Planning for FirstNet, The Dedicated Nationwide Public Safety Network

April 10, 2015
Laurel, MD law enforcement officers like PFC Rice use smartphones and body cameras to enhance communications.
Laurel, MD law enforcement officers like PFC Rice use smartphones and body cameras to enhance communications.

How to Make Sure the Network Meets Your Requirements
By TJ Kennedy, Acting Executive Director, First Responder Network Authority
Previously published in the National Sheriffs' Association's March-April 2015 issue of Sheriff Magazine, Volume 67, #2.

FirstNet’s origin: The 9/11 Commission.
The First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”), grew out of a 9/11 Commission recommendation calling for interoperable communications for all U.S. first responders. As you likely know, many emergency response teams ― fire, EMS, and law enforcement ― had difficulty communicating with each other on September 11, 2001. Communications difficulties can slow response times, create confusion, and on 9/11 may have prevented public safety personnel from saving lives.

In response to the Commission report, Congress created FirstNet when it passed The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (the “Act”). An independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, FirstNet is tasked with ensuring the establishment of a single wireless network dedicated to serving public safety professionals in the United States, including all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia.

The Act required the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum for use by public safety entities, including law enforcement, fire and EMS. In addition, the Act required the FCC to grant a single license to FirstNet for the use of both the 700 MHz D block and existing public safety broadband spectrum. Consequently, the Act directs FirstNet to ensure the establishment of a wireless network that is intended to allow public safety to communicate seamlessly across the United States.

Dedicated spectrum and a bright future.
In addition to dedicated spectrum and a further reduction in the risk of network congestion via priority access for public safety, the network’s standards-based architecture will likely result in cheaper components and facilitate a shift in usage so users embrace services and apps. A goal of FirstNet is to allow first responders to take advantage of evolving, Internet-based mobile communications technology through intelligent devices like smartphones and tablets as well as wearable technology. By planning to incorporate continual advances in commercial technology into the network, FirstNet intends to avoid the pitfalls resulting from other public safety network procurements.

Initially, the network is intended to provide Internet-based, high-speed data services that augment the voice capabilities of today’s Land Mobile Radio networks. FirstNet plans to enable users to send and receive data, video, images, and text, as well as use voice applications ― and benefit from the ability to share applications.

Enhanced law enforcement operations.
The network is intended to arm law enforcement and other public safety stakeholders with modern tools to improve operations, whether under typical or extraordinary circumstances. During a routine traffic stop, the network could allow officers to transmit real time information to dispatch using their mobile data terminal, patrol car hotspot, or license plate reader systems. As operational tempo increases, the ability for an officer to wirelessly communicate a large volume of information in real-time to a command center during a traffic stop (e.g., live video from a dash or body camera) ― without ever having to speak into his or her radio ― could dramatically improve outcomes in life threatening situations. During disaster responses or terrorism incidents, FirstNet’s goal is to enable a more informed, coordinated, and faster response across a number and variety of public safety organizations.

How to inform State Plans so FirstNet capabilities work for you.
FirstNet is consulting with the states, territories, and District of Columbia and will build an individual plan for each state or territory so that the network meets the needs of public safety there. FirstNet had its first initial consultation meeting with Maryland in July 2014, and by the end of 2014, it had held initial consultation meetings with eight states and Puerto Rico. Already this year, FirstNet has conducted several initial consultation meetings and has scheduled several more. The collaborative consultation process is an opportunity for stakeholders to participate in the planning process with the state Single Point of Contact (“SPOC”) and FirstNet so they understand and support stakeholder needs. Each state consultation process is an important opportunity for stakeholders to directly inform the proposed plan for build-out of the network in their state.

FirstNet’s ongoing consultation efforts demonstrate its commitment to seeking public safety participation, listening to law enforcement feedback, and designing the network in an open and transparent manner. Even if the consultation process has already begun in a particular state or territory, there is still time for stakeholders to participate in this highly iterative effort. Recurring topics of interest during consultation meetings so far have included coverage, potential users of the network, priority of users, capacity of the network, coordination with federal agencies, affordability, use of existing assets, and deployables.

To participate in consultation meetings, stakeholders should contact their SPOC. A list of SPOCs is available at FirstNet.gov.

FirstNet is an organization designed to serve public safety.
FirstNet has a 15-member Board. Board members with law enforcement experience are Chief Chris Burbank of Salt Lake City, Utah and Sheriff Richard Stanek, of Hennepin County, Minnesota. Board members also include the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General of the United States, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget within the Executive Office of the President. The remaining 12 members are selected by the Secretary of Commerce and have public safety, technical, network, or financial expertise. I report to the board as Acting Executive Director and I am a former police officer. Stakeholders can reach FirstNet’s Senior Law Enforcement Advisor, Josh Ederheimer, a former assistant police chief, at joshua[dot]ederheimer[at]firstnet.gov.

FirstNet has established its headquarters in Reston, Virginia, while its technical and research functions are located in Boulder, Colorado.

Go to top