This blog is a part of the First Responder Network Authority’s #FrontlineVoices series, a collection of stories from first responders serving on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can also read previous blogs in the series about FirstNet supporting COVID-19 operations for emergency managers and while using deployable assets to extend coverage and capacity. Learn more about FirstNet supporting the pandemic response at firstnet.gov/pandemic.
As a part of the COVID-19 response, first responders are turning to FirstNet-enabled devices to make emergency communications efficient and effective during this critical time. From connecting socially distant 9-1-1 call takers to coordinating logistics for distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) across state lines, FirstNet-enabled devices have played a supporting role in mitigating health risks in communities across the nation. The network’s mission critical capabilities, like priority and preemption, are allowing first responders to send and receive information seamlessly.
Here are some of their stories.
Before the pandemic, the Texas Department of Public Safety (Texas DPS) had been using FirstNet in a variety of ways to enhance communications for local first responders. When COVID-19 struck, Texas DPS required immediate and direct communications with local and state agencies to maintain traffic flow, manage state entry points, and monitor crowded areas across the state. Using FirstNet-enabled devices, officers had the connection and capacity to bypass congestion and they had broadband-enabled solutions that improved their response effort in partnership with other first responder agencies
Part of the response effort included officers loading QR code applications to remotely monitor interstate traffic crossings and traveler destinations during COVID. This in turn helped Texas DPS share information with their public health partners in Corpus Christi, Galveston, Houston, and other major urban hubs to estimated burn rates on personal protective equipment, testing kits, and vaccine supplies, track personnel and responder location, or adjust response plans for fire service, law enforcement, EMS, or other agencies essential for response.
Likewise, the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) used FirstNet-enabled devices to stay connected to partner agencies to prepare for and maintain pandemic-related services throughout the state. Prior to COVID-19, when RIEMA planned large, temporary facilities, cellular networks often became overwhelmed from excessive user traffic setting up and running operations remotely.
RIEMA knew it needed a reliable network connection to communicate and coordinate resources and to quickly administer tests and vaccines via pop-up clinics and field hospitals. Using a cache of ruggedized smartphones, RIEMA’s public safety and healthcare personnel turned to FirstNet-enabled devices and services to enhance coverage in and around these critical health care facilities.
Thanks to FirstNet, RIEMA cut through network congestion, allowing officials to seamlessly gather information from other public safety agencies, access databases, and communicate between agencies or across jurisdictions without delay.
RIEMA also recently acquired two FirstNet Compact Rapid Deployable (CRDs) assets to give the agency on-demand access to enhanced coverage and capacity whenever it’s needed. CRDs are small, trailered portable units that link to FirstNet cellular and Wi-Fi coverage via satellite. Since CRDs do not use commercial power, they can easily operate in rural or remote areas or where communications may be temporarily unavailable.
Last summer, RIEMA was the first state agency in the nation to receive CRDs. As a FirstNet subscriber, RIEMA owns and operates these assets. Now with these portable assets operating with FirstNet’s reliable, dedicated connection, RIEMA can more effectively navigate emergencies, disasters, and everyday incidents.
FirstNet users including Texas DPS and the RIEMA have access to more than 440 devices approved for use on FirstNet, including tablets, laptops, and Internet of Things devices. In addition to devices, FirstNet users can also benefit from more than 190 unique applications in the FirstNet App Catalog optimized for their needs.
We want to hear more #FrontlineVoices! Share your story on how your organization is using FirstNet during the pandemic.
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