In the face of man-made attacks or natural disasters, the ability to communicate is one of the most important objectives for first responders. Incident commanders need the ability to quickly convey vital data to every first responder. They need to know what resources from neighboring jurisdictions can be available if required. FirstNet is working to deliver a broadband network with interoperability built-in from day one to enhance public safety’s ability to protect and serve.
FirstNet will ensure that a single platform for public safety communications is created to help public safety officials like Niagara County, New York Sheriff James Voutour and his officers. In November 2014, Sheriff Voutour responded to a request for mutual aid from Erie County, New York during the infamous “Snow Wall” storm. A narrow band of Erie County received 7 feet of snow – with snowfall rates as high as six inches per hour. Eleven deaths were linked to the snow storm.
“We, as first responders, were called to Erie County to assist,” Sheriff Voutour said. “As we arrived at the command center we had a difficult time communicating. We had to share radios – we had to take Erie County radios with us in Niagara County cars so that we could talk to one another.”
For Sheriff Voutour, the interoperability that FirstNet will bring will help first responders during big emergencies like the Erie County snow storm to ensure information sharing and situational awareness. “We need to have a system or platform where we can all turn to the same channel and all speak to one another,” he said.
FirstNet will also enable first responders to share real-time data – such as images, videos, text and location information. “For the storm, it would have been very useful to have live video feeds of what exactly was happening,” Sheriff Voutour continued. “I recall talking to my deputies on cellphones when I was in the command center. I recall them being in a mobile home park where the snow was up to almost the top of the mobile home… they couldn’t even get to the doors to figure out if anyone was alive or dead inside of these mobile homes. To be able to send that back to the command center and direct the proper resources based on that video feed would have been a big help in that situation.”
By serving as one nationwide platform for public safety, the FirstNet network will enable information sharing across public safety disciplines and jurisdictions; enhance situational awareness; and support faster, more effective responses to emergencies or disasters.