Public Safety Advocate: Hurricane Ian and Public Safety Communications, the Rest of the Story; Vision Summit 2022; FirstNet Authority Search for CEO

After doing serious damage to Puerto Rico, which still has no power, hurricane Ian hit the west coast of Florida last week and then moved east across Florida and up the east coast. Now everyone’s focus is on saving life and property and many are trying to return to a near-normal life. Others will be dealing with repairing and rebuilding for many months to come. In order to move on, utilities, including the communications infrastructure, must be repaired and returned to pre-storm capabilities.

As I watched news reports about the hurricane and the amount of damage being done, I was truly surprised that the major TV networks I was listening to were singing praises to T-Mobile and Verizon for their response, which, for the most part, was to rebuild their own infrastructure for their own customers. I found it outrageous that these and other network operators were being praised for fixing their networks for their own profit.

In the meantime, AT&T was not only fixing its network, it was opening up its entire network to all users regardless of which ones they pay for their monthly service. AT&T seems to be the only network operator that truly understood having wireless communications available to everyone during this disaster was more important to those in harm’s way than only to its subscribers. (Watch video referenced below.)

After some digging, it became clear that as with politics, some TV networks favor news stories that are self-serving. In this case, news about wireless rebuilding appears to have been selected based on the amount of advertising dollars a wireless network spends with the TV network.

It is true that T-Mobile and Verizon were on the scene and were involved in bringing wireless communications back up and operational. However, the majority of the work was being done by AT&T/FirstNet. Below, I have included some links that provide descriptions of the huge difference AT&T/FirstNet made in areas where wireless communications networks had been damaged.

AT&T/FirstNet lost some of its tower facilities, as did the others networks, but in most cases AT&T/FirstNet losses involved capacity sites. These are cell sites that have been added where network traffic has exceeded expectations and they are designed to increase the capacity of the network in a given area.

Further, the information provided below reports that AT&T/FirstNet was not only deeply involved in restoring communications, in many cases, the AT&T/FirstNet network was actually carrying backhaul traffic from the other networks. According to AT&T (see below), this was because most of the AT&T/FirstNet fiber assets in the communities affected remained up and operational.

There is no doubt that all of the cellular operators that were impacted labored to bring the area back to where wireless communications were generally available, though there are still places where additional rework is necessary. However, when all of the network operators are involved in the reconstruction, calling out only a few is poor, biased reporting. Most first-responder agencies depend on the FirstNet network, which is by and for public safety. For FirstNet (Built with AT&T), it is of utmost importance to maintain solid communications for the public safety community. FirstNet responded with a wide variety of deployables, generators, and everything else needed to restore communications. Along the hurricane’s path, FirstNet was even able to add an amphibious vehicle to its fleet of deployables that were helping restore public safety communications.

I hope during any future disasters, the press will take time to fully understand which companies are working to bring services back on and why. The priority for public safety first responders is to keep their land mobile radio systems up and operating along with the FirstNet (Built with AT&T) network. Especially during trying times like these, communications are vitally important for search and rescue and all the other activities that need to be coordinated. (Additional information:

Vision 2022 Summit

It is difficult for any industry to start yet another conference and exhibition and it takes a few years for the new event to become recognized as an important venue for a specific industry.

In September, the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association (PSBTA) launched its first Vision Summit. This conference was planned to be different from most public safety or wireless industry events. The purpose was to continue educating those who already use FirstNet as well as those contemplating moving their broadband communications over to FirstNet.

The Vision 2022 Summit included several panels about what it took for FirstNet to become a reality. One terrific panel was presented by two gentlemen who worked long and hard to help make FirstNet happen. The first speaker, Chief Harlin McEwen (Ret) had earned the title of “The Grandfather of FirstNet.” He worked for years to convince those in the Federal Government that public safety communications is not an afterthought, it is a requirement to enable first responders to perform their tasks better and in a safer environment.

The second speaker, Jim Bugel, Vice President – FirstNet Program at AT&T, worked within AT&T and supported the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) in as many ways as possible. After FirstNet was passed into law, AT&T stayed actively involved while several other cellular vendors dropped out. Five years into the creation of FirstNet, after multiple delays, the FirstNet Authority awarded a build, maintain, and expand 25-year contract to AT&T. The first five years of this contract was to build what was considered the basics of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). This work is mostly complete. FirstNet (Built with AT&T) and the FirstNet Authority including the Board of Directors, the Public Safety Advisory Committee, and the FirstNet Authority personnel worked in concert to plan for the expansion of FirstNet including adding 5G capabilities to the network.

Jim pointed out that today’s FirstNet belongs public safety. In so many words, he said even if AT&T was not involved, FirstNet has and will continue to have a life of its own. I agree with these comments from Harlan and Jim. I also know how hard they fought for this network to be up and running. At times when it seemed impossible to make this work, these two, as well as many others, refused to give up and pushed forward.

Much of the Vision 2022 Summit was unique within the public safety industry because while many of the panels discussed FirstNet (Built with AT&T) or the FirstNet Authority, they went further to explore what’s next. Since the panels included both FirstNet (Built with AT&T) and the FirstNet Authority, those in attendance were able to fully understand how this public-private partnership is working today and what will keep it working well into the future.

There were a number of exhibitors on the show floor as well and we all had time to visit with them and see their ideas for products and services they believe will continue to strengthen the FirstNet partnership.

I hope the PSBTA will continue to sponsor the Vision Summit going forward. I found it to be valuable for everyone involved in any aspect of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. I, for one, am looking forward to year two of the Vision Summit and to continue to learn what new and exciting things are in store for FirstNet.

The FirstNet Authority

As many of you may know, Ed Parkinson, who started out working in Congress and promoted the idea of FirstNet, moved over to become the CEO of the FirstNet Authority. Ed has moved on to work in the public sector and he will be missed. The task before the FirstNet Board of Directors and the FirstNet Authority is to find a new CEO who can continue to lead the FirstNet authority forward.

Going back to the start of FirstNet, you will find that those appointed to the Board of Directors come from a number of different backgrounds. There are public safety personnel on the board, people who have been involved in building out cellular networks both in the United States and around the world, financial experts, and since this is a public-private partnership, members of various federal agencies also have a seat at the board.

I believe it is time that the CEO of the FirstNet Authority come from the industry’s FirstNet centers. There are scores of well-educated public safety professionals who have come up through the ranks, completed higher education courses, and run very large public safety agencies around the United States on a day-to-day basis. I believe one of these professionals should be considered for the role of CEO. As with any federal endeavor, politics play an important role in determining who is involved in the management efforts.

It is clear that both the FirstNet Authority and FirstNet (Built with AT&T) have proven themselves. Every month, the public safety community continues to move to FirstNet and what it has to offer. Therefore, I think that since this network belongs public safety it should be managed by public safety.

As an aside, it took a number of years for the FirstNet Board of Directors to reach the point where they functioned as a truly dedicated Board of Directors that manages the public-private partnership. Going back through history, it is clear that when they appointed Sue Swenson Chairperson of the Board, and soon after Chief Johnson (Ret) as Vice Chair, the activity at both the Board and the FirstNet Authority was given new life and moved toward the finish line more quickly.

Having professionals advise other professionals and come together to develop plans makes a lot of sense. However, we should not forget that this network belongs to the public safety community. They are the ones who made it happen, who use it every day, and who are in the best position to understand what needs to be added to the network and the device ecosystem, what new applications might be needed, and how FirstNet needs to continue working with existing land mobile radio systems. Hopefully, in the very near future, enable citizens to access emergency services using Next-Generation 911 (NG911).

There remains a lot to be done, there are scores of dedicated personnel in place, and all of the various organizations appear to be continuing to work together for the betterment of the public safety community. 

Winding Down

In my absence, many readers have wondered where I have been for last four to six weeks. Well, my time has been redirected by a number of things, some good some not so good. It all started in early August when I had a left hip replacement followed by a few weeks of rehabilitation. This was followed by a weeklong trip to Las Vegas when the PSBTA was hosting the first Vision Summit (see above). We arrived home Thursday evening and by Friday both of us were not feeling well. We took our home Covid tests and I quickly came up positive. Linda’s first test was negative but a few days later, the second test was positive for Covid.

Saturday morning, the Phoenix Fire Department took me to the local hospital ER and within a few hours I was admitted to the critical care unit. This after we had very conscientiously had the first four Covid injections.

I was in the CCU for almost a week while they treated me with the known drugs to fight Covid. At the end of that time, I was allowed to go home under a home care program to monitor me and make sure I was getting better.

As of this writing, it appears that Covid, at the moment, is a thing of the past and I am looking forward to returning to publishing the Advocate weekly and once again working with the professionals in the public safety communications arena.

It is my intent to be back on schedule over the course of the next week or so.

Until next week…

Andrew M. Seybold, Sr.
©2022, Andrew Seybold, Inc.


1 Comment on "Public Safety Advocate: Hurricane Ian and Public Safety Communications, the Rest of the Story; Vision Summit 2022; FirstNet Authority Search for CEO"

  1. John Contestabile | October 6, 2022 at 5:24 pm | Reply

    one thought regarding the FirstNet CEO is to have both a CEO and a COO with one being from public safety and the other from private industry….we need both perspectives in bringing along FirstNet…

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