It had Never Been Seen Before

By Dr. Jeffrey L. Buchanan, Fire Chief (Ret)

Las Vegas Boulevard was absent of commercial traffic. This was an ominous sign. The Las Vegas Boulevard, or “The Strip”, is the artery supplying the life blood of southern Nevada. This world famous street provides access to the hotel casino corridor which is the economic engine that drives the Las Vegas Valley. This critical roadway is never completely shut down due to the financial consequences, but on that night it was. The reason was understandable, 59 innocent lives were taken, and the Route 91 massacre had occurred.

            The first responder community came together that night in a historical way. Coming together is nothing new for this special group, but this night was different. And the after action report that was created by Clark County Fire Department and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and published by FEMA laid out the details for the reasons why. On this night, 9 law enforcement agencies, 4 fire departments, and 3 ambulance companies coordinated to help over 800 victims. On this night, dispatchers for the police and fire departments handled over 2200 ingoing and outgoing calls (in the first few hours). And on this night, the Las Valley put their resilience on display and showed how they are #Vegas Strong.  

            The Incident Command System (ICS) was showcased and those Unified Incident Commanders operated in unison and with a level of excellence that only comes from intense training and strong relationships. They had to be on their game. They had to overcome the challenge created by communication deficiencies due to the incredible surge on demand for both land mobile radios (LMR) and cellular phones. A challenge FirstNet would have solved.

Unfortunately this tragic incident occurred on October 1, 2017, and prior to the deployment of FirstNet. But in the after action report, the need for investment and utilization of FirstNet (as it became more available) was a published observation (Observation #62) and a necessary change to make the Las Vegas Valley better prepared for future incidents. In addition to the obvious problems with mobile phones, the Mobile Computer Terminals (MCT’s) located in police, fire, and other emergency vehicles (that rely on the cell towers that were overwhelmed with usage) worked intermittently and slowed the transmission of critical information. While the professionalism of the first responder community enabled them to still rise to the occasion, this huge obstacle would need to be reconciled.

FirstNet, built by AT&T provides a solution to a legacy problem. There has always been a critical need for a dedicated public safety communication infrastructure. A system with an effectiveness that is not dependent on usage from the community at large. A system whose sole function is to ensure reliability to any user that protects our precious communities. A system built for first responders.

Sadly, there will be more tragic incidents impacting populations across the country. As learned from the tragic events of October 1, first responders will need to have the ability to communicate seamlessly. Lives depend upon it. Gratefully, a mass shooting does not take place every day. But every day in every community, people become sick or injured and need the life-saving interventions of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) and first responders. Effective Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are paramount. Heart attacks, strokes, breathing problems, traumatic injuries, and a host of other maladies require three things; a fast and appropriate first response, excellent care taking place pre-hospital, and getting to a hospital as fast as possible. None of this can happen without reliable communication. Dispatchers, Emergency Medical Technicians (anyone who provides EMS), and physicians, nurses, and other hospital personnel need data. When a patient’s life is hanging in the balance an inability for dispatchers to communicate with responding crews or an inability to transfer vital patient information to the hospital, such as an EKG, is not an option.

Lessons learned from the Route 91 mass shooting illuminated the negative impact of high volume usage to commercial telecommunication networks and the need for a dedicated public safety infrastructure. FirstNet built by AT&T provides an answer to that problem. Now there is an ecosystem built for first responders that will ensure that their communication tools will work in the greatest time of need. First responders, EMT’s, doctors, nurses, and other hospital personnel that utilize the power of FirstNet are more prepared for the next large incident, but equally as important, they are more prepared for the everyday emergency that happens today.   

Dr. Jeffrey L. Buchanan is a Professor of Practice and Principal at The.Buchanan.Group which specializes in management consulting. Jeff is a retired Fire Chief from Las Vegas Fire & Rescue and public safety executive who has served in many key decision making roles to include serving as an Interim City Manager for the City of North Las Vegas. On the night of Route 91, Jeff was a Deputy Fire Chief for Clark County Fire Department  and spent the duration of his time on scene in the EMS branch that was located to the east of the stage where the shooting took place. 


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