First Responders Deserve Reliable Real-Time Data
When disaster strikes, people know they can count on first responders — paramedics, firefighters, police officers and others who’ve been trained to handle a crisis. Natural disasters, acts of terrorism and other public emergencies generate heavy network traffic as first responders compete with private citizens for bandwidth. People call to check on their loved ones or report their own safety, and many access the Web to review news about the tragedy.
To improve network access for first responders and improve access to real-time data, the federal government’s FirstNet initiative, authorized by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, has just issued its first request for proposals (RFPs) to build a nationwide LTE network dedicated to first responders.
As RCRWireless News reported, FirstNet has given telecom companies until April 29, 2016, to propose solutions that will service all 56 U.S. states and territories. In addition to offering widespread coverage using dedicated 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum, the network must have sufficient protection from the forces of nature as well as adequate backup in the event of a power outage.
FirstNet wants network infrastructure, including aggregation, backhaul, radio access and the incorporation of national and operational transport centers, in addition to a device ecosystem, applications and deployable capabilities. When it happens, FirstNet will become an incredible asset to first responders. For now, however, local emergency crews must cobble together their own networking solutions.
New Devices, New Demands
First responders are carrying more devices than ever, from in-vehicle computers to body cameras. These devices help first responders collect real-time data and solve significant logistical problems.
In Boise, Idaho, as reported by television network KTBV, first responders have struggled to deal with a growing community’s emergency needs. Police officers, for example, instead of being able to access real-time data remotely, used to drive back to the police station to pull plate numbers and research arrest records. New in-car workstations enable them to access records remotely so that they can travel directly to their next emergency call instead of driving back to home base.
It’s not enough to put devices in emergency vehicles or have emergency personnel carry them. Each device has to connect to a high-performing network. According to FirstNet, today’s emergency personnel rely on more than 10,000 separate and often incompatible networks.
When emergencies cross jurisdictional divides, first responders can’t always communicate with their partners in other locations. Also, when weather or congestion take out local cellular networks, emergency personnel often have limited options.
Devices like very small aperture terminals (VSAT) connect to satellite networks, and when deployed on emergency sites, provide some backup when local networks are compromised. Satellite can also be useful in rural areas with limited broadband coverage, but these signals can also be compromised by heavy rain and other inclement weather.
Real-Time Data in Any Crisis
When first responder networks go down, lives could be lost. Emergency personnel need a network that resists inclement weather, offers interjurisdictional interoperability and continues functioning in a power outage.
From everyday tasks such as filing police reports in a growing community like Boise to managing natural disasters resulting in trillions of dollars in damage, a first responder’s work is never done. Even when FirstNet becomes a real player, local mobile networks may not have the bandwidth or network management responsiveness to prioritize and facilitate emergency communications.
Although many first response agencies prefer local network providers, local businesses simply don’t have the infrastructure or experience to handle a multijurisdictional, regional or national emergency. Emergency personnel should choose a network infrastructure and management provider with the resources, reach and seasoning to deliver real-time data during a widespread crisis.