For police, first responder communications network is much needed good news

For police, first responder communications network is much needed good news
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This week, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, comprised of the sheriffs and police chiefs of the 69 largest law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada, met to share best practices. For many police chiefs, this has been a difficult and, in some cases, a heartbreaking time. Spending time with trusted colleagues is needed.

From the intense wildfire season out West, through a string of destructive hurricanes and devastating events in Las Vegas, public safety has been taxed and tested. We applaud the courage and dedication of those who responded to those events and mourn for the officers and other victims, lost and injured. During hard stretches like these and other crisis situations, our first responders rise to the occasion with one goal in mind: to save lives and protect our communities.

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Communications is an essential part of this mission. We need the ability to talk to and share information with our fellow responders under all circumstances. And we can’t afford to wait for a signal to open up: when duty calls, we need to talk. More help is on the way on that front, thanks to FirstNet, which stands for the First Responder Network Authority.

 

FirstNet provides public safety with a dedicated broadband network designed with its needs and specifications in mind. It was a good idea that emerged out of a direct request from public safety and associations like the Major Cities Chiefs, and it’s been made available faster than any of us expected to have it. 

The call for FirstNet rose up after the nation emerged from the tragedies of the 9/11 attacks and hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and recognized that our emergency communications systems were inadequate. Congress created the entity in 2012 and provided the mandate to oversee the build out of an interoperable, nationwide wireless network through a public-private partnership that leverages the best from the private sector.

FirstNet’s partnership with AT&T allows FirstNet to use the company’s existing nationwide infrastructure and customer service expertise to deliver our Public Safety Network much sooner than anyone expected. 

The tech company is also making a $40 billion investment in expanding the network to bring it to rural and remote regions where public safety is asked to respond but commercial carriers have been reluctant to go. FirstNet acts as public safety’s voice and advocate in the program and it worked for years with groups like Major Cities Chiefs to gather the expertise and input of public safety to guide the creation of the network. 

More than two dozen governors have already chosen to become a part of FirstNet, including Maryland and our neighbors in Virginia. Participating in FirstNet shifts the burden of building, maintaining and upgrading the network to FirstNet and AT&T, away from the states, so public safety can focus its time and resources on policing, not network building. It also saves the states’ taxpayers money.

With the AT&T partnership, instead of waiting for years for a provider to build out the network on public safety’s band of spectrum, the carrier has opened the network to public safety now and will still deploy additional spectrum quickly. This means public safety doesn’t have to fight with commercial users to get a connection nor compete with them to stay on the network when it becomes congested. 

As FirstNet expands the network, coverage will grow even more robust, which is especially important for urban centers like D.C. and surrounding areas where commercial network usage is always high. The FirstNet partnership will also deploy more of the features and tools that public safety asked for, including state-of-the-art network security to protect officers and the data they share and dedicated deployable assets to boost or restore coverage during wildfires, hurricanes and similar events.

Public safety has learned hard lessons from past events about how to work together better when we need each other most. FirstNet will give public safety a powerful tool to protect officers and make communicating and sharing information easier and faster. Without the power to prevent natural and man-made disasters, our emphasis is on how we respond even better next time. FirstNet helps us do that.

Thomas Manger is the chief of police in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the current president of the Major City Chiefs Association.