Every Memorial Day, tens of thousands of runners and supporters gather in Boulder, Colorado, for one of the largest 10-kilometer road races in the world. The BOLDERBoulder race began more than 40 years ago, with 2,700 registrants in its first race. Since then, it has grown to more than 50,000 registered runners and is hailed as “America’s All-Time Best 10k” by Runner’s World Magazine. In addition, the BOLDERBoulder ends with one of the largest Memorial Day tributes in the United States.
The race and ceremony bring more than 100,000 people to Folsom Field in Boulder. As with any large event, the sheer number of people can cause communication challenges for local first responders. During the 2022 race, public safety in Boulder turned to new FirstNet tools to enable communication and connectivity at the emergency operations center (EOC) and throughout the race course.
Connecting the emergency operations center
The EOC for the BOLDERBoulder was set up away from the large crowds gathered at the event in a non-city building, which had limited access to city public safety communications technology infrastructure. The city's public safety radio team quickly discovered that there was no cell phone service within the EOC.
To remedy the situation, Adam Burns, Radio Systems Architect for the City of Boulder, and his team implemented two FirstNet solutions. First, they deployed their FirstNet Compact Rapid Deployable (CRD) in the parking lot of the EOC. This small-form deployable asset provided a bubble of coverage that radiated into the EOC. Secondly, the team installed a Cell Booster Pro, which acts as a mini-cell tower to extend the FirstNet network, providing up to 15,000 square feet of coverage indoors.
The Cell Booster Pro enabled Burns and his team to quickly set up coverage for the EOC. By pairing the Cell Booster Pro with routers in the EOC, they were able to run their radio dispatch consoles over IP back to the radio core system. The CRD was available in the parking lot if the team needed additional coverage, but the Cell Booster Pro alone was enough to meet their coverage requirements.
“The confidence that FirstNet brings is in their scalability to the situation. It can start with a Cell Booster Pro signal device, quick easy setup, to using our CRD asset, to scaling that up to even including SatCOLTs,” explained Burns. “They're one of our few vendors that actually understand how public safety and first responders operate.”
Communications planning for large events
Approximately 100,000 people call Boulder home, and during the BOLDERBoulder, the population can nearly double. As is so often the case during planned events, attendees are on their phones sharing the festivities and connecting with their friends and family.
Boulder Fire-Rescue Chief Michael Calderazzo described the importance of being able to communicate when networks are overwhelmed: “A reliable cell network when you have crowds is critical to being able to function and coordinate with crews. Every special event typically floods the airwaves, and being able to communicate without needing to worry about whether the system will be available to you is really important for not just command staff, but the field crews as well. So, being able to rely on a cell phone system, regardless of what the general population is doing in a surge moment, is worth its weight in gold.”
During an event like this road race, any number of incidents can happen across the roughly six-mile course. Incidents can range from runner injuries to more critical emergencies. Public safety needs the ability to quickly relay accurate information to get help where it’s needed.
“We're relying on a lot of technology to be able to work—for our cameras, radios, phones—all of those things. And so, having the equipment there to make sure that with 100,000 plus people in town, our services aren't overwhelmed brings us confidence,” explained Deputy Chief Stephen Redfearn of the Boulder Police Department. “If anything does happen, we know we’re going to be able to get through and properly monitor the situation.”
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