Public Safety Advocate: Spreading the Word

It’s Valentine’s Day! I hope it is a good one for all of you. Last week’s Advocate drew many good comments about the lack of press coverage of FirstNet. It appears as though this lack of news stories in local media has been noticed by others and that this will be changing sooner rather than later. So, I thought perhaps I would take a crack at writing an article for local news outlets including newspapers and perhaps even as a story of interest for local TV news shows.

To write an article in a newspaper that people want to read, it must start off with a catchy headline and the first paragraph must be a real grabber to hook people so they will want to read the entire article. Then, of course, is the old adage of tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. I learned the angles of newsprint journalism over the years of writing a newsletter for Forbes on Wireless Communications where I was coached by the best in the industry, and during thirty years of publishing variously titled thirty-six-page newsletters every month. However, writing for a news outlet where readers are not experienced in anything wireless besides their own cell phones and writing for an audience that is wireless-literate are completely different things. With that said, I will now take a crack at an article for a news outlet.

Public Safety Has New Partner to Fight Crime, Save Lives

We all use cell phones. We talk, text, and send pictures and videos to others with them, check the news, and stream movies. Cell phones are a way of life, delivering three or more means for conveying information to others. Meanwhile, the public safety community, using “Land Mobile Radio,” has had only voice to communicate with those in the field. Yes, they can and do use their own or agency-supplied cell phones when needed. However, during large events and major incidents, public safety had not been guaranteed access to networks congested with citizen’s calls. 

Now public safety agencies have a new, nationwide broadband network designed and being built specifically for public safety. This network is the first to provide nationwide communications for every agency and the first and only network developed to solve issues of communications that became evident on 9/11 and during the Katrina and Sandy hurricanes.

While this network is still under construction, it is fully operational today in most of the United States and its territories and it provides first responders with unfettered access. It is capable of voice, data, and video, and video and still pictures that can be sent to all responding units. During an incident, units can send video and data back to the operations center and to other units on scene.

This “FirstNet” network, radio spectrum, and limited funding were established by a vote of the U.S. Congress and signed into law in 2012. Overseen by the NTIA within the Department of Commerce, The “FirstNet Authority” is an independent agency responsible for the building and operation of the FirstNet network. Progress was slow until 2017 when AT&T, after competitive bidding, was awarded the twenty-five-year contract to implement these goals. The network itself is now known as “FirstNet (Built with AT&T)” and the first five years allotted for build-out are underway. Regardless of where first responders are needed to assist other agencies, with the FirstNet network they can instantly communicate with on-scene personnel and their operations center. 

The public safety community conceived of and lobbied for this nationwide network and the National Governors Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and others joined in its efforts. The FirstNet network is available in your area and more agencies continue to sign on. To be clear, this network will not replace public safety Land Mobile Radio systems that are so vital, it is designed to augment them and provide services not supported on Land Mobile Radio including data, video, still photos, and more. Now First responders reporting to a fire can receive such information as floor plans of buildings involved and pre-plan their strategies. In addition to vital signs, paramedics can send ultrasound images to determine whether a patient needs an ambulance or a helicopter.

FirstNet is a significant tool public safety now has in its arsenal. The network has passed the tests of operating during major incidents including the two most recent hurricanes, Florence and Michael, and wildfires in the west. During the hurricanes, FirstNet equipped FEMA and other federal agencies with devices and for the first time, local, state, and federal agencies could coordinate activities on a common network. 

FirstNet is real. While more build-out is needed, especially in rural areas, it is ahead of schedule. However, two more pieces of the public safety communications puzzle need to be added. Next-Generation 9-1-1 needs to be implemented and integrated into FirstNet. This will enable the public to send texts, videos, and photos into a 9-1-1 call center that can send them on to responding units. For example, if a witness takes a picture of a license plate on a car fleeing after hitting another car or a pedestrian, it can be sent via 9-1-1 and forwarded to responding units. Units on their way to an incident have unknowingly driven past fleeing vehicles in the past. Armed with a picture, the offender could be more quickly apprehended.

The other missing piece is three-dimensional location service which is vital for the safety of responders who enter buildings. Once inside, it has not been possible to locate them except by voice. Now companies are working on location services that will pinpoint someone to the floor they are on. This will save lives of both citizens and first responders.

FirstNet is here, it is up and operational, and more and more departments are joining in and taking advantage of this secure network dedicated to public safety. FirstNet augments Land Mobile Radio systems and when NG911 and three-dimensional location services are available nationwide, public safety will be able to provide faster response times and save lives of both citizens and first responders. FirstNet will then extend services and functions we enjoy on our smartphones to the public safety community. The difference is this network is built for public safety and provides absolute priority on the network. -end-

Perhaps this article is too long to hold readers’ interest to the end, so my second attempt is a shorter, more condensed version of the above.

Public Safety’s New Weapon 

Everyone with a smartphone enjoys being able to talk, text, send and receive pictures and videos, and stream content whenever they want. Until recently, public safety’s only access to these was to use the same networks as the rest of us. However, these networks become congested when too many people in small areas want to use them. Public safety has relied on its own networks for voice but counties and cities usually have their own systems that are often not compatible with those in neighboring communities.

Now public safety has its own nationwide broadband network known as FirstNet, which is a public/private partnership. “The FirstNet Authority” is an independent entity reporting to the NTIA, an agency within the Department of Commerce. On the private side is AT&T which, through competitive bidding, was awarded the contract to build the FirstNet network, now known as “FirstNet (Built with AT&T).” Available to public safety agencies, this network provides law enforcement, fire, and EMS the same access to text, data, pictures, and videos as citizens enjoy. 

FirstNet is designed to augment, not to replace public safety’s current communications to provide services not previously available. Unlike the broadband networks we use every day, FirstNet is a secure network only available to public safety. It better prepares public safety agencies’ responses by providing pictures of a scene, a license plate on a fleeing vehicle, building layouts, hazmat locations, and much more. In turn, responders can send live video from the scene to the operations center and other responders. -end-

Conclusion

FirstNet is here today and AT&T is adding more capabilities to the network every month. This network is changing the way public safety agencies operate, providing faster responses to the public’s needs and a new level of safety for first responders. FirstNet delivers to public safety what we have taken for granted while the public safety community has had limited access to these services. FirstNet provides absolute priority for first responders to access the network, which is nationwide and available to all public safety agencies in all fifty states and the U.S. territories. In less than two years, 3,600-plus agencies have joined the network. 

More information for fire, police, and EMS teams not already using FirstNet and anyone else interested can visit these websites: The FirstNet Authority at www.firstnet.gov, and FirstNet (Built with AT&T) at www.firstnet.com

Winding Down

These two attempts at articles for general consumption I have provided above make me realize I should stick to my blogs and white papers and leave true journalism to those who know their audiences. However, I do hope these articles will motivate someone better qualified to write articles for the press and perhaps to capture some interest from local TV-news stations.

Meanwhile, as I drive around checking coverage in the Phoenix area, I have found that several Band 14 sites have come online. This is a good indication of the progress being made by FirstNet (Built with AT&T). Next month I will be driving from Phoenix to El Cajon, CA for the IACP Tribal Chiefs meeting and then on to Las Vegas for IWCE. I will be deviating along the way from obvious routes in order to check coverage for several of our clients. I will share the results in a future Advocate,  but we can assume most interstates will be well covered by FirstNet. In any event, I will obtain accurate mapping and coverage results with my Sierra Wireless MG90 modem and accurate read-outs of competitive networks as my unit monitors them simultaneously. 

The next few months should be busy for all of us as FirstNet continues to build out and sign up new agencies, new devices are shown at IWCE, and more agencies already using FirstNet find out how valuable video can be along with data before, during, and after incidents. I will be here to provide my take on these and think 2019 will be an exciting year for FirstNet. Now we need more NG911 systems implemented and integrated with FirstNet!

[Editor’s Note: If you would like to use any part or all of the above in your efforts to spread the word about FirstNet, please feel free to do so. We only ask that you give credit to the source.]

Andrew M. Seybold
©2019, Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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1 Comment on "Public Safety Advocate: Spreading the Word"

  1. I frequently see the history of how FirstNet was created, but very little credit is given to Joe Ross and Emil Olbrich who first presented the concept of a “National Public Safety Broadband Network” before a NPSTC board meeting some twelve years ago. I remember reaching out to Emil through the 700/800 MHz broadband discussion portal at NIST-Boulder with questions that the rapid growth in technology made meaningless in just a few short months. One thing we absolutely agreed upon was that 10 MHz of spectrum would never support public safety’s needs. One of my neighboring PSAP directors was none other then the late Greg Riddle. I still laugh at his response when I told him (prior to becoming APCO VP) that we needed all 20 MHz of block D for NPSBN to be viable. His response was “all 20 MHz of what?” He soon understood exactly was I was referring to. I respect all of these gentlemen for supporting and laying the groundwork to get us where we’re at today. I’m sure that you, Andy also played a role (and continue to) for which I’m also grateful.

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