Early Builders Blog: Texas Sheriff's Department Uses Harris County Network

May 13, 2015
Brazos County Lieutenant Thomas Randall's office's involvement in the pilot grew out of a long-standing partnership with Harris County on their Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems.
Brazos County Lieutenant Thomas Randall's office's involvement in the pilot grew out of a long-standing partnership with Harris County on their Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems.

This is the fourth blog report of an ongoing series on the five “Early Builder” (EB) public safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) network projects. The EBs include four NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grantees: the state of New Jersey; Adams County (Colo.); the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS); and the state of New Mexico. The Harris County (Texas) network project is being funded through other grants and local contributions.

The state of Texas entered into a Spectrum Manager Lease Agreement (SMLA) with FirstNet in August 2014 for the operation of an LTE public safety network utilizing the FirstNet licensed Band 14 frequencies. Since then, the State has worked with Harris County, Texas (Harris County) to increase awareness about the network throughout the public safety community in the Lone Star State.

One agency that is using the network is located in Brazos County, which is in the southeast central part of Texas. Brazos County is home to Texas A&M University, which hosts Harris County’s LTE Evolved Packet Core (EPC). Additionally, Harris County has installed a Band 14 LTE eNodeB site at Texas A&M to provide coverage to Texas A&M within Brazos County.

The Brazos County Office of the Sheriff (Brazos Sheriff’s Office) has an agreement in place for testing the Harris County LTE network. Brazos County Lieutenant Thomas Randall tells FirstNet that his office’s involvement in the pilot grew out of a long-standing partnership with Harris County on their Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems. “We’ve had a good working relationship with Harris County on our LMR system for several years,” he says.

Lieutenant Randall says the Brazos Sheriff’s Office was an early adopter of mobile broadband. The county installed mobile data terminals in some of its patrol cars several years ago, long before the Harris County public safety LTE network was in the planning stages. “We started using digital video almost ten years ago with dash cams and back seat cams,” he tells FirstNet. “We have been looking to evolve our digital video system ever since.”

As of the beginning of May, Harris County and Brazos County had installed LTE Band 14 In-Vehicle-Routers (IVRs) in 25 patrol cars, with plans to install an additional 45 in the coming months. Lieutenant Randall says it is helping them understand the performance of Band 14 wireless broadband and how it can help improve officer efficiency and enable new capabilities. As an example, he tells FirstNet that having access to faster data transmission speeds allows officers to “do more in the field,” such as send large files directly to the Brazos Sheriff’s Office’s network without having to come back to the office to upload them.

“This has made the laptop in a patrol car the equivalent of a network PC,” Lieutenant Randall says. “We have gone from dial-up to a smartphone over night.”

In addition to increasing officer efficiency, Lieutenant 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. “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 see if we need to send more resources to the scene,” he says. “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.”

Lieutenant Randall says the Brazos Sheriff’s Office has also been experimenting with wearable cameras and other video applications to bring greater situational awareness to the field. He recently presented these and potential future uses of the network at the Texas Initial Consultation meeting held February 11-12. “This is the future – this is a huge tool,” he says of LTE mobile broadband.

FirstNet has established on-the-ground working relationships with Harris County and the State to understand the key lessons learned in building, deploying, and operating LTE data networks for public-safety-specific use. The Harris County network is also providing valuable operational lessons. FirstNet plans to leverage these and other Early Builders’ lessons to help drive efficiencies and enhance understanding of key factors important to the design and development of the nationwide public safety broadband network.

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