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The future of 911 in Indiana: Tactical dispatch, remote operations, and backup

August 9, 2022

9-1-1 telecommunicators are often called the first of the first responders. During an emergency, 9-1-1 is the public’s first point of contact—which presents unique challenges for telecommunicators. Andrea Baughn, Indiana’s deputy statewide interoperability coordinator and 9-1-1 liaison, shared how her state is supporting emergency communication centers and how FirstNet can benefit 9-1-1 operations.

FirstNet in the ECC

Indiana takes a unique approach to public safety communications. A standalone commission called the Indiana Integrated Public Safety Commission oversees all public safety communications in the state. The commission is kicking off a new initiative called Project Gold Line to support the 100+ emergency communication centers in Indiana.

One goal of the project is to introduce new FirstNet technology into 9-1-1 operations. “In the near future, we will show some demonstrations of ways that 9-1-1 centers can start utilizing FirstNet inside the dispatch center,” Baughn said.

Baughn posits that push-to-talk is one FirstNet feature that could be especially helpful to 9-1-1 operations. FirstNet’s push-to-talk solutions allow telecommunicators to use a smartphone to instantaneously communicate with groups or individuals, with the option to connect with integrated land-mobile radio systems.

Tactical dispatch with FirstNet

Another goal of Project Gold Line is to prepare 9-1-1 staff to be more involved in the communications unit during disaster response. “Disasters start locally and end locally,” said Baughn. “We’re trying to bridge that gap between the emergency response COMU [communications unit] and the 9-1-1 center during incidents.”

Indiana is offering incident tactical dispatcher training to their telecommunicators. FirstNet can play an important role in tactical dispatching. Because the network offers interoperability, reliability, and priority and preemption to public safety, FirstNet allows tactical dispatch teams to function in the field with the same technical capabilities as if they were sitting in the dispatch center.

Unique public safety features like uplift

Beyond introducing Indiana’s telecommunicators to the basics of FirstNet, Baughn said they hope to also educate them about one of the network’s unique public safety features called FirstNet Uplift.

Primary FirstNet users like 9-1-1 telecommunicators, law enforcement, EMS, firefighters, and emergency managers always get the highest level of priority on the network. Utility workers, transportation employees, and public works staff can also subscribe to FirstNet because these agencies play an important role in responding to disasters. The FirstNet Uplift tool is used during an emergency to temporarily provide this extended community with the same priority level as primary users.

“If there's a disaster or even a large event in your area, it’s a huge piece to have the 9-1-1 centers—since they typically end up managing most of the communication in a disaster or planned event—know how to uplift their responders so that they're getting the top priority with FirstNet,” said Baughn.

Challenges ahead

In rolling out Project Gold Line, Indiana faces challenges that are representative of those faced by other emergency communication centers. One is that the 9-1-1 community has traditionally been reluctant to use mobile communications in their work. A vanguard of emergency communication centers across the country are changing that by bringing innovative approaches to 9-1-1 operations.

Many 9-1-1 centers have turned to FirstNet as a backup system to ensure they will always be connected and able to operate. Other emergency communication centers are using FirstNet for more advanced issues like remote operations during the pandemic. Indiana is hoping that their 9-1-1 centers will use FirstNet to support operations.

“We're always looking for them to be thinking of an alternative means of communication. If something happens, what backups do they have in place?” said Baughn. “Definitely utilizing FirstNet, the nationwide public safety broadband network, is a good backup solution for a lot of these centers.”


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