Public Safety First podcast logo; “Tribal public safety in coastal regions”; Makah tribe logo; wooded cliffs and water


FirstNet Authority National Tribal Government Liaison Adam Geisler sits down with Crystal Hottowe of the Makah Tribe in northwest Washington to talk about what it means to respond to emergencies in a marine environment, the looming threat of tsunamis, and broadband on tribal lands.


Episode 33: Public Safety Communications on Coastal Shores
Adam Geisler, FirstNet Authority National Tribal Government Liaison
Crystal Hottowe, Grants Writer, Makah Tribe

Narrator: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology.

And now, your host.

Adam Geisler: Welcome to another edition of the Public Safety First Podcast. I’ll be your host today, Adam Geisler, with the First Responder Network Authority. Miyuum and welcome. Today we have Crystal Hottowe with the Makah Tribe sitting down to talk to us a little bit about her Roadmap engagement that we conducted on the Makah Reservation in northwest Washington. Crystal, welcome.

Crystal Hottowe: Thank you, Adam. I’m happy to be here.

Adam Geisler: Awesome. So, Crystal, we had a chance to come out and meet and greet your tribe up in the northwest, and we had an opportunity to really see some interesting ways in which public safety is operating with the Makah tribe. Can you share with us a little bit about how operations can be unique or different from off-reservation operations with Makah?

Crystal Hottowe: Yes, I can. So, Makah – we are located on the very tip of northwest Washington state. We’re as far northwest as you can go on the lower 48 states, so that means that we’re bordered to the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to the west by the Pacific Ocean, and, so, therefore, what we end up having is a very remote reservation, one way in, one way out. And not only is it remote, it’s very rural. You don’t end up in Neah Bay by accident. If you are in Neah Bay, it’s because you intended to go there. So, therefore, the location poses some significant challenges as far as being able to communicate and get communication to the correct people, and to get responders on scene as fast as they can get there. We have a lot of different areas that are radio holes, black holes in our radio coverage for our LMR [land mobile radio]. So, what ends up happening when we do a lot of SARs [search and rescues] is we end up having to do bucket brigade-type of situations where we’re sending a messenger on foot to go up so far on a trail to deliver a message, and then that person then runs to another relay point, to another relay point. Those types of situations are particularly challenging, and I think a little bit unique to us because of our location, because of our lack of infrastructure.

Adam Geisler: A lot of people think that everybody has cellular connectivity. How is that different in Indian Country?

Crystal Hottowe: Yeah, it is definitely not, and, I mean, there’s a lot of tribes that either don’t have cellular, or they’re lucky if they have a few bars, you know, two or three bars. It’s wrong to make that assumption that everyone has that connectivity, because the reality is that that infrastructure just hasn’t been built out that far and that wide yet.

Adam Geisler: So, the Makah tribe is in a really unique location in the country in that you have the Canadian border to your north, which, I know, has posed some challenging communications issues. But that also brought forward the border relationship, and the ocean brought forward a unique environment that we don’t always touch a whole lot on which is the marine environment. So Crystal, can you share with me a little bit about how response occurs on the water, being that you have so many people in the water regularly as a part of the cultural activities of the tribe?

Crystal Hottowe: Makah, our life is revolved around the tides and what fish is running, what is happening in that particular season. While we have other interior tribes that have their trails that they –  their gaming trails, their traveling trails, how they get to Point A to Point B, ours is the waterway. We have trails on the waterway. We know where the rocks are, where the currents go, where you can ride the wind. And so, we’ve had a lot of people that have been out on the water, they’re out there gathering shellfish and they’ve been swept away by a rogue wave. We’ve also had some fishermen that have gone overboard and have drowned, and those particular areas have posed significant challenges. They have highlighted how important it is for us to be able to have communications in an emergent situation, and in those areas where we know – the locals know – that there are communication holes or it’s not a safe area. We get such a huge influx of visitors throughout the year that getting that message to every single person who might come across our reservation, it’s almost impossible. We know, and we recognize, and so, therefore, what we want to do is to set up our own system in order to mitigate that.

Adam Geisler: Well, one of the things that I found really intriguing was the amount of active utilization of what cellular capabilities you do have today. So, FirstNet is not there today, but I was still surprised to see in our ride alongs with your officers, how many of them were leaning heavily on the cellular systems. So, how do you think FirstNet will improve or add some more tools in the toolbox for the way that you guys currently conduct operations?

Crystal Hottowe: You know, I think it really is exciting to see that we’re going to have a dedicated network for first responders. I think having FirstNet on the Makah reservation is definitely going to make the difference between life and death in very many different situations. We look forward to it, we are eager for it, we’re really looking forward to it. I think anyone who has ever worked in emergency response knows how imperative that communications piece is, and being able to get the right message out to the right people at the right time is the difference between life and death. I mean, just the hiker that was gathering seafood and was washed out – you know, his body was recovered later, and when that happened, and I talked with the Chief of Police about it, asking him, “if we had that communication element…” he’s like, “you know, if we were able to find out about it within the first two, maybe even the first five minutes that it had happened, and we were able to get someone out there, that might have made the difference.”

Adam Geisler: You guys are doing a lot of mutual aid. I remember –

Crystal Hottowe: Yes.

Adam Geisler: – when we were sitting out there the tsunami application. You guys – you want to share with the listeners a little bit about the tsunami environment that you operate in?

Crystal Hottowe: Tsunamis are a very, very real threat. I mean, we live under that looming probability – it’s not a possibility, it’s more like when is it going to happen. And so, working with our community to make sure that we have the critical infrastructure in place where we can still continue to operate.

Adam Geisler: What I found was really interesting was that your Chief and Director of Public Safety, wearing two hats, pretty common in Indian Country, right?

Crystal Hottowe: Yeah.

Adam Geisler: Actually had access to be able to trigger the statewide tsunami system through an application on his phone.

Crystal Hottowe: Yes.

Adam Geisler: Do you want to share a little bit about that? Because that’s a great example of applications being used in a public safety environment.

Crystal Hottowe: Well, they can warn our community so that we can get them out. So, what the protocol would be is for that siren to go off, and then the all hands on deck – you bring in all the officers that you can to have them start to go and evacuate – house by house, person by person – to get them to –there’s a couple different designated areas that are evacuation points.

Adam Geisler: You know, FirstNet, we go out and we try to provide different forms of assistance and education, and we went out specifically for a Roadmap engagement. We did ride alongs to see how the officers and different arms of your public safety, of the tribal government were using applications, cellular technology, how that was integrating with land mobile radio. But, the second day, we got together and we talked about how things were being used, and we brought multiple partners around the table to have a conversation. Do you feel it was beneficial for us to bring everybody together, and maybe, what were some of the outcomes from that?

Crystal Hottowe: That was a game changer, Adam. It really was, because, so, while we have always conducted mutual aid, and we’ve worked together, we’ve never really actually had a space for us to meet and say, “These are some future issues that we should take into consideration so that we can start planning, we can help you plan, you can help us plan, we can create a community resiliency through this partnership.” And that’s a direct result of that meeting from you guys. So, thank you.

Adam Geisler: We really appreciate the invitation to come out and participate, and I’m glad to hear that the feedback was positive.

So, one of the things we try to do with this particular podcast is also to shed some light on some specific elements that tribes face, and give each tribe an opportunity to share a little bit about what they want people to know from their perspective. So, when it comes down to Makah is there anything that you feel like people need to understand about Indian Country and tribal broadband?

Crystal Hottowe: You know, with tribal broadband, that’s another form of tribal sovereignty, and I think tribes are beginning to become hip to that. They’re realizing, understanding, and recognizing how it can be utilized in the future, and I want to acknowledge and encourage other tribes to continue to do that, to be a voice, because as far as broadband is concerned, it’s going to do a lot for economic development. It has done a lot already, it’s going to continue to do a lot, and for some tribes, it might make the difference for them.

Adam Geisler: Well, Crystal, I want to thank you again for spending a few moments with us to talk about the Makah tribe and some of the unique challenges and some of the exciting things that you’re doing, as well as the continued support on the Tribal Working Group. So, with that being said, do you have anything else that you want to share?

Crystal Hottowe: Well, I would like to thank you. You’re a valuable resource. I appreciate that I have the ability to call you if I need to with any question about FirstNet. I am honored to be a part of this Tribal Working Group, and I look forward to the work that we’re going to be doing.

Adam Geisler: Well, we’re happy to have you. So, from Anchorage, Alaska, this is Adam Geisler, National Tribal Government Liaison. No$úun Lóoviq. Have a good day.

Narrator: Thanks for listening today. We're excited to have you join our podcast community. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, and YouTube. You can learn more about the First Responder Network Authority at and learn about FirstNet products and services at

Other Past Episodes