Recently I was asked, “As long-term evolution (LTE) technology evolves and makes fire departments more effective and safer through innovative uses of data, video, voice, and text applications, what provider is leading in this field?
The leader in this new wave of communication integration is the only LTE network dedicated to public safety users—FirstNet. FirstNet is the nationwide, wireless communications platform dedicated to America’s first responders and public safety community.
The First Responder Network Authority was created by Congress following 9/11 to ensure public safety agencies had interoperable communications. The FirstNet Authority established a partnership with AT&T to build, deploy, and maintain the FirstNet network on 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum, reserved for public safety by the law. The FirstNet core and radio access network guarantee priority and preemption over commercial users in the event of heavy cellular use like concerts or sporting events. Along with speed and reliability, the network also supports FirstNet ready devices and more than 100 FirstNet certified applications.
As a 30-year fire service veteran and a former city manager, I understand the importance of a fire chief’s responsibility to thoroughly educate city leadership on these expanded capabilities and to explain the importance of LTE broadband integration during emergencies. Although most city managers do not have a public safety background, there is nothing more important to them than the safety and security of their community.
With the advancements found in today’s handheld LTE smart broadband devices and the in-vehicle routers and Internet of Things (IOT) sensors and devices, it would be hard to argue against giving public safety unprecedented levels of interoperable communications and real-time intelligence. Fortunately, there is an abundance of information available that can assist the chief in these discussions with city leadership.
FirstNet has a fleet of more than 75 deployable assets designed specifically for FirstNet subscribers. These dynamic resources include cells on wheels, satellite cells on light trucks, drones, and a blimp to provide connectivity to first responders when they need it most, like during a hurricane or a wildfire. These rapid response utilities can be delivered in a matter of hours to restore service to impacted areas.
There is no doubt that wireless broadband LTE integration, secure broadband networks and devices used alongside firefighters’ land mobile radios (LMR) have an impact on the outcome of an incident. The power of combining mission critical LTE with LMR technology on the emergency scene provides a cache of data experiences (e.g., maps, building plans, and reports) and actionable intelligence (e.g., real time video, telemedicine, social media integration, geospatial technology, and NextGen 9-1-1) that can not only be shared within organizations but across all responding agencies. FirstNet offers a secure broadband network for these data sharing capabilities.
In just over 18 months of operation, FirstNet now covers over 99 percent of the U.S. population. This impressive growth, matched with a public safety user-friendly and supportive industry ecosystem, has resulted in more than 11,000 public safety agencies and organizations subscribed to FirstNet, accounting for over 1.2 million connections nationwide.
I would tell the public safety community, that nothing will give you a higher level of confidence than to say, “Yes, we do have the best communications capabilities because you are on FirstNet.” There is no other public safety dedicated broadband network that is public safety’s partner. At the FirstNet Authority, we are transforming the future of public safety communications for a safer tomorrow.
Brian Crawford is a board member for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). He is a 30-year fire service veteran, serving previously as the fire chief in Shreveport (LA) and Plano (TX).
Crawford also served as the city manager for Shreveport and is currently a senior vice president and chief administrative officer for Willis-Knighton Health System. He is a Certified Emergency Manager and serves as a member of the Louisiana State Police Commission.