Washington County, MD turns to FirstNet during critical incident response

November 7, 2018
During an event marking one year of FirstNet in the State of Maryland, Sheriff Mullendore discusses how the network is benefited Washington County during severe flooding in the spring of 2018.
During an event marking one year of FirstNet in the State of Maryland, Sheriff Mullendore discusses how the network is benefited Washington County during severe flooding in the spring of 2018.
By Lori Stone, Region III Lead, First Responder Network Authority

The Washington County Sheriff’s office is leading the nation on transforming public safety communications and is putting FirstNet to use serving rural communities. The agency was among the first in the nation – and the very first in the State of Maryland – to subscribe to the nationwide public safety broadband network.

The Sheriff’s office serves more than 150,000 residents across 458 square miles of Western Maryland. “Washington County is shaped very similar to the state of Maryland – it’s in an L-shape with the city of Hagerstown being kind of the hub in the center,” said Washington County Sheriff Doug Mullendore. “And, to respond from one area in the county to the next, even in an emergency situation, will be well over an hour.”

Many parts of the country are rural, but still attract a number of visitors for recreational activities such as tubing and kayaking. Traditionally, communications in the southern portion of Washington County has been challenging as the mountainous terrain and the valleys tend to block the signal radio signals. FirstNet has been able to augment communications for deputies on the road. “We are able to communicate with FirstNet via our phones, so when we're in areas that we can't communicate by land mobile radio, we are able to communicate back with our dispatch center and to our on duty officers,” said Sheriff Mullendore.

In addition to every day operations, the Sheriff’s Office has used FirstNet’s dedicated deployable assets for emergency response. Last spring, the southern portion of the county was badly affected by a powerful line of thunderstorms. The storms unleashed damaging winds and record rainfall, which washed away bridges and roadways and took down power lines. Sheriff Doug Mullendore and his team took action to keep the surrounding communities safe. Working with partner agencies, Sheriff Mullendore helped to set up a command post at the Potomac Valley Fire Company.

He turned to FirstNet for additional communications support for his team and the other emergency responders. Within hours, FirstNet mobilized a Satellite Cell on Light Truck (SatCOLT) boosting the ability to communicate and coordinate emergency response efforts. As a result, emergency response crews effectively coordinated efforts to clear roads of debris and execute water rescues.

“We had our Maryland Incident Management Team here so we used a lot of computers and other things to support the efforts,” said Sheriff Mullendore. “So once the satellite truck was set up and FirstNet was operational, we had no difficulties from that point forward.”

FirstNet is making a difference, according to Sheriff Mullendore. He recalls an instance where commercial networks failed to send important public safety information during a widely attended 2016 Presidential campaign rally. The networks were overloaded with attendees sending social media posts, text messages, photos and video.

“Since that time, with FirstNet and having priority and preemption, we were able to [send data],” explains Mullendore. “If we were to have that rally today, we would be able to communicate without any difficulty because we would have the priority over everyone else.”

Hear more from Sheriff Mullendore on our Public Safety First podcast HERE.

Watch video of the State of Maryland and local leaders marking one-year of FirstNet in the state HERE.

Read a press release on one-year of FirstNet in the State of Maryland HERE.

More from FirstNet in the video below:

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