FirstNet: Connecting Responders in Rural America

July 19, 2016

This blog is the latest in a series on 10 ways FirstNet will help public safety save lives and secure communities. FirstNet is developing the first nationwide public safety broadband network to provide first responders the advanced technologies they need to save lives and keep their communities safe.

Emergencies don’t just happen where people live – that is why reaching rural America is one of FirstNet’s top priorities with the nationwide public safety broadband network.  When life-threatening emergencies happen in remote or wilderness areas, public safety could benefit from having a network connection that enables expert medical support during transport to the hospital.

FirstNet is addressing rural coverage from multiple approaches, including ways to deploy the network in places where coverage may be difficult, such as high power towers that can cover more rural space with less total infrastructure, as well as deployable and satellite solutions.

In addition, FirstNet has continued to work together with and gather feedback from the future users of the network – public safety – about their rural coverage needs.  They are enthusiastic about the benefits of having a broadband network in rural America.

Rural Coverage is Key on the Northern Border
During the North Dakota Initial Consultation meeting, Karen Kempert, Cavalier County Emergency Management, said that more than 9,000 square miles along the Canadian border in North Dakota suffer from a lack of sufficient coverage.  Meanwhile, there are approximately 1,100 public safety incidents per month along the border. A quarter of Cavalier County is a forest that runs into Canada, and there are numerous trail systems and events throughout the year that are affected by the lack of coverage.

Public safety communications challenges at the northern border was also the focus of a FirstNet video, “Connecting Nations: FirstNet and Canada’s Public Safety Broadband Network”.

LTE Applications for Rural Law Enforcement
Although Guernsey County, Ohio, is a rural jurisdiction with a population of only 41,000, the Guernsey County Sheriff’s Office has deployed more sophisticated broadband capabilities than many of its counterparts serving more populous and urbanized jurisdictions, according to Lieutenant Curtis Braniger, Guernsey County Sheriff’s Office.

Currently, the agency’s police cruisers have access to E-911 mapping, remote desktop protocol with access to various databases, the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, the automated license plate reader system, traffic monitoring cameras, school safety plans, a school Internet Protocol camera bank, and a range of other resources.  Each cruiser is equipped with a commercial 4G LTE jetpack that acts as a router allowing for port forwarding for use with specific devices.  The jetpacks are encrypted and equipped with an external antenna to increase coverage area, and each one can support a total of 10 Wi-Fi enabled devices connected simultaneously.  

Broadband To Enhance Responses in Rural Areas
Vermont State Police Captain and Assistant Field Force Commander Tim Clouatre talked about the benefits of having broadband coverage in rural locations during the state’s Initial Consultation Meeting.  As an example, he discussed a response to a home in the rural mountain town of Halifax, where officers had to remain outside the home for safety reasons.  As the case evolved, Captain Clouatre explained how the Tactical Service Unit was requested to assist on the scene; however, the lack of broadband and cellular coverage in the area complicated communications and coordination.  Land mobile radio (LMR) coverage was also spotty, requiring the incident commander to search for a location with communications coverage so he could mobilize resources. He noted that a dedicated broadband network could have ensured a quicker, safer, and more effective response to the incident.

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