and more.  Now that the FirstNet network is ready to be deployed as the most advanced emergency communications solution, I encourage you to reach out to the public safety leaders and government officials in your community to discuss joining FirstNet. First responders require and deserve this next-generation, mission-critical communications platform to connect to life-saving resources and information, wherever they are and whenever they need it.

This article was published in the October 2017 issue of the IAEM Bulletin, the monthly newsletter of the International Association of Emergency Managers, www.iaem.com.

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