Since its launch two years ago, FirstNet has helped thousands of public safety agencies and officials remain connected during daily incidents, emergencies, and large planned events alike. Many law enforcement agencies are using FirstNet to equip their officers and deputies with advanced technological tools that make their jobs easier and more efficient. From mobile applications that connect first responders to computer aided dispatch and records management systems, to deployable assets mobilized for large crowds or major disasters, the possibilities are endless for how law enforcement agencies can utilize FirstNet to maximize operations and improve incident outcome.
FirstNet continues to make strides connecting large, small, urban and rural public safety agencies nationwide. With over 12,000 public safety agencies and organizations on FirstNet, many law enforcement agencies are experiencing the FirstNet difference. Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to learn about the unique ways law enforcement agencies are using FirstNet to benefit their officers and their communities. In particular, FirstNet gives agencies operating in rural and remote areas connectivity and access to tools that can change the way they protect and serve their communities. As the network buildout continues, the network will continue to reach rural and remote areas, bringing first responders enhanced coverage and capacity. Here are three law enforcement agencies in rural areas, or with remote jurisdictions, that illustrate how FirstNet is supporting their needs.
Frederick (MD) Police Department
Frederick is the second largest city in the state of Maryland. Conveniently located roughly an hour from both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the city experiences routine traffic in and out. This community has also experienced steady population growth in recent years, yet its unique location means there are also several rural areas of the city.
The Frederick Police Department (FPD) has been on FirstNet for nearly two years, issuing smartphones connected to FirstNet to all sworn officers. Through its FirstNet subscription, FPD is also able to request additional resources, like temporary cell site deployables, for major events. Each year, the city hosts a Fourth of July event, attended by thousands of people from the region. During past years’ events, FPD was challenged by cellular network outages when event goers crowded the airwaves sending texts, images and videos to friends and family. In 2019, FPD requested a Satellite Cell on Light Truck (SatCOLT), a mobile cell site that connects to FirstNet via satellite or existing fiber-optic circuit. The SatCOLT connected FPD officers to the command post, ensuring the officers were not limited by the public’s commercial cellular traffic.
“Requesting the FirstNet deployable was an easy process. The deployable was set up prior to the day of the event and tested to ensure adequate coverage for the event,” said FPD’s Lieutenant Aaron Lapp. “FirstNet gave us the confidence that communications from our command post would be sufficient for the public safety operations of this event.”
Frederick hosts several other large events throughout the year, including a street festival every fall and a half marathon every spring. With FirstNet, the agency is assured that officers will remain connected during day-to-day operations as well as these annual events.
Santa Clara County (CA) Sheriff’s Office
Santa Clara County in California spans approximately 1,300 square miles and covers terrain from the bustling streets of San Jose to the vast wilderness of dozens of state and county parks. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for law enforcement duties for the communities of Cupertino, Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, and unincorporated Santa Clara County. There are several specialized units within the Sheriff’s Office, including the Search and Rescue team. This team responds to roughly 25 requests for assistance each year, covering wilderness and urban search and rescue responses, support for major community events, rope rescues on steep slopes, and more.
In October 2019, the Santa Clara County Sheriff Search and Rescue (SCCSSR) team conducted a large-scale search and rescue exercise, partnering with over a dozen agencies, including FirstNet, Built with AT&T. This exercise was conducted in Joseph Grant County Park, where SCCSSR and other law enforcement agencies have traditionally experienced poor cellular network coverage. For this drill, FirstNet provided a mobile cell tower and a Flying Cell on Wheels (COW), a tethered drone equipped with a cell site. Both of these deployable network assets broadcast mobile broadband across the immediate area, allowing responders to seamlessly communicate. The Flying COW is able to fly higher than the reach of a typical temporary cell site, allowing it to broadcast the network signal across a wider coverage area.
The ability to communicate in remote terrains, such as the many parks in Santa Clara County, is extremely important to SCCSSR and surrounding counties’ search and rescue teams. “If you can’t communicate, we can’t see whether our teams are safe. Plus, once they find the subject, they have to request the equipment that they need, and we have to be able to deliver it to them,” explained Rusty Wackermann, Technical Rescue Coordinator for SCCSSR. “With FirstNet, we’re able to get even better coverage than we’ve had before.”
South Sioux City (NE) Police Department
Once a stop on the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, South Sioux City, Nebraska, sits on the border of Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota and is home to approximately 13,000 people. As a smaller, rural city, network speed and reliability are critical to the South Sioux City Police Department’s (SSCPD) daily operations.
For over a year, SSCPD has been using FirstNet to keep officers connected to the tools they need. The SSCPD patrol cars are equipped with units connected to FirstNet that connect various applications to the network via WiFi. Officers use this WiFi bubble to access the agency records management system, their mobile computer terminals, city security cameras, databases, and electronic forms. Additionally, the department has several smartphones on FirstNet, running an application that allows them to access their computer aided dispatch system and records management system.
Officers have already seen a difference in working with technology connected to FirstNet, especially in network connection speed. “On speed test, the FirstNet network, once again, is out pacing the old system,” said Master Patrolman Gregory Koinzan. SSCPD is exploring additional ways to utilize the network, including leveraging push-to-talk over LTE and streaming live video from the patrol cars.
The Future of Public Safety Technology
I spent over 30 years in law enforcement. When I first joined the Phoenix Police Department, the only radios we had access to were permanently mounted in the cars. I watched as technology evolved and our ability to directly access information and communicate person to person was enhanced. Today, technology has evolved significantly, and officers can do nearly everything from their phones. FirstNet is helping first responders save lives by connecting them to each other and to the information they need to serve and protect their communities. And as the network continues to build out, responders in remote and rural areas will have the same connectivity as those in highly populated cities. This network is built for public safety, no matter where they serve their community.