FirstNet Brings Changes to Unified Incident Command, By Andy Seybold
As we learn more about FirstNet and its progress toward a nationwide broadband network, there are a number of matters state and local Public Safety agencies can and should address prior to the network being deployed. The FirstNet Board of Directors has repeatedly stated that while the network will be nationwide in its reach and capabilities, the content that flows over the network will be under local control. This is an important point since local agencies tend to operate in different ways both during routine use and during incidents.
When working with the FirstNet system, one of the most significant differences is that all of the agencies within your jurisdiction will be sharing the same network capacity. Today, most Public Safety agencies within a single jurisdiction use their own set of radio channels (or share a trunked network)—police are on their own channels, fire and perhaps EMS are on another, and EMS has additional channels for talking directly to hospitals. If police and fire need to talk to each other, two or more radio channels are tied together at a radio console located in the dispatch center for the duration of the needed communication. Fire, police, and EMS generally operate at the same incident without interfering with each other’s transmissions. Of course, this is one reason there are voice interoperability issues today.
With the FirstNet system, all of the departments responding to the incident will be sharing the same radio system (FirstNet) for data and video. This will not present a problem during normal patrol and other types of day-to-day operations since each unit in the field uses only a small portion of spectrum and communicates only with a dispatch center or perhaps a few other units during a local incident. However, when several agencies are involved in an incident of any size, and all need access to data and video, it is possible that in some cases there will not be enough network capacity to go around.
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