Meet the Expert: Emergency Management Expert Bruce Fitzgerald Explores Advances in Technology and FirstNet
Bruce Fitzgerald joined the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) after more than 15 years in public safety and crisis management. He began his career at the Maine Emergency Management Agency where he served in several roles including homeland security grant coordinator and the State Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director.
Throughout his career, Bruce served in leadership roles with the National Emergency Management Association and Northeast States Emergency Consortium. He also coordinated the Emergency Response Team and Disaster Recovery Team during several major disasters, including an ice storm in 2014 and hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Irene, and Sandy.
Prior to joining the FirstNet Authority, Bruce worked at AT&T as a FirstNet principal consultant for Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, partnering with public safety agencies to adopt and implement FirstNet.
We recently spoke with Bruce about how technology has changed incident management and how FirstNet will support the continued advancement of tools and resources for public safety.
How did you see communications tools and methods change during your career?
Fitzgerald: When I started at Maine Emergency Management Agency only a handful of people had their own cell phones, and a few had agency-provided phones. As cellular technology evolved, those numbers grew. The ability to send text-based messaging – even simple emailing capabilities – was a huge leap forward. Then smartphones entered the marketplace, and we were connected to a whole new array of resources, right at our fingertips.
During my time in the emergency operations center, we moved from a very paper-based system, managing incidents with clipboards and some limited computer systems, to a mobile application that allowed us to coordinate entire incidents and collaborate with statewide partners. Over the years, I saw our ability to manage incidents continue to get better and better, but there were still areas where we could have used more technology to streamline our response and recovery from disasters. Our operations were enhanced significantly as technology evolved, and even today, capabilities continue to expand, making the job of first responders easier and more efficient.
What made you want to work with the FirstNet Authority?
Fitzgerald: I was excited to have the ability to work with all public safety agencies across the country to help them with something as critical as communications. During my career, I saw the challenges that can severely limit communications. Maine has a diverse geography – it is very rural, nearly 90 percent forested, and has over 3,000 miles of coastline. Historically, cell service has been okay, but not great, in many places across the state. When FirstNet first launched, I was eager about the promised expansion. The ability to send data from anywhere in Maine was an exciting prospect, since many of our public safety responses take place in rural and off-the-beaten-path locations around the state. I wanted to work with the FirstNet Authority to support emergency managers nationwide, show them the capabilities of FirstNet, and help them discover how the network can support their operations.
Where do you see FirstNet having the greatest impact for emergency management personnel?
Fitzgerald: Emergency managers need to be able to communicate. It’s how they get their jobs done, and without that ability, their hands are tied. FirstNet brings public safety the ability to communicate from anywhere. As an emergency manager, you are trying to keep an eye on what is going on across the state from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). FirstNet gives emergency managers the ability to share information by sending voice, data, and video whenever and wherever they need. Through this exchange of information, they can get eyes on the incident from anywhere, keeping all agencies informed with the latest critical information. This also brings greater situational awareness, as emergency managers can know where people and assets are and project when they are going to arrive. It also gives emergency managers the ability to talk with responders in the field wherever they are.
I am also encouraged by how FirstNet can boost data analytics capabilities. New technology is allowing for greater data collection as well as a greater ability to process that data quickly, giving public safety more insight as they make decisions in the moment. This is key during the response to an incident, but it can be just as important during the recovery stage, when communities are assessing and reporting their damages, and need to communicate this information back to the State EOC and FEMA to get relief resources moving as quickly as possible.
And when you’re looking at natural disasters that can cripple infrastructure or occur in remote areas with limited cell coverage, the fleet of FirstNet deployable assets keeps first responders connected. In these incidents, communications are essential to coordinating response and recovery, and the ability to bring out mobile assets is a real strength of the network and benefit to public safety.
In your role as the FirstNet Authority’s Emergency Management subject matter expert, how do you work with public safety?
Fitzgerald: We are working on developing new emergency management-focused products from the FirstNet Authority, looking at what FirstNet means to emergency management in all four phases. We want to demonstrate how FirstNet can support in preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation, and we want to ensure FirstNet is working for emergency managers in every aspect of their jobs.
We have some new programs available to emergency managers to help them incorporate FirstNet into their state communications plans and incident communications plans, as well as when they conduct and evaluate emergency communications exercises. I am also available to work with emergency management personnel to learn more about new technologies. I can demonstrate different products available with FirstNet, such as the Uplift and Advanced Network Status Tools, and help agencies consider how they might fit into operations.
I look forward to working with emergency managers at all levels to discuss how the FirstNet Authority can best serve their agencies. We want feedback on what is working and what isn’t – that is what helps us build a network dedicated to public safety’s needs.
FirstNet belongs to public safety, and the FirstNet Authority’s job is to help ensure it will evolve in the future to continue to meet those needs. To share your feedback or ask a question about FirstNet for emergency management, contact Bruce Fitzgerald, Senior Emergency Management Advisor at Bruce.Fitzgerald@firstnet.gov or call 240-246-4738.
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