AT&T, Inc., is rolling out an emergency response initiative to ensure there is a more coordinated response to customers it serves on the nationwide public safety broadband network it is building for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), company officials said today, citing delays experienced during the 2017 hurricane season.
During an event organized by AT&T this afternoon, Fred Scalera, director-strategy and policy for AT&T’s FirstNet program, said that during last year’s hurricane season, AT&T received multiple requests for deployable equipment and other assistance but there was a lack of coordination among states and federal agencies and AT&T lacked the authority to deploy resources with first-line responders.
He said AT&T is in the process of meeting with each state and it plans to prepare a unique emergency response plan that details how assets such as cells on wheels (COWs) will be deployed during emergencies. AT&T also wants to be recognized as a first responder to enable it to deploy the necessary equipment as FirstNet’s network vendor.
The company is proposing that its representatives embed with Emergency Support Function-2, which is responsible for restoring communications after emergencies, in any state or county in an effort to improve response to emergencies.
AT&T will have a national director for FirstNet emergency operations — Mr. Scalera currently serves in that capacity on an acting basis — and it will have 11 managers to oversee coordination in states and with federal agencies, tribes, and the District of Columbia. The carrier also will deploy liaisons at local emergency operations centers during responses.
The goal is to align response with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Framework, which would reduce duplication of effort, including by having agreements in place beforehand, including with secondary providers such as power companies, said Ryan Fields-Spack, who is also director-strategy and policy for AT&T’s FirstNet program. He stressed that there will be no charge for FirstNet subscribers for this initiative, saying, “We’re going to completely ingrain this process into our day to day activities.”
Chris Sambar, senior vice president-FirstNet for AT&T, told TR Daily after remarks at today’s event that the process of sending out deployable equipment has been “a lot smoother” recently, adding that the company is proactively calling subscribers to see if they need equipment when it hears of an incident.
In 2017, AT&T deployed such equipment 20 or 25 times companywide, while in the last six weeks it has deployed it 11 times to FirstNet customers, he said. However, there has been a delay in getting deployable equipment ordered for the FirstNet program delivered.
At a FirstNet board meeting last month (TR Daily, June 20), FirstNet Network Management and Operations Officer Rich Reed said that AT&T would complete the delivery of the first 24 of 72 deployables in upcoming five weeks. At FirstNet’s March meeting, Mr. Reed said that the 24 deployables would be rolled out by the end of that month (TR Daily, March 15).
In response to a question about the delivery of deployables, an AT&T spokeswoman said June 20, “Like a fire apparatus, a custom cell tower on wheels – built to public safety’s specifications – takes months to produce. While we have not missed any commitments, we have delayed delivery of these assets until our vendor meets the exacting standards established by our public safety partners. In the meantime, we have responded to every public safety request for a deployable using our numerous assets.”
Mr. Sambar stressed in a response to a question from TR Daily that AT&T would meet its commitment in its contract with FirstNet to have all 72 deployables ready by September. He said he did not have the number of deployables already delivered by the vendor. AT&T has repurposed other deployables it has in stock for FirstNet customers.
He also said he could not answer some other questions due to the quiet period ahead of AT&T’s earnings announcement, including providing the precise number of FirstNet cell sites activated. The company has only said that the number is in the thousands.
During his remarks at the event, Mr. Sambar said AT&T’s public safety core, which has “dedicated hardware and dedicated software,” is “completely different” from any “virtual” cores that have been deployed, referring to one deployed by Verizon Communications, Inc.
Mr. Sambar also said that AT&T has signed up more than 100,000 subscribers who work for more than 1,000 agencies.
During a panel discussion at today’s event, representatives of local and federal government agencies touted the potential benefits of the network that AT&T is building.
Joseph Wassel, director-C4 resilience and mission assurance in the Department of Defense’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, said that while DoD might not be a first responder in the U.S., it can play a supporting role to state and local agencies. “We’ve got to stay interoperable and we’ve got to share information,” he said.
He noted that DoD installations in the U.S. have more than 150,000 fire, police, and EMS personnel.
Eddie Reyes, director of the Office of Public Safety in Prince William County, Va., said it would be helpful for 911 centers if their operations were integrated into the FirstNet system. Mr. Reyes and Mike Newburn, communications technology manager for Fairfax County, Va., one of the first counties to sign up for FirstNet service, said that first responders will have confidence in the FirstNet network when they see how effective it is during major incidents.
Chris Algiere, director-federal & national programs for FirstNet, said there has been “a great deal of interest” in FirstNet by federal agencies. But he acknowledged that there is a need to educate them on the benefits of the system, adding that “one of the challenges is just the sheer size of these organizations.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org