Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Cell tower; outline of the state of Tennessee; a 9-1-1 telecommunicator at her workstation

Tennessee leads nation in statewide adoption of FirstNet for 9-1-1

June 6, 2023

Tennessee is upgrading its 9-1-1 network and leading the nation by instituting FirstNet as backup for every primary public safety answering point or PSAP. Curtis Sutton, Executive Director of the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, shared with us the lessons learned, the benefits of FirstNet, and the future of 9-1-1 in Tennessee.

New technologies for today

Tennessee upgraded its 9-1-1 network to a Next Generation 9-1-1 system in 2009 using the statewide fiber network already in place. Next Generation 9-1-1, or NG9-1-1, replaces traditional analog 9-1-1 infrastructure that’s been in place for decades with a digital, internet protocol (IP) system that processes data like location information, texts, photos, and video.

When the state’s previous network contract was due to expire, the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board—which is responsible for supporting the state’s 9-1-1 systems—searched for a future-proof solution to meet the demands of today’s evolving 9-1-1 environment.

“In the time since we started our first iteration of Next Generation 9-1-1, the landscape of 9-1-1 has changed throughout the country,” said Curtis. “We needed to focus on a 9-1-1 network rather than just piggybacking onto a statewide fiber network.”

The board carefully considered the options and selected a network provider offering two redundant physical connections and FirstNet as a tertiary wireless backup connection. “If one or both of the fiber connections go down, then FirstNet will take over and provide seamless call delivery,” explained Curtis.

FirstNet provides backup for Tennessee’s PSAPs

Tennessee is in the process of deploying this new solution to the state’s 134 primary PSAPs.

When testing the backup connection, Curtis said the transition to FirstNet was seamless. “You could hardly tell that the fiber connections went down and FirstNet picked up,” he said.

Beyond the testing environment, FirstNet is proving useful in real-world scenarios. “We actually had a center that was taking calls live on FirstNet while we were working on the fiber connections,” he said.

Telecommunicators processing these live calls saw no difference with FirstNet. “From the feedback that we got from staff, it worked just like fiber.”

And the network successfully processed data, including the caller’s automatic number identification (ANI) and the automatic location identification (ALI). “The one center that was running on FirstNet for a short period of time was able to answer calls, and they were getting the ANI and ALI data they needed,” reported Curtis. “It worked extremely well.”

Feedback from 9-1-1 districts

Before upgrading the system, the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board consulted with the state’s 100 emergency communications districts responsible for handling 9-1-1 calls. Each of those districts either operates its own PSAP or partners with a local government to operate a PSAP, and they all work with different vendors for their call-handling, recording, and text-to-911 systems.

“We went across the state and held a series of town halls to get a feel as to what they wanted to see improved in 9-1-1,” explained Curtis. “We got a ton of data back from that, a ton of responses, and really good takeaways.”

Using feedback from the districts, the board issued a request for proposal, or RFP, seeking bids for Tennessee’s 9-1-1 network. A robust RFP was key to securing the right solution for the state.

“We sat down after those town halls and crafted the RFP and put in everything that we wanted to see,” he said. “Doing the work on the front end really paid off.”

Redundancy and cybersecurity key to RFP

Two major themes in the RFP were redundancy and cybersecurity, both based on real-life events experienced by the 9-1-1 community in Tennessee.

“Due to some lessons learned, especially during Christmas of 2020, we put in some stringent requirements in our RFP for redundancy,” Curtis said, referring to the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville that caused internet, phone, and wireless outages in the state.

“We also had a robust cybersecurity requirement in the RFP,” he continued. “And the reason behind that is because we've had 9-1-1 centers hit by bad actors and malware.”

Curtis said the state is confident in the security and reliability of FirstNet. In fact, FirstNet was one of the reasons they selected the current network provider during the RFP process.

“FirstNet is a very valuable tool for us, and it was one that no other provider in the RFP responses had,” he explained. “With FirstNet being dedicated to public safety, obviously that's going to be the more attractive option.”

Future plans

Looking ahead to when the deployments are completed for all 134 PSAPs, Curtis said, “It’ll be a huge benefit to have a statewide network from Memphis to Mountain City. Everybody's going to have the same FirstNet connection along with two fiber connections.”

The state continues to be forward-thinking about its 9-1-1 systems. “We are the first statewide FirstNet deployment, and that's something we're very proud of. And it helps Tennessee maintain a leadership space in 9-1-1.”

What’s next for the state’s 9-1-1? Cybersecurity continues to be a priority. “We're extremely confident with the cybersecurity on the fiber networks and FirstNet, but we have to be vigilant about cybersecurity at local PSAPs.”

Another priority is interconnectivity. Tennessee has eight border states, the most in the country, so it is partnering with neighboring states to determine how to transfer calls between their different systems.

“What our customers want is to keep their phone calls. Our customers would rather have their calls rolled to admin lines than transferred out of their district,” explained Curtis. “That's why FirstNet as a backup to the fiber connections is very important because that's what our customers want—to make sure they keep that call.”

To learn more about how FirstNet is helping public safety and the 9-1-1 community to leverage innovative public safety communications, sign up for the 9-1-1 Take with John Hunt 


Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates.

For information on FirstNet products and services or to access your subscriber account, visit