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A Washington County law enforcement officer holds a FirstNet enabled device near several other devices being charged

Improving connectivity in Rural Oregon

April 8, 2020

Reaching rural America has always been a top priority for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) as we build a nationwide public safety broadband network. When life-threatening emergencies happen in remote or wilderness areas, public safety benefits from FirstNet’s wireless broadband connection that allows interoperable communication with their fellow responders, dispatch, and the citizens they serve.

The FirstNet Authority recently visited Yamhill County, Oregon to celebrate the launch of a FirstNet cell site that will boost connectivity in the area. We spoke with members of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO), who are using FirstNet on their cell phones and their mobile data computers, to hear their feedback about the network buildout and learn more about their operational needs as they protect a community of 600,000 people spread out in mostly rural areas. 

Patrol Lieutenant Jim Wheaton has been with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for 16 years. As a deputy, he knows what it is like to face communications obstacles due to insufficient coverage or capacity in the region. He reflected, “One of those challenges is the terrain that our deputies are operating in. For example, in Washington County, we have a large portion of our county, which is mountain ranges and forestry and there can be some gaps in communication. What FirstNet does for us is gives us the ability to stay connected.”

Lieutenant Wheaton added that using FirstNet to support their smart phones not only allows deputies to communicate with each other, but also with the citizens themselves. He said, “What FirstNet does is it gives us the ability to put the end user, which is the people, first and so we’re able to get out there and get the job done and get it done efficiently and effectively by good solid communication.” Law enforcement officers with access to a FirstNet-enabled cell phone can easily reach people outside of the radio system and have an alternate way of reaching their fellow officers and leadership in an emergency. WCSO’s 9-1-1 call screening and dispatch functions are handled by Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency.  Assistant Director Jennifer Reese stated that they appreciate the reliable connectivity of the mobile data computers inside WCSO vehicles.  Having continual access to dispatchers, computer aided dispatch, and other mission critical data enhances operations in such a geographically diverse county.

FirstNet is launching cell sites in rural regions across the nation, from the Red Cliff Reservation in Wisconsin to East Carroll Parish in Louisiana. With this new infrastructure, first responders are experiencing the network’s enhanced coverage, communications, and capabilities to keep communities safe and secure.