Communication and coordination are crucial following a natural disaster, major accident or other times of crisis. First responders must have the capabilities to effectively and easily relay orders, context and real-time reports on what's happening to quickly deal with the problem at hand. Unfortunately, there are currently more than 10,000 networks for voice communications, most of which do not interoperate, according to AT&T. This leads to major problems when, during an emergency, first responders are unable to, in fact, respond.

To solve this problem, the U.S. Department of Commerce recently contracted AT&T to build a special broadband network specifically for first responders to use during these times of crisis. This nationwide seamless, IP-based, high-speed mobile communication network gives first responders priority access to boost different groups' ability to communicate with others when responding to a crisis. With greater ability to communicate and coordinate, first responders can improve safety and more effectively respond to crises.

First responders need to have the capabilities to communicate and collaborate with each other, as well as other first responders, such as police officers or EMTs.First responders need to have the capabilities to communicate and coordinate with each other, as well as other first responders, such as police officers or EMTs.

Background on the network

The inception for this network arose from the response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, CNN reported. The 9/11 Commission discovered that emergency responders relied on different radio frequencies during the aftermath, which made communication and coordination efforts between the groups nearly impossible. In response to this, the Commission recommended that Congress establish a radio spectrum specifically for public safety and first responders.

Based on this recommendation, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent group at the Commerce Department, will now partner with AT&T to build this crucial network. AT&T will invest $40 billion to build and operate the network over the next 25 years, while FirstNet will provide an additional $6.5 billion over the next five years.

"Today is a landmark day for public safety across the country and is a prime example of the incredible progress we can make through public-private partnerships," said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson also hailed the project as a one-of-a-kind project that will greatly improve first responder safety.

"We are honored to work with FirstNet to build a network for America's police, firefighters and EMS that is second to none," said Stephenson. "This is an unprecedented public-private partnership investment in infrastructure that makes America a leader and public safety a national priority."

First responders need access to a nationwide broadband network.First responders need access to a nationwide broadband network.

Writing in PoliceMag, Dave George, president of Pryme Radio Products, said that it's not the technology that's important for first responders, it's the network. Network-based wireless communications will be a major driving force in the years to come, and first responders will be there with cutting-edge technology thanks to this new public-private partnership between AT&T and FirstNet.

Moving beyond the network

In addition to providing a nationwide network for first responders to communicate and collaborate, the partnership will also:

  • Keep first responders safe by improving rescue and recovery operations.
  • Expedite the development of an Internet of Things and Smart City solutions focused on public safety, i.e., using real-time weather data to forecast the potential for natural disasters, or using real-time traffic conditions to speed up emergency response times.
  • Develop advanced technological capabilities, such as drones and robots with sensors to capture real-time video or images of disasters.

Overall, the goal of this public-private partnership is to boost first responder safety and ensure they're equipped to manage crises and emergencies as quickly and efficiently as possible. First responders know the importance of using the right tools for the job, and with this new broadband network at their disposal, first responders will have what they need to get the job done.