Home Crisis Management All 50 States Opt In to FirstNet: What Can First Responders Expect?
All 50 States Opt In to FirstNet: What Can First Responders Expect?

All 50 States Opt In to FirstNet: What Can First Responders Expect?


By Ray Lehr

All 50 states have opted in to FirstNet, the first-ever separate nationwide broadband network for public safety communications. With the help of its public-private partner AT&T, the First Responder Network Authority will build and manage the network designed specifically with the needs of first responders and other public safety officials in mind.

FirstNet grew out of a 9/11 Commission recommendation calling for improved communications for all U.S. first responders. Many emergency response teams ― fire, EMS and law enforcement ― had difficulty communicating with each other on 9/11. The FirstNet network will strengthen public safety’s communications capabilities, enabling them to coordinate and respond more quickly and effectively in accidents, disasters and emergencies.

[Related: Preparing for Disaster Requires Cross-Agency Collaboration]

Today, first responders use more than 10,000 different radio networks to handle their communications. These networks are not always compatible or interoperable, which can cause critical communication delays. For example, a first responder on one radio network may not be able to communicate with a first responder on another network. This can be a critical issue when first responders from different jurisdictions or agencies must coordinate and communicate to save lives.

[Related: The Role of Law Enforcement in Emergency Management]

The FirstNet network will be nationwide, interoperable and able to support public-safety-grade voice, text, data and even video communications. Public safety users will have priority and preemption on this network, meaning their communication will take priority over traffic from non-public-safety users. This helps ensure that public safety communications won’t be delayed during emergencies, disasters or large-scale events when commercial networks may become congested from a surge of text, voice or data traffic.

The network will also deliver specialized features to public safety that are not available on commercial networks. In addition to priority and preemption, public safety will have access to more network capacity and a resilient, hardened connection. Devices connected to the FirstNet network – including drones, vehicles and wearables – will relay near real-time information to help first responders arrive on scene better prepared.

[Related: Florida Police Agency Uses Drones to Assess Hurricane Damage]

FirstNet will also drive public-safety-focused innovation by making smartphones, apps and connected devices more useful, valuable and available to first responders. FirstNet is working with AT&T to make sure public safety can utilize the data from the Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities. Smart buildings, health sensors, CCTV and other new integrated technologies have tremendous potential to help first responders when connected through a reliable network like FirstNet.

[Related: Technology has Reinvented Law Enforcement and the Learning Curve is Steep]

To implement this network, FirstNet and AT&T have spent considerable time working with public safety and elected officials in each state to create a personalized network plan that fits the needs of that state’s first responders, while ensuring network quality and coverage benchmarks are met.

Go to FirstNet.com and click on “Contact a FirstNet Specialist” to sign up for service or receive additional information. Specialists can guide you through the process, which will be unique to each agency.

firstnetAbout the Author: Ray Lehr is the former assistant chief of the Baltimore City Fire Department and Maryland’s former designated FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC).






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