This is the latest in a blog series highlighting the associations of the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet Authority’s) Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC). PSAC members represent associations and agencies from all public safety disciplines, as well as state, territorial, tribal, and local governments. Together, they provide guidance and recommendations to the FirstNet Authority in carrying out its duties and responsibilities. The PSAC’s input is invaluable to the development of FirstNet, the nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety.
Emergency managers play a vital role in the public safety community. They work daily with local, regional, state, territory, tribal, and national entities focusing on resiliency, preparing for risks, and ensuring emergency plans are in place. In addition, emergency managers oversee communications networks and emergency services during disasters.
The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) is an international organization with over 6,000 members. IAEM serves as an educational and professional development organization that administers two highly regarded emergency management programs: the Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) and Associate Emergency Manager (AEM).
IAEM is influential within the emergency management community and has played a significant role in FirstNet’s continuing development. As a member of the FirstNet Authority’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), IAEM provides input on issues that are essential to emergency managers. Joe Sastre, retired Director of Emergency Management for Groton, Connecticut, serves as the current IAEM PSAC representative. Joe is a strong advocate for emergency managers and has volunteered his expertise and guidance to the PSAC for many years.
“Without FirstNet and the PSAC, there would be no dedicated public safety broadband network today.” said Sastre. “Before we had our own network, all the broadband services, including our network partner, AT&T, had no method of separating public safety users from their other customers. Everyone shared the same bandwidth capacity and when emergencies or disasters occurred, public safety officials were unable to use their cellular devices. Today, public safety has its own network, to ensure that when they need to communicate with each other, they are able to do so.”
Expanding deployable assets for coverage in any incident
Emergency managers deal with every type of incident imaginable, from wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados, to large events — planned and unplanned. Oftentimes, damaged infrastructure or congested commercial networks accompany these incidents, making communications a serious challenge for emergency managers and other first responders.
Today, FirstNet subscribers can turn to the network’s fleet of dedicated deployable assets to address coverage gaps that may arise during an incident. Free to FirstNet subscribers and available 24/7, these critical assets supported more than 450 operations across the nation in 2019 alone. Through hundreds of engagements with public safety stakeholders and rigorous discussions with PSAC members like IAEM, it became clear that these assets were critical to the public safety community and more were needed.
In June 2020, the FirstNet Authority Board announced its first network investments — one of which is to expand the FirstNet deployables fleet. The expansion of the deployables fleet will provide access to a wider variety of coverage solutions, build in redundancy for emergency communications, and expand the coverage footprint during disasters and planned events. For emergency managers, these capabilities can help speed response time, ultimately reducing the long-term recovery efforts.
Guiding the evolution of FirstNet
The decision to invest in deployables was guided by public safety’s priorities, as laid out in the FirstNet Authority Roadmap, which is designed to guide the growth, evolution, and advancement of FirstNet. In addition to expanded coverage solutions, the emergency management community identified the need for access to secure, real-time information so they could make better, more informed decisions. The Roadmap addresses this critical need in the Situational Awareness domain, which outlines efforts to develop standards, devices, and technologies to collect, analyze and share data among first responders. Through continued conversations with emergency managers and other public safety personnel, it became clear that technologies are needed to help locate resources, such as personnel and assets, during an incident.
“Public safety in general, and emergency management specifically, depend on situational awareness to serve the public effectively.” said Sastre. “With the development and continued improvements we see in Artificial Intelligence, coupled with the capabilities of FirstNet, public safety officials will be able to routinely receive data and information as it occurs in real time, which will in turn enable us to make decisions about how we will protect our citizens, based on current information. For years we made our decisions based on what had recently been reported. Now we can make decisions based on better, fresher, information and our dedicated public safety network will ensure that the information will get through to us.”
The Coverage and Situational Awareness domains of the FirstNet Authority Roadmap are just two of the areas that the FirstNet Authority will focus on through its activities and programs. The Roadmap was developed after hundreds of engagements with thousands of stakeholders throughout 2019. Many of the key components of the Roadmap were shaped by feedback from the emergency management community, including PSAC members like IAEM.
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