LAS VEGAS — Subscribers to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) network being built by AT&T, Inc., stressed the benefits of the system during a session this afternoon at the APCO 2018 show here.
Since May, FirstNet has been used for events such as active shooters, floods, search and recovery missions, tornadoes, wildfires, and a huge boat race, said Ray Lehr, a FirstNet consultant and former public safety official for the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland.
Todd Early, director of the Public Safety Communications Service in the Texas Department of Public Safety, said FirstNet resources have been deployed for five events such as wildfires and mass shootings at a school and church. The network allows personnel in his department to be “proactive” rather than “reactive,” he said, enabling it to assess what coverage is available before first responders even arrive.
“It’s sped up what’s needed in those areas quite tremendously,” he said. He emphasized the benefit of priority service for first responders. He said his agency has 12,000 to 13,000 FirstNet devices.
Mr. Early also noted that there is no FirstNet coverage in some areas where there have been emergencies, but he said it will be available once build-out is complete. AT&T satellite equipment on light trucks provided coverage during the FirstNet deployments, he said.
Stephen M. Willoughby, director of the Department of Emergency Communications for the city of Richmond, Va., said that there are often many special events, including protests, in his city, overwhelming the commercial wireless networks. FirstNet allows public safety in the city to maintain connectivity, he said. It “helps us track our resources” during special events, he added. He said priority and preemption is particularly important for his department.
Captain Justin Schreck of the Beaver Springs, Pa., Fire Company, which is an all-volunteer department, said that while priority service and preemption is not needed in his rural community, FirstNet will enable communications. He also said that on average it can take three hours for a service call by members of his department and said FirstNet will enable company volunteers to complete paperwork while returning from calls rather than waiting until they get back to the station. He said he pays for his own FirstNet service and uses it every day.
As to whether the speakers considered going with Verizon instead of AT&T, Mr. Early said that his department is “vendor-agnostic” but that public safety “advocated for one network.”
He said it is up to local agencies to educate themselves “to make an informed decision” about service, but he said his agency has “a lot of capabilities at our fingerprints that we have never had before,” including deployable assets at no additional cost and visibility into the status of the network.
As for cost, Mr. Willoughby said his department is paying about 20% less than what it paid other providers. “What we appreciate is the dedicated support that we’re getting,” he added. Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org