As our country faces challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, first responders continue to answer the call to protect our communities while experiencing a unique set of challenges of their own. I am a 30-year fire service veteran and the former City Manager of Shreveport, LA. I know that in times of need, we rely on readily available technologies that give us what we need, when we need it. For the first time in the history of this country, first responders have access to a network designed specifically to keep them connected as they serve and protect communities. And that connection is now, more than ever, critical.
FirstNet is the nationwide, wireless communications platform dedicated to America’s first responders and public safety community. It is the only LTE network dedicated to public safety users. With FirstNet, first responders are able to not only communicate with each other, but also with hospitals and local public works agencies and quickly distribute data such as video, voice and GPS location.
Here in Shreveport, Louisiana, emergency communication across agencies and entities is imperative. Our law enforcement agencies, fire service, EMS personnel and healthcare workers all rely on each other for an all-hands-on-deck approach to emergencies, and FirstNet allows our community to do that with confidence.
In 2018, I became a board member of the First Responder Network Authority, which was created by Congress following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 to ensure public safety agencies had interoperable communications. The FirstNet Authority established a partnership with AT&T to build, deploy, and maintain the FirstNet network on 700MHz Band 14 spectrum, reserved for public safety by the law. The FirstNet Core and Radio Access Network guarantee priority and preemption over commercial users in the event of heavy cellular use situations, such as concerts. Along with speed and reliability, the network also supports FirstNet ready devices and more than 100 FirstNet certified applications.
FirstNet has a fleet of more than 70 deployable assets specifically for FirstNet subscribers. These dynamic resources include Cells on Wheels, Satellite Cells on Light Trucks, and an Aerostat blimp to provide connectivity to first responders when they need it most, such as during a hurricane or a wildfire. These rapid response utilities can be delivered in a matter of hours to restore service to impacted areas.
In just over 18 months of operation, FirstNet now covers over 99 percent of the U.S. population. This impressive growth, matched with a public safety user-friendly and supportive industry ecosystem, has resulted in more than 12,000 public safety agencies and organizations subscribed to FirstNet, accounting for over 1.3 million connections nationwide as of this spring.
I have been a longstanding advocate for public safety communications and have been on the frontlines of many disasters, including Hurricane Katrina. I know what works best during a crisis and unfortunately, I know what does not. To the public safety community, nothing will give you a higher level of confidence than to say, “Yes, we do have the best communications capabilities because we are on FirstNet. We were able to respond faster and efficiently because we had increased situational awareness with FirstNet.” There is no other public safety dedicated broadband network that is public safety’s partner.
At the FirstNet Authority, we are transforming the future of public safety communications for a safer tomorrow. I am proud to say that FirstNet is truly a game changer and will help our first responders during these challenging times.