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A police officer choosing an image to send on his FirstNet enabled smartphone

Testing FirstNet’s mission-critical tech in the real world

May 12, 2022

How do standards-based technologies with Z-Axis and mission-critical Push-To-Talk capabilities work in real-life scenarios? The FirstNet Authority partnered with the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA) to conduct a technology trial of FirstNet’s Z-Axis capabilities and Push-To-Talk.

New technologies for better communications

We conducted this technology trial to understand how FirstNet’s services are meeting the needs of the first responders who use them. By putting the technology into the hands of officers on the job, we can evaluate its real-world usability, discover any adjustments needed, and plan for future upgrades.

The two technologies tested were:

  • Z-Axis for FirstNet, which can be integrated into an app to show the vertical location of a first responder in a multistory building using a sensor built into many smartphones.
  • FirstNet Push-To-Talk, a solution that allows first responders to use their smartphone to instantaneously communicate with groups or individuals. FirstNet Push-To-Talk has the option to connect with integrated land-mobile radio systems and is built to mission-critical standards.

Real world situations

The sheriffs’ offices that tested the technologies oversee jails where communications can be challenging. While there are ways to improve cellular or Wi-Fi coverage inside jails, they’re not often used because of concerns that prisoners will tap into them for criminal purposes. For similar reasons, some jails don’t allow staff to use cell phones.

Five agencies from MCSA participated in the trial, with teams of up to 10 people that included deputies, supervisors, administrative staff, and court security. The trial continued for two weeks or longer in everyday operations and specific scenarios. We are grateful for the long partnership between the FirstNet Authority and MCSA that presents opportunities like these.

Feedback from the sheriffs’ offices

Every sheriff’s office found FirstNet’s Z-Axis and Push-To-Talk useful to test and saw opportunities to improve daily operations with the technologies. They also evaluated areas to improve usability, new ways to use the technologies, and features that might enhance the value to public safety.
Z-Axis findings

The trial demonstrated that FirstNet’s Z-Axis capability provides critical awareness of an officer’s location. Managers frequently used it to track personnel out of their vehicles and in buildings. Inside jails, Z-Axis was particularly useful when camera coverage wasn’t available.

One agency reported that Z-Axis helped locate a missing device when they feared it had been stolen. In another case, management knew an officer was on the freeway even before getting the report that he was on his way to monitor a prisoner at the hospital.
The testers thought Z-Axis would be especially helpful for:

  • Transporting prisoners to court by vehicle or when walking through buildings with underground locations.
  • Serving papers to people in apartment buildings.
  • Tracking vans for courts, work release, or community work programs.

The sheriffs’ offices also saw opportunities for advancing Z-Axis capabilities. They suggested making the calibration process and frequency more consistent. They saw benefits in keeping track of individual members of a cell extraction team during the sometimes-chaotic process of removing an uncooperative prisoner from a cell.

Push-To-Talk findings

In the trial, FirstNet Push-To-Talk ensured real-time information exchange across the entire team. Personnel were able to report their location for better situational awareness.

In one instance a deputy snapped a photo of contraband without tipping off the inmate and sent it to the investigator, instead of using a separate camera and later downloading the images to a desktop. In other situations, testers used Push-To-Talk to update personnel in the housing section about when incoming inmates were en route.

Testers thought FirstNet Push-To-Talk would be beneficial for:

  • Surveillance teams to operate without calling attention to themselves.
  • Warrant and intelligence units to discreetly share real-time intelligence across teams while executing outstanding warrants.
  • Non-emergency communicators like public works, since 50 smartphones can be purchased for the price of one radio.

In considering opportunities for advancing FirstNet Push-To-Talk, testers emphasized ease of use. As with other communication systems, agencies would like flexible configurations, including who can create talk groups, how long talk groups last, and whether group communications take priority over one-to-one communications. Another desired feature is live video streaming.

Learn more

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