An Indiana County Emergency Management vehicle sits in a parking lot at sunset.

FirstNet Enables Remote Training, Enhanced Mapping Capabilities for Emergency Management in Pennsylvania

Indiana County is located approximately 60 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Covering roughly 834 square miles with more than 80,000 residents, Indiana County is home to historic sites, outdoor adventures, and more than 250 cultural events each year.

The Indiana County Emergency Management Agency (ICEMA) is responsible for overseeing emergency management throughout the county. This includes planning, response, recovery, and mitigation of manmade or natural disasters; serving as the hazardous materials response provider for the county; and acting as the technical rescue response component for agencies in the county. ICEMA is also unique in that the agency oversees the county’s 9-1-1 emergency communication operations, coordinating call handling and dispatching for the county’s 24 fire departments, two EMS providers, and five municipal police departments.

Indiana County and ICEMA joined FirstNet in 2019 to ensure personnel could communicate via voice across the county. Since then, ICEMA has expended its use of the network, purchasing additional equipment to enable FirstNet connectivity in the county’s mobile command post and other vehicles.

FirstNet Expands Opportunities for County Public Safety

ICEMA began providing FirstNet-enabled cell phones to employees to fill coverage gaps around Indiana County. For example, since disasters can strike at any time of the day or night, ICEMA has a separate IT department that is on call 24/7. It was discovered that some personnel had limited or no cell service at their homes, requiring them to drive for several miles after getting paged for an incident. By switching to FirstNet, these employees no longer need to leave their homes to check in and provide assistance.

FirstNet is also helping ICEMA provide training virtually. Previously, this instruction was limited to a classroom located at the agency’s three-and-a-half-acre training facility. When the pandemic hit and in-person opportunities were limited, ICEMA turned to FirstNet to support their ability to provide virtual training across the facility. “We had a single classroom that was configured for that function. Now we have the whole property,” described Thomas A. Stutzman, ICEMA director. “So, I can be on a park bench outside and I have the same capabilities that I had in that classroom two years ago.”

ICEMA also recognized the network could be used for additional capabilities with other public safety in the county and began to encourage adoption among partner agencies. The Indiana County Sheriff’s Office was one of the first agencies to follow ICEMA’s footsteps and join FirstNet. Laptops in patrol cars are connected to FirstNet, enabling deputies to access critical information while in the field. This has saved significant time for deputies, as they previously had to return to the station or use their radios to request information.

The Future is FirstNet

For ICEMA Director Thomas A. Stutzman, future possibilities on FirstNet are endless. His agency is working on the ability to provide more exact location data to first responders using FirstNet. Currently, responders in the field use basic mapping applications that do not always provide accurate locations. More accurate mapping data will simplify communications. For example, fire responders in the county will be able to see the exact location of incidents instead of having a dispatcher describe how to access those locations. Stutzman explained, “We want to be able to share some of the addressing and mapping data that we manage within our agency with the responders to provide to them not only live information on the ground as far as road closures or lane restrictions, but to also provide them with that data connection so that they can see live what the dispatcher sees in the comm center.”

Stutzman is also working with the two EMS agencies in the county to understand how FirstNet can benefit operations. The EMS agencies are deploying wireless tablets in response vehicles for personnel to document incidents. That data is uploaded once the vehicles arrive at the stations. Stutzman is helping the agencies explore using mobile broadband and FirstNet to connect those tablets and enable real-time upload of the data.

Read Indiana County's subscriber announcement. 

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