Across America, first responders in every state face the challenge of preparing for and responding to natural disasters – from floods to wildfires, blizzards, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and more. Having reliable communications is an integral component of any plan or response effort.
Major weather events or acts of nature often affect communications infrastructure. Electrical power failures caused by strong weather can also impact communications networks. FirstNet can help public safety save lives and secure communities by ensuring a reliable communication system is in place to assist public safety and rescue crews before, during, and after a natural disaster.
The FirstNet network is intended to provide for mission critical data communications over a dedicated, reliable, and hardened connection with a robust ecosystem of devices and applications available to public safety. With this connection, first responders will be able to share real-time data such as texts, voice, images, videos and location information to help with a faster, more effective response.
With FirstNet, reliability will be built into the network through a hardened system with redundancies and a diverse use of technologies. This will provide public safety officials what they need to share information and communicate without interruption. Importantly, the FirstNet network will work the same for public safety officials fighting wildfires in California or recovering from floods in the Midwest.
During FirstNet’s consultations with the public safety community in all 56 states and territories, the topic of discussion often turned toward natural disasters and how a reliable broadband network could help response efforts. Here are three examples from around the country:
Harris County, Texas is one of FirstNet’s five Early Builder projects where testing on FirstNet’s Band 14 spectrum is taking place. The Brazos County Office of the Sheriff has an agreement in place for testing the Harris County LTE network. In addition to increasing officer efficiency, Lieutenant Thomas Randall says the ability to stream live video feeds from a patrol car back to the station is improving remote management back at the Brazos Sheriff’s Office and enhancing situational awareness.
“In a rural county of 585 square miles like Brazos, when a sergeant is 30 minutes away … I can see if I need to send additional help or if we need to send more resources to the scene,” Lieutenant Randall said. “During a major accident, a flood, tornado, burglary, or other situations where we need to establish a perimeter, I am finding that I don’t have to roll all of my command to the scene – we can pull it up and help position units to where they have a good view of the perimeter.”
In Pennsylvania’s consultation meeting, State Police Captain William Williams discussed the Valentine’s Day Winter Storm of 2007. The storm produced heavy snows that interrupted power and telephone services, blocked approximately 150 miles of roadways and stranded some drivers in their vehicles for more than 20 hours. With respect to communications, the storms caused numerous failures among road sensors and power, telephone, radio, and backup systems.
Captain Williams stated, “adding a dedicated public safety broadband network will allow public safety officials to effectively do their jobs even when typical networks or means of communications fail.” He said public safety grade voice and data communications would have enhanced interoperability and benefited first responders during this severe winter storm.
In 2006, Oklahoma experienced devastating wildfires that spread quickly and evolved into about 2,800 separate blazes that required more than 600 personnel and 35 aircraft to combat. Oklahoma’s incident command post was active for 83 days.
During a consultation meeting with FirstNet, Mark Goeller of Oklahoma’s Forestry Service said improved broadband coverage would equate to faster, more reliable data transfer and resource tracking via the applications that aid wildland firefighting (e.g., Esri Collector app, GIS, automated flight following, fire response dispatching software).
FirstNet will continue to coordinate closely with public safety officials across the country to ensure that when disasters happen, they have the communications tools needed to save lives and property.