This blog is a part of the First Responder Network Authority’s #FrontlineVoices series, a collection of stories from first responders serving on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can also read previous blogs in the series about FirstNet supporting COVID-19 operations for emergency managers and while using FirstNet’s deployable assets and devices to extend coverage and capacity. Learn more about FirstNet supporting the pandemic response at firstnet.gov/pandemic.
As soon as the COVID-19 vaccine became available, coordinating access for millions of people centered around setting up convenient and accessible vaccination centers. While health centers, pharmacies, and medical clinics serve as important vaccine distribution points, high-volume or mass vaccination sites hold the potential to administer thousands of doses rapidly and efficiently.
Due to the unique nature of mass vaccination centers, clinics are typically held in temporary settings or provisional medical facilities, such as parking lots, tents, or stadiums. Often, these sites do not come equipped with the necessary infrastructure to support emergency communications for public safety agencies or medical practitioners and healthcare providers.
Throughout the pandemic, FirstNet has been delivering our nation’s frontline public safety personnel a secure, dedicated wireless broadband service to keep these mass vaccination centers connected and coordinated. With FirstNet’s advanced capabilities – from connected devices and in-vehicle routers to Wi-Fi hot-spots and priority service, public safety has the tools and coverage they need to carry out critical operations during the pandemic.
Here are some of their stories:
When the State of New Hampshire’s Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) needed to set up a mass vaccination clinic at New Hampshire’s Motor Speedway in Loudon last spring, the agency implemented FirstNet service for its communication needs.
State and local public safety agencies used FirstNet’s “Go-Kits” to keep hundreds of New Hampshire’s first responders connected. With FirstNet’s prioritized connection, healthcare and frontline emergency management workers could easily connect to their mobile devices, laptops, and other essential equipment needed to administer vaccinations safely and efficiently to thousands of area residents.
Even when using equipment heavily dependent on broadband, such as cameras and video capabilities needed to improve situational awareness and manage traffic flow around the site, FirstNet provided the capacity to power an environmental control system to monitor temperature and carbon monoxide levels inside the vaccination tents. The network’s high-quality spectrum, known as Band 14, connects first responders to the communications services they need to stay safe and get the job done without compromising other operations.
FirstNet’s wireless, broadband network was equally critical to healthcare providers and emergency managers setting up temporary sites to administer COVID-19 testing and vaccinations in Michigan.
When local networks became overwhelmed at one site, Spectrum Health, an integrated health system in Michigan, looked to FirstNet for its emergency communication needs. Within 6 hours of reporting connectivity issues at a clinic in Grand Rapids, FirstNet stood up Portable Data Network kits (PDNs) to serve as a redundant and interoperable operating platform.
The PDNs were also essential for powering FirstNet-connected smartphones and backing up onsite computers. Thanks to FirstNet’s dedicated public safety connection, response teams had the assurance of a redundant network connection to continue administering care without interruption.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) is a public health, law, and human services university. As soon as vaccines were available, UMB opened a vaccination center to administer COVID-19 vaccines to frontline healthcare providers before transitioning to a community mass vaccination site.
When UMB’s Campus Center was first identified to operate as a mass vaccination clinic, the location seemed ideal to reach residents in the area and spacious enough to administer and store vaccines for large amounts of people. While working through the logistics of setting up the mass vaccination site, UMB quickly discovered that off-site facilities offered to support the operation lacked the necessary communication infrastructure to meet their wireless broadband needs.
As a FirstNet subscriber, UMB’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) addressed the challenge using FirstNet-enabled devices to establish a secure and reliable Wi-Fi network throughout the facility. Not only did FirstNet help connect mobile phones, laptops, and printers to operate the clinic, the network also supplied enough bandwidth to allow OEM to communicate with UMB faculty, staff, and volunteers – even when the clinic was filled with patients.
“We had a secure and redundant network for the mass vaccination site. We weren't sure what the congestion was going to look like with everybody converging on the mass vaccination site,” said OEM’s Executive Director Jonathan Bratt. “[With FirstNet], we had something that would maintain communications even with the population increasing around us.”
With the help of FirstNet, public safety and frontline healthcare workers have access to a reliable, uninterrupted connection to ensure that critical public safety operations are supported throughout the pandemic.
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.
We want to hear more #FrontlineVoices! Share your story on how your organization is using FirstNet during the pandemic.
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