FirstNet: The Wait Is Almost Over

By Rich Stanek, FirstNet Board Member & Hennepin County Sheriff

Article originally appeared in Sheriff & Deputy magazine, May/June 2017

Broadband technology is set to help law enforcement better handle emergencies and natural disasters.

Technology is changing police work, allowing us to leverage social media and share data faster. Mobile devices have become a standard part of our daily and emergency operations, and we need to be able to transmit large amounts of data and rely on communications that don’t fail during emergencies. FirstNet is working to give public safety officials our own dedicated, nationwide wireless network so we won’t have to compete with private users for access during emergencies or natural disasters.

Using the FirstNet network will improve situational awareness and keep law enforcement personnel safer with an improved communications capability. The FirstNet network will make it possible to use new audio reporting tools in the field to improve efficiency. Sharing real-time data and sending audio/video feeds before, during, and after an incident response will improve the overall effectiveness of law enforcement personnel.

Broadband reliability built-in

When we respond to a call, information is an invaluable tool. From running a license plate to identifying where other officers are located, knowing as much as we can before we go in improves safety and outcomes. But congestion on commercial wireless networks during a large event or emergency—or in a remote response location—can limit access to a data network and the vital information you need. That’s where FirstNet can help.

Whether responding to a multi-agency incident or simply sharing data between officers in your own office, FirstNet will provide law enforcement and other public safety disciplines priority network access and improved coverage.

Additionally, the FirstNet network will provide access to:

· Mission-critical applications

· Administrative applications

· Secure connectivity

· Device management

Complementing radio networks

The launch of the network will provide mission-critical, high-speed data services and non-mission critical voice to augment the capabilities of today’s Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems.

Bring your own device (BYOD)

Volunteer law enforcement officers are an integral part of today’s police operations. FirstNet plans to develop and implement policies and plans for individuals who want to transition to the FirstNet network using their own smartphones and tablets.

Coming soon

The first responder community has been advocating and waiting for a better communications network for years, and I’m happy to say that the wait is almost over. In 2017, FirstNet will deliver plans for each governor’s approval, and by the end of next year, we plan to lay the foundation for network deployment. It’s an exciting time for public safety, and it’s an exciting time for FirstNet.

What you can do

The FirstNet Network is being built for public safety. Through a robust consultation effort with states, territories, tribes, public safety associations, first responders, and its own public safety advisory committee, FirstNet has turned to law enforcement as a guiding force in network planning to help ensure the network meets our needs.

It is important for you to endorse FirstNet with your local and state officials. They need to hear from the public safety community about the system’s benefits. Single points of contact (SPOCs) and governors need to know how much it can help public safety to have interoperable equipment and dedicated broadband that allow sheriffs’ offices to share large amounts of data anytime, anywhere, and without interruption.

You can advocate for public safety’s needs for the network by:

· Reaching out to SPOCs to participate in consultations with FirstNet and learn about your state’s FirstNet governance body. Contact information is available on the FirstNet website,;

· Spreading the word about FirstNet in the public safety community, either through word-of-mouth or the social media;

· Writing to professional associations such as the NSA, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and Major Cities Chiefs Police Association; and

· Following FirstNet’s social media sites and posting information about FirstNet.

You can help local public safety agencies prepare for the option to adopt FirstNet services by:

· Explaining the need to maintain mission-critical voice LMR communications while investing in wireless broadband (LTE) services dedicated for public safety;

· Understanding how mobile broadband access could affect local operations; and

· Sharing technical, operational, budgeting, and procurement requirements with FirstNet.

Body-worn cameras, dashboard cameras, and intelligent wearable devices connected to smartphones can improve public safety operations by communicating on-scene data to dispatch and real-time crime centers. The network will provide the pipeline for law enforcement officers to use technologies like these, enhancing officer and public safety and efficiency.

As a FirstNet board member, I have the opportunity to engage with fellow board members who hold expertise in various areas, including the establishment of nationwide communications networks. I am pleased with the progress we continue to make, and look forward to the day not far off when the network becomes a reality.


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