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Three police officers standing in front of three Hazelton Police Department vehicles, each holding the leash of a German shepherd dog.

In rural Pennsylvania, FirstNet plays important role in pandemic response

November 19, 2020

In Hazleton, a small city with a population of 25,000 nestled in the rural mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, several local public safety agencies are serving the community with the help of FirstNet. The local police department, fire department, public works agency, emergency management office, and mayor’s office all have subscribed to FirstNet, creating an interoperable network for local agencies and the surrounding jurisdictions.

A city-wide approach to public safety communications

Collaboration among the city’s agencies has helped FirstNet become a successful part of the city’s communications.

Working together, the police chief, fire chief, and mayor made the decision to switch to FirstNet. Their decision was clear-cut because of the customer support, push-to-talk, and backup to 9-1-1 capabilities. Additionally, agencies looked to FirstNet’s unique features—including quality of service, priority and preemption, along with a physically separate, dedicated core—as reasons to make the transition to FirstNet. With these capabilities, local public safety officials knew they would have a network they can count on when it matters most.

“For our city, FirstNet has worked fantastically,” said Hazleton Police Chief Brian Schoonmaker.

Keeping officers and residents safe during the pandemic

Brian Schoonmaker was named Chief of Police in Hazleton in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. With FirstNet, Chief Schoonmaker jumped right into developing policies to keep the community and police officers safe during this unprecedented event.

Command staff and officers were issued FirstNet-enabled devices to stay connected. Officers are using the devices to support physical distancing and communicate with the public for non-emergency calls. This has enabled officers to avoid in-person visits with complainants, reducing the risks to officers and residents.

FirstNet was also used to connect the department’s in-vehicle computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system to the 9-1-1 center and to security cameras. With greater communication among officers in the field and dispatch, there are fewer unnecessary trips back to the station. Looking to the future, the department is exploring how to integrate FirstNet with body cameras and dash cameras.

“FirstNet has made a difference for our police department as we push forward technologically,” said Chief Schoonmaker. “I strongly recommend trying it, especially with the COVID-19 crisis.”

Do you have feedback or questions about public safety communications in your state? Contact your local public safety advisor or click here to learn more about the FirstNet Authority in Pennsylvania.