Pandemic Response – Public Safety’s Network or Other Commercial Offering?

By Richard Mirgon Public Safety Consultant

We have all seen the articles about the data surge resulting in people staying home during this COVID-19 outbreak. Between the adults working from home, everyone streaming videos, gaming and needing more information, our nation’s networks are getting slammed. All of the wireless networks are getting slammed except one and that is FirstNet. This was exactly one of the many cases that we knew would have a major impact on networks that public safety couldn’t tolerate if we were to provide lifesaving services, therefore FirstNet was created.

As you know the 9/11 Commission Report is sited as the reason for FirstNet but the reality is that it was much more than that. I have talked about the many meetings we have had discussing the many events that impact slow or no data access when public safety uses commercial carriers. We not only understood the risk we had using commercial networks but we were told by many carriers they could not meet our data needs and that is why most carriers supported the creation of FirstNet.

To help put it into perspective, in emergency management one of the elements we look at is how long it takes an event to unfold. There are fast moving events such as flash flood, wildland fire and earthquakes. Then there are slower moving events such as hurricanes, winter storms and droughts. In a slow-moving disaster, you have some time to plan whereas in a fast-moving disaster you don’t. Generally, COVID-19 is considered a slow-moving event and we have had time to plan. And with that time to plan we are seeing cascading events and problems such as the high demand on data networks. We saw firsthand that they are not designed to deal with these crises. The reason why is simply they are not built for worst case scenarios and they weren’t designed with the idea that hundreds of thousands of people would be locked down at home sheltering. We now have not only children gaming around the clock but also their parents who started that revolution are home playing. That along with other streaming services is a lot of data demand. That is one domino in this cascading event impacting commercial networks and not FirstNet.

Just the other day there was a story that Sprint was “Adding more capacity to support increases in usage demand”.  They have done this, as other carriers have, by borrowing spectrum. Now it is a positive that they had the ability to do just that but on the negative side they did have to borrow spectrum from other companies along with getting regulatory approval.  Public safety can’t wait for a carrier to react. The best way to deal with any disaster is with planning and that plan is FirstNet. FirstNet is built for this and more. FirstNet will always be operating, have spectrum, your spectrum and provide priority and preemption that is always on. And one other key element no one else has nor will they do is have a “Local Control Portal” giving FirstNet users full visibility into the health of the network along with locally controlling their own levels of priority.

In another article by C-Net it was reported that Verizon  “said it’s more focused on ensuring first responders in public safety, healthcare and government agencies have access to networks, which could become more congested from heavier usage than normal.” Great statement but the translation is they weren’t and aren’t prepared because they don’t do all those things I have previously mentioned. First responders shouldn’t have to ask or check with their carrier to get priority or to have spectrum added or data caps lifted as has happened in the past. The carrier shouldn’t have to do anything for first responders because it should always be available. With Verizon it isn’t and wasn’t. Their statement in GlobeNewswire was, “The Company will work with and prioritize network demands in assisting the needs of many U.S. hospitals, first responders and Government agencies”. The translation is simple. They have to do it for you and you have to ask for permission to get access to those services. As you can see, they have to touch the network to get it to work for those who need it most, first responders, hospitals and the Government. How do they know who needs it, what they need or when they need it? They don’t. Once they figure that out, because you had to ask, they then need to implement. Not so with FirstNet.

And while I’m talking about other carriers, I am sure many of you have seen that T-Mobile has told public safety it will be offering “free” service to first responders. It will be a limited number of lines with data limitation and no priority or preemption which is clearly stated in the literature. Well we always like to talk about use cases so how about this. Lets imagine a police officer standing in the middle of an arena during a concert or major sporting event and they need to call for a paramedic using their free phone. Sorry the call didn’t’ go through because everyone was streaming that Top 10 Hit from 1980 or that winning score. Clearly not suitable for public safety.

Do you really want to put your life or the lives of one of your citizens at risk because you “like” the other company? What we want in public safety is the best in class, every time and all the time. We buy and write specs for the best fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, fire hoses, guns, ammo and the list goes on. Why would we want free data service? When it comes to critical data and communications there is only one network designed by public safety, owned by public safety and overseen by public safety and that is FirstNet.  FirstNet is always on for first responders with the proper priority and preemption that you the first responder controls.

Richard Mirgon is a Public Safety consultant focused on FirstNet. He is a Past President of APCO International and has over 35 years of public safety and first responder experience. For more information about the author please go to

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this company or any company with whom the author may be associated.


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