FirstNet: Public Safety’s Network
Story by Kelley Adley
Director, Public Safety Strategy and Policy, AT&T-FirstNet
Last year, Arkansas recognized the importance of a reliable, stand-alone emergency communications system for public safety and first responders by being one of the first states to opt-in and have AT&T build the RAN associated with FirstNet in Arkansas. While communication is critical for all industries, when it comes to public safety, lives are on the line.
And while other industries have moved forward technologically, we have been stuck using decades-old technology. But thanks to Arkansas opting in to the FirstNet network platform being built by AT&T in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority), public safety agencies in the state are getting a long overdue and much needed technology upgrade. FirstNet is the country’s nationwide communications platform dedicated to public safety to help first responders connect to the critical information we need every day and in every emergency.
A network for public safety, by public safety
FirstNet is designed with and for first responders to enhance our ability to communicate, coordinate and respond — no matter the situation.
It gives first responders enhanced security on a dedicated, physically separate network core that prioritizes our communications. And it brings FirstNet subscribers in Arkansas the technology, features and functionality designed to properly handle their rigorous, specific and niche demands.
The recommendation for a dedicated, purpose-built solution for first responders was born from the communication challenges public safety experienced during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Those challenges made it clear that the needs of public safety demand more than what commercial offerings provide. That recommendation turned into a vision championed by the public safety community. And that vision was advanced by Congress in 2012 when they formed the FirstNet Authority — an independent government agency charged with carrying out public safety’s vision of FirstNet, bringing first responders our own, separate, dedicated communications ecosystem.
In January 2016, the FirstNet Authority issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to create a public-private partnership to help bring FirstNet to life. AT&T responded because it believes in the importance of FirstNet for the good of our nation, its citizens and for those of us charged with ensuring the safety of our communities.
Following a rigorous RFP process, AT&T was selected in March 2017. A lot of progress has been made in the past year to begin making FirstNet a reality for public safety nationwide. All 50 states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia recognized the value of FirstNet, joining in its mission to strengthen and modernize public safety’s communications capabilities.
AT&T and the FirstNet Authority are taking a “for public safety, by public safety” approach to planning and deploying the dedicated communications ecosystem. The two are continuing to work hand-in-hand with the public safety community to understand the capacity, coverage, service and other public safety-grade features needed to communicate using 21st century tools that will help first responders stay safe and keep those we protect out of harm’s way.
How FirstNet is helping Arkansas
Arkansas first responders and the communities they serve are already benefitting from FirstNet. The network communications platform is transforming the way Arkansas’ fire, police, EMS and other public safety personnel communicate and share information. And now is the time for all of public safety to take action and join our network — a network we championed to bring to life over the past decade.
Before FirstNet, first responders traditionally had to rely on thousands of disparate, incompatible and often proprietary radio networks to communicate with one another. This makes it hard for responders to effectively work together to save lives. Furthermore, traditional public safety networks, specifically land-mobile-radio (LMR) networks, don’t support apps or data sharing. FirstNet complements our state-wide AWIN LMR system, as well as other radio systems, to carry high-speed data, location information, images and video that can make all the difference when seconds count. This means enhanced situational awareness — changing the way we can achieve our mission.
With FirstNet, Arkansas public safety subscribers — both agencies and individual first responders — will have access to a more reliable and interoperable communications solution dedicated to them in their times of need. This network will be available in highly populated cities as well as rural areas where connectivity can be more challenging. After all, emergencies don’t only occur in highly populated areas. That is why reaching rural America is one of FirstNet’s top priorities.
Over the next several years, the FirstNet team at AT&T is actively addressing rural coverage needs by building out FirstNet with new towers using public safety’s Band 14 spectrum, which can cover more rural space with less total infrastructure. Public safety agencies subscribing to FirstNet also have access to optional satellite solutions and a nationwide fleet of 72 dedicated deployable network assets. The fleet of assets can be deployed for planned events, such as large concerts, or requested in emergencies at no additional charge. Once complete, FirstNet will cover over 99 percent of both the U.S. population and its geography.
During emergencies, public safety needs to be able to communicate without interruption. It is vital that our nation’s law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders have always-on priority and preemption for our daily and emergency communications needs across voice and data. Priority means you will always be ahead of commercial users on the network for access, and if the network becomes overloaded, you will have preemption to keep you connected. Plus, during emergency situations, FirstNet isn’t connecting only first responders, but also “extended primary” agencies such as local government, healthcare, utilities and transportation entities that are called upon to support the response effort.
This will help ensure a coordinated response to man-made attacks or natural disasters when the ability to communicate is essential to public safety. Incident commanders need access to vital data and, more importantly, the ability to share it in near real time with emergency responders. Imagine the time that can be saved, if we know what resources are available from neighboring jurisdictions and are able to communicate efficiently when they arrive on scene.
Creating a safer tomorrow
The FirstNet Authority and AT&T are driving innovation in lifesaving, public safety technology. Just as smartphones have created a new era of near real-time information and connectedness for individuals, the FirstNet platform, devices and applications will help enable the awareness and collaboration the public safety community needs to save lives.
With the potential for millions of public safety users on a single LTE network, FirstNet is creating a new ecosystem in which entities compete to deliver applications and other services for public safety through the FirstNet platform. Plus, the nationwide scale brought by FirstNet will help maximize the value of every public safety dollar spent by allowing public safety end users to take advantage of an increasingly competitive marketplace.
FirstNet will forever change the way first responders think about and use communications. It is a force for good, and it will help make first responders’ communications simpler, more collaborative and more secure to help us achieve our lifesaving missions.
To learn more about FirstNet, go to www.firstnet.com.
Kelley Adley is a former first responder with more than 17 years in law enforcement. His career path led him into criminal investigations with the Dallas County District Attorney’s office, as well as specializing in capital murder cases and forensic crimes with the Collin County District Attorney’s office. He also worked in the public safety communications space with Harris Corporation prior to joining AT&T as director of public safety strategy and policy for FirstNet.