After the events of September 2001, the U.S. Government decided to dedicate a radio frequency in North America for First Responders. Since then the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) helped to create and promote a nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is chartered with providing emergency responders with the first nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety. Their goal is to ensure emergency responders can communicate with each other to optimize emergency response.
There are two distinct aspects to FirstNet. The first is the wireless infrastructure. This is the infrastructure that will be developed and managed by wireless providers and their partners. It provides the antennae, the 4GLTE network, modems etc. This provides the ability to use the 700mhz spectrum for voice and applications for those public safety. This is an important aspect and lays the ground work for inter-agency first responders to communicate over a secure, high bandwidth network.
The second aspect is more interesting to me. This aspect is the data and integration. This is about WHAT (goes over the network) to enable the first responders to communicate with each other. First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Board member Sue Swenson provided an update FirstNet’s work efforts. Here are a few snippets from her update where she mentions the data aspect.
“Emergency responders have also been walled off from accessing the latest technology. Essentially, the pipe is too small and the pressure is too weak to pump data through. Many emergency personnel resort to using their own smartphones to get the benefit of higher bandwidth and faster speeds.”
“What they need, and can get with LTE technology, is the ability to:
- Download aerial videos of an incident to enable more effective planning and strategy before responders enter the scene;
- Stream video of a patient from a remote location to get medical assistance during a long ambulance journey to the nearest hospital;
- Review architectural drawings before entering a burning building.”
How does an agency or group of agencies create a system to meet this need? An agency might start with their own mobile and voice applications. They may just have radios or may have smartphones. They run on an existing network. This is a great start.. enable first responders with mobility and mobile applications. But for the mission of FirstNet to succeed, first responders from differing agencies in a city or region must be able to have applications, not only for their own agency, but for multiple agencies. What good is it if the Police and Fire departments are all on the same network if they cannot share relevant data and collaborate to meets the needs of the emergency? It is this 2nd aspect that I will spend some time discussing in my next blog.