Big news for cities: first responders to get the tools they need to save more lives

Thu, 2017-04-13 08:11 -- Doug Peeples

Police, fire and other first responder agencies are often hampered by two things. They typically use the same commercial communications networks citizens and businesses use – and that can hamper their efforts when a disaster or other crisis occurs and those commercial networks are congested. Also, several of the thousands of communications networks they use aren't interoperable, further hampering the efforts of different agencies to coordinate their response.

Council Lead Partner AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) are working together on a nationwide broadband network to correct those problems. While the network will require billions of dollars in investment and it won't be built overnight, it's expected to give public safety agencies the technological tools they need to respond to crises more effectively and save more lives than they've been able to with the communications networks they're using today. We think this is important news for all city leaders and particularly those who want to ensure that their smart city projects contribute to a safer, more secure place for their citizens to live. — Doug Peeples

FirstNet, an independent agency within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and AT&T have formed a public-private partnership to provide the first responder communications network in all 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia, as well as rural areas and tribal lands.

For its part, FirstNet will contribute 20 MHz of what is described as "high-value telecommunications spectrum and success-based payments of $6.5 billion" over the next five years to help finance the project. AT&T is expected to invest roughly $40 billion and will build, operate and maintain the network. The goal is to provide a resilient, dependable and interoperable network that will allow collaboration and communication across different agencies and jurisdictions.

And there's more to it than high-speed mobile communications network. The network also is expected to give first responders the critical information they need when responding to an emergency – and to help ensure their safety. In addition, it also will support the creation of IoT and smart city public safety improvements by providing real-time information on traffic conditions and the quickest routes police, fire and other agencies can use when responding to emergencies. For FirstNet and AT&T, the network will evolve as new technologies (such as 5G communications) become available.

As Kay Kapoor, president of AT&T Global Public Sector, put it "There's no connection more important than one that can save a life."

Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford, quoted in a FirstNet blog, expressed the feelings of many public safety officials regarding the project. " I think FirstNet is going to open a whole lot of doors that we've not had the opportunity to walk through from a technological standpoint."

He added "This is a watershed moment for the fire service. I don't think I can exaggerate the possibilities. I think it will be stratospheric in nature."

And a significant added bonus
The network project, scheduled to begin later this year, will provide another benefit too. AT&T says its work for FirstNet for the next two years will create 10,000 jobs.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.