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FirstNet Authority Supports SMART emergency management practices through planning, preparedness programs

This blog is a repost from the International Association of Emergency Management Bulletin, originally published in September 2021.

The last 18 months have put emergency managers to the test. Managing the pandemic, civil unrest, and natural disasters with reduced budgets and limited resources has required ingenuity, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Relevant, Time-based) practices, strong partnerships, and the help of innovative technologies.

As emergency management agencies turn to mobile broadband tools for greater support, emergency managers are recognizing the need to train, exercise, and properly plan and assess technology usage before, during, and after response. To this end, many emergency managers are looking to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) for help.

Our team of public safety broadband experts has developed planning tools and support mechanisms — including an exercise inject catalog, event pre-planning program, and post incident/event review process — to help emergency managers and other public safety officials integrate broadband into their daily operations and emergency response. Through collaborative efforts with our team, responders across the nation are leveraging these offerings as part of their SMART approach to emergency management.

Smart Practice #1: Incorporate broadband into training and exercises

SMART response begins with smart planning and preparation. To optimize the use of broadband in the field, public safety agencies should practice deploying the technology through planned exercises. To help, the FirstNet Authority developed the FirstNet Inject Catalog — a comprehensive searchable tool designed to help emergency planners introduce broadband into discussion-based (tabletop) and operational (functional and full-scale) exercises.

Free to all public safety agencies, the FirstNet Inject Catalog offers over 800 realistic situational injects and associated questions — linking to hundreds of quick and creative FirstNet broadband solutions. The catalog has helped hundreds of public safety officials integrate FirstNet into their training, including emergency planners for the 2019 Central States Communications Exercise held in Quapaw, Oklahoma.

During the three-day event, local, state, tribal, and federal response officials used situational and discussion-based injects, including FirstNet injects, to test emergency communication solutions. The FirstNet injects played an important role in demonstrating the value of broadband in mutual aid scenarios, particularly with enhancing interoperable communications among agencies and disciplines in the central states’ region.

Smart Practice #2: Participate in pre-planning discussions to identify the right broadband solutions

As the nation begins to open up, emergency managers are seeing the return of planned events, such as festivals, concerts, and sporting events. To ensure these events are safe and successful, many emergency managers are taking advantage of the FirstNet Authority’s pre-planning support program.

Through this unique and free service, our team of experts works closely with public safety agencies to understand the event and to identify public safety operational areas, responders’ needs and desired capabilities, and the technologies they plan to use. We share this input with our network contractor, AT&T, which uses this information to identify and implement the right broadband and coverage solutions for the event. Agencies across the nation are leveraging this smart approach to planning to ensure they have the tools and capabilities needed to communicate, including the Department of Emergency Services (DES) in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania.

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 World’s End Ultra Marathon, the DES team requested assistance to coordinate communication between numerous public safety agencies along the 100-kilometer racecourse, which is situated along rugged and steep terrain. Through pre-event planning sessions, the FirstNet Authority worked with DES to identify public safety partners, survey the surrounding areas for coverage challenges, and determine ways to expand network coverage and interoperable communications to essential communication points.

Part of the challenge involved addressing the mountainous areas that are historically prone to poor signal strength and spotty service. These coverage issues were solved by deploying two FirstNet Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs) and a cache of FirstNet devices to keep communications running smoothly throughout race day.

“FirstNet service allowed us to resolve operational issues that previously would have required significantly more resources,” said DES Director Joe Carpenter. “From an emergency management perspective, the applications for such services in the mountains of Pennsylvania are far-reaching, and this experience has provided a real-world realization of the FirstNet capabilities available, even to a small rural Pennsylvania county.”

Thanks to best practices and lessons learned gathered during the 2020 pre-planning meetings, event organizers noted the 2021 World’s End Ultra Marathon race also ran smoothly. 

Smart Practice #3: Perform post-incident/event reviews to improve future broadband experience

Response operations may end, but smart emergency management practices tell us an event is not really over until we’ve reflected on our observations and experiences from the response. Making the time to discuss and document lessons learned — especially around communications — can significantly improve future operations. To this end, the FirstNet Authority developed the Post Incident/Event Review (PIER) program to help responders improve their use of broadband at future incidents and events.

Through the PIER program, our team partners with agencies following an event to conduct a thorough review of FirstNet use and other broadband activities. This service is available free of charge to any FirstNet subscribing agency and involves a series of PIER meetings where our team captures best practices and lessons learned related to event planning, logistics, operations, and technology use. Following these discussions, our team prepares a summary of findings to help responders prepare for similar incidents or future events.

For events like the New York International Air Show, the PIER program has made a positive impact by identifying successful communications practices and areas for improvement. At the conclusion of the 2019 Air Show, the FirstNet Authority hosted a PIER discussion with the State of New York’s Office of Interoperable Emergency Communications and the Orange County Department of Emergency Services. The PIER meeting addressed challenges, noted successes, and highlighted standard procedures for future events. These conversations also identified areas of improvement regarding coverage and capacity planning, deployable asset set-up, and connecting devices to the deployable.

The PIER meetings were so successful that the Orange County event organizers arranged for FirstNet pre-planning support in the weeks leading up to the 2020 Air Show. After the FirstNet Authority helped to navigate the logistics of setting up emergency communications, former Orange County Department of Emergency Services Communications System Specialist Chris Carney recalled, “There’s nowhere else we can get that level of expertise about broadband and FirstNet capabilities.”

Smart Practice #4: Leverage FirstNet Authority planning and preparedness programs for your agency

As emergency managers plan for the future, we encourage them to take advantage of the FirstNet Authority’s free support services. Tested and vetted by other emergency management agencies, these services will help you tailor broadband to your agency or event’s needs.

If you’re interested in learning more about the inject catalog, pre-planning support program, or PIER program, please contact FirstNet Authority Senior Public Safety Advisor Doug Harder at doug.harder@firstnet.gov.          

Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates.

For information on FirstNet products and services or to access your subscriber account, visit FirstNet.com.     

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