Last month, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) had the opportunity to join public safety leaders at Texas A&M University Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center’s (ITEC) Winter Institute Workshop and Exercise.
During the two day event, the FirstNet Authority observed an exercise supported by AT&T’s Response Operations Program at Texas A&M University Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) Disaster City®. The exercise used FirstNet to demonstrate how the network could enhance operational communications during an earthquake scenario.
ITEC and TEEX assembled a real-world earthquake scenario for first responders to train and practice emergency response in collapsed buildings and vehicle collisions. Ordinarily, training exercises mimic first responders using commercial networks to communicate during emergencies. With FirstNet providing the bandwidth, local law enforcement, fire services and EMS experienced the network’s prioritized communications during the exercise.
For TEEX Training Manager Clint Arnett, first responders often work without a clear, uninterrupted signal during emergency response. “In this day and age of cellphones, cameras, social media and everything else, there are so many data streams that are available to everyone now. Part of the challenge is sorting out what’s important to who and who gets what.”
The exercise allowed FirstNet to demonstrate its dedicated network for public safety, enabling them to connect their devices without having to compete with the public for a signal.
“A lot of first responder agencies are not accustomed to having a dedicated smart device in their hands in a work context,” explained Jared VandenHeuvel, program coordinator for the Texas Department of Public Safety, who participated in the demonstration. “This was a great opportunity for industry and academia to put some prototypes in their hands and get that live feedback as close as you can get to a simulated event.”
With more first responders using FirstNet, public safety entities are looking to their training and exercise programs as opportunities to practice operationalizing public safety broadband during situations they may not experience every day, such as large-scale disasters.
As part of our Public Safety Advocacy program, the FirstNet Authority is developing tools to help public safety agencies incorporate FirstNet into their communications-focused exercises, including a public safety broadband injects catalog. This catalog aims to assist exercise planners with adding realistic, consistent, and accurate exercise questions and injects to help them strengthen their proficiencies with FirstNet and maximize the network’s capabilities when they need it most.
Public safety stakeholders interested in learning more about the injects catalog or who have broadband-related questions regarding their exercises can contact me at Doug.Harder@firstnet.gov. Thank you to Texas A&M University ITEC for the opportunity to join them for the workshop and exercise.