For the past five years, the Texas A&M University’s Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC) has brought together public safety officials and industry leaders for the Winter Institute Workshop and Exercise. The annual event provides the opportunity for first responders to evaluate public safety technologies in real-life scenarios and share feedback directly with industry to shape emerging technologies and future research.
The 2020 exercise addressed the cybersecurity challenges public safety agencies face today, simulating a cyberattack during response to a reported explosion. Participants practiced integrating new communications and technologies, including a FirstNet deployable, into disaster operations when standard systems failed first responders.
The event gathered public safety personnel from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Brazos County Sheriff’s Office, Brazos County Volunteer Fire Precincts, and City of Bryan Fire Department, as well as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) teams from Florida State University. Participants leveraged the FirstNet deployable — a Satellite Cell on Light Truck (SatCOLT) — to establish interoperable communications among participating agencies. Participants experienced firsthand the capabilities and connectivity a FirstNet deployable can provide when commercial cell towers are unavailable.
Participants explored other ways to leverage the deployable during the exercise. Florida State University Director of Emergency Management David Merrick and his team integrated their UAS with the SatCOLT to share information with command posts. FirstNet’s high-power connectivity transmitted the UAS data, including photos and mapping information, quickly and efficiently to the command posts. Public safety officials, in turn, were able to use this critical data to plan and respond faster and more effectively.
“One of the biggest challenges that we have in a disaster is the ability to move data outside of the local area. We have two router systems that have Band 14 FirstNet cards in them, which helps us prioritize the traffic for us. It gives us connectivity when a lot of the other systems won’t work at all,” explained Merrick.
The First Responder Network Authority continues to work alongside public safety personnel nationwide to provide opportunities to integrate the network into exercises like the ITEC Winter Institute Workshop and Exercise.
“We work in conjunction with a lot of FirstNet personnel to get these assets. Whether its real world or a planned event, they know where, they know when, they know the need; they respond just like us, 24/7. It’s a great partnership,” said Thomas Gonzalez of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Watch our video to learn more about the exercise: