During the last two years, the use of broadband in the United States has continued to increase. From virtual learning to virtual gatherings via video conference, people across the country are consuming higher rates of data during these unprecedented times.
It has been no different for our nation’s first responders – at the beginning of the pandemic, AT&T saw first responders on FirstNet used at least twice as much data as general consumers on their network. What is different is that responders may need additional capacity or mobile broadband coverage in specific areas to meet their mission.
Thanks to FirstNet, first responders have access to a dedicated fleet of deployable assets designed specifically to provide public safety extra coverage and capacity when and where they need it most. FirstNet’s nationwide fleet of over 100 mobile solutions gives FirstNet subscribers access to ground and air-based assets such as Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (COLT), Cell on Wheels (COW), cells attached to tethered drones (Flying COWs), and FirstNet One – a 55-foot aerostat or blimp. From January to May 2020, FirstNet mobilized deployables for COVID-related emergencies over 50 times. By the end of the same year, more than 750 deployables had been requested across the country.
Here are some of their stories.
For the Georgia Emergency Communications Authority (GECA) Executive Director Michael Nix, FirstNet has played a pivotal role maintaining consistent communications at every stage of the state’s pandemic response. When Georgia public health officials needed coverage to run a mass vaccination located in a remote area, they requested a FirstNet-dedicated SatCOLT and used mobile hotspots to provide network coverage so area responders could communicate. Nix and his team consistently relied on the network to connect their FirstNet-enable phones and more than 600 FirstNet Ready® tablets to track and administer vaccinations across nine state-run, pop-up mass vaccination sites.
“When a couple of places required additional coverage, we had our FirstNet team, who was absolutely great, to come in and use some of the existing infrastructure at the sites and augment coverage,” said Nix. “We were super excited to have them come in and work with our local partners to get coverage amplified for those areas.”
Since 2017, Indiana's Integrated Public Safety Commission (IPSC) has relied on FirstNet to support their interoperable communication needs. When the pandemic began to impact communities across Indiana, IPSC expanded their use of the network to operate a vaccination site in Gary, Indiana.
IPSC Emergency Response Director Tyler Clements, who also oversees the state’s communications unit, turned to FirstNet for the assurance that the state’s first large-scale operation of this size would have the coverage and capacity needed to support multiple federal, state, and local responders, including the Indiana Department of Public Health, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and safety agencies from Illinois and Michigan. Clements requested a FirstNet SatCOLT to optimize coverage within the two-block area encompassing the vaccination center.
“Whenever you have that many people in one area, FirstNet is really the only service that's able to deliver to public safety,” says Clements. Clements also relied on the FirstNet Central tool to uplift hundreds of on-site responders to the network, giving them priority access to the network. Through the FirstNet Assist App, FirstNet users can use the network’s Uplift Tool to grant temporary priority access to their public safety partners. During pandemic response, healthcare and emergency response workers who administer care or vaccines in pop-up clinics nationwide take advantage of being uplifted to enable prioritized communications.
FirstNet is giving first responders the assurance they can coordinate and communication reliably during the COVID response and other operations and emergencies. Input from our public safety partners is crucial to the ongoing success of FirstNet. The FirstNet Authority is committed to ensuring that FirstNet will continue to provide first responders with the support they need to fully operationalize their network for the biggest impact. Our team of public safety advisors work hand in hand with first responders across the country to ensure the network is meeting their needs.
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