Two EMS workers wearing hazmat suits

Voices from the frontlines: FirstNet provides flexibility and interoperability for emergency management during pandemic

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 learn more about FirstNet supporting the pandemic response at firstnet.gov/pandemic.

First responders have worked tirelessly to keep our country safe, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. For law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and other response groups who are called on to deliver a unified response, their missions largely depend on effective and efficient communication.

As the federal agency charged by Congress to oversee FirstNet, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) is working to ensure that FirstNet offers reliable and adaptive mobile broadband solutions to first responders as they continue to be on the frontlines of COVID-19 response.

The pandemic brought on a new set of challenges to delivering public safety services, particularly for emergency managers. Across the country, emergency managers turned to FirstNet’s innovative solutions to support the continuity of operations. Here are a few of their stories.

As the State of Oregon’s Statewide Interoperability Coordinator (SWIC), William Chapman coordinates interoperability between public safety agencies during emergencies, including fires, winter storms, and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. FirstNet has provided the coverage and capacity necessary to maintain full operations at remote emergency operations centers, pop-up hospitals, and vaccination centers. At the same time, during last year’s record-breaking fire season, Chapman relied on communications over FirstNet to help coordinate resources, provide situational awareness, and stay in touch with public safety partners throughout the state.

FirstNet also made it possible to fulfill a fast turn-around request to move emergency operations into a new facility, the State Public Safety Academy, providing continuous communications to make the transition possible and helping Chapman’s team maintain continuous operations. “The first challenge was to identify how to provide cellular service and signals. FirstNet was a big part of that by bringing hotspots and signals into the room to let the public information officers continue to work their missions” he recalled.

The City of Chesapeake, Virginia incorporated FirstNet into their city-wide approach to emergency management during the pandemic. The city based a large part of its response plan on the network’s ability to deliver a comprehensive communication solution. The city’s five police precincts and 15 fire stations relied on FirstNet to communicate during day-to-day operations, incidents, and emergencies, including natural disasters, large events, and most recently, planning logistics surrounding the COVID-19 response.

This city-wide approach to communications proved invaluable to 9-1-1 operations when the pandemic first impacted the community. Chesapeake 9-1-1 call centers stayed operational with FirstNet, directing first responders to emergencies. They were also able to take calls and provide information on testing sites, test results, and other vital services to residents.

Similarly, when Robert Gelormine, a senior planner for the Chesapeake Fire Department’s Office of Emergency Management recognized that a successful pandemic response required organizing multi-agency responses throughout the city, he sought out FirstNet to facilitate city-wide interoperable communications. In one instance, FirstNet was on hand when the Metropolitan Medical Response System coordinated a multi-agency response effort to identify, collect, and redistribute essential equipment and supplies to front-line workers. Crews used FirstNet around the clock in every aspect of that response – whether on tablets and mobile devices, or patrolling in emergency response vehicles, FirstNet provided that critical signal.

With 2.8 million connections being used by 18,500 public safety agencies and organizations nationwide, FirstNet continues to expand its mission-critical capabilities so first responders can extend their reach into communities and keep more people safe.

The FirstNet Authority is committed to ensuring that FirstNet will continue to provide first responders with the support they need to fully operationalize their network for the biggest impact. Our team of public safety advisors work hand in hand with first responders across the country to ensure the network is meeting their needs.

We want to hear more #FrontlineVoices! Share your story on how your organization is using FirstNet during the pandemic. 

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 FirstNet.com.     

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