How FirstNet Prepared for the Eclipse

By James Careless

The April 8, 2024, eclipse came and went without any impact on the FirstNet nationwide public safety broadband network. This AT&T story shared on the website summed up the situation: “AT&T’s Network Stayed Bright During Solar Eclipse”.

This being said, the FirstNet team was ready to respond. To support public safety, the FirstNet Response Operations Group (ROG) strategically deployed FirstNet Satellite Cells on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs), Compact Rapid Deployables (CRDs), and FirstNet Response Operations Group (ROG) personnel in 12+ locations along the eclipse’s arc-like path — from Texas in the south to Maine in the north. Had something happened to the vital FirstNet network anywhere in the eclipse’s path, they were ready to roll at a moment’s notice.

“The eclipse spanned over 11 different states,” said Shannon Browning, a FirstNet ROG Section Chief, who primarily serves as a liaison between public safety and AT&T. “We planned for months, in collaboration with our national and local engineers analyzing data and capturing any unique challenges or needs. We always want to be prepared to under promise and overdeliver, especially when it comes to our public safety partners.”

FirstNet’s readiness plan for the eclipse was very much tailored to meet the needs of public safety along the eclipse’s path, while accounting for geographical features, network design, and population-related challenges. “The network in Texas looks drastically different from the network in Vermont, Kentucky, and Arkansas,” Browning said. “This is because there are a lot of different factors that can affect wireless connectivity, such as when the network is serving a very dense urban area and there is a large influx of visitors injected into that environment or an area challenged by trees and mountains. So, to be ready to respond to any eclipse-related issues, we wanted to account for all these factors.”

Assessing the factors affecting the FirstNet network not only shaped the ROG’s plan for deploying assets for the eclipse, but how it responded to requests from public safety agencies for assistance for the event. “Through our FirstNet Customer Support division, we received 85+ separate requests for deployable solutions,” said Browning. “Typically, the ask is for a SatCOLT. In response, we assess each request and consider the specific situation and needs. For example, we might assign a SatCOLT or propose alternative solutions that better align with their circumstances and the resources we have available mission needs.”

These same considerations guided the ROG’s pre-positioning of FirstNet and AT&T personnel along the eclipse path. “We solicited support from our team members to take part in this project,” Browning said. “They undergo rigorous training throughout the year to be prepared for events like these, but we don’t order them to take part — we ask them to volunteer, and they do.”

On the runup to the eclipse, the ROG teams and their equipment were on standby for issues, but nothing occurred. However, the calm was short lived as a severe storm swept across much of the eastern United States on April 3rd. This unexpected weather event, featuring tornadoes, high winds, rain, and snow resulted in the deaths of three people and affected millions. The FirstNet ROG team sprang into action.

“Although we had not planned for the dangerous weather that hit the Northeast, we were equipped to respond. We supported public safety agencies that had lost commercial power and connectivity, deploying resources quickly to help out.” said Browning. Our people and their deployables were ready to go. And that’s exactly what we did.”

Today, Shannon Browning and the FirstNet ROG team views the April 8th eclipse as an exercise in successful planning and deployment, and FirstNet’s ability to respond to unexpected events like the April 3rd storm in an effective and efficient manner.

“I thought the event went well,” he said. “When you plan for success and you get a little bit of help and a little bit of luck alongside it, great things happen. It’s important to get out there and ensure that our public safety partners have the necessary connectivity during such events, and the peace of mind to focus on what they need to do. As well, the lesson learned from the eclipse and the storm – is that while you always plan for expected events, you can’t forget that there’s always that unplanned X factor that may just very well happen. As such, we need to be able to adapt and overcome, because at the end of the day, we at FirstNet have a commitment to deliver reliable communications to public safety — especially when they need it the most.”


Be the first to comment on "How FirstNet Prepared for the Eclipse"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.