The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, made evident the need for a nationwide, interoperable communications infrastructure for public safety personnel. In rescuing people trapped in the Twin Towers, emergency responders faced immediate danger as well. While evacuation messages were successfully relayed to police officers in the towers, many firefighters never heard those warnings and their radio communication frequently failed that morning; even when the radio network was working properly, it was not connected to the police notification system and firefighters did not hear the police evacuation messages. The end result was a greater loss of life among firefighters compared to police and aftermath of that day led to a nationwide effort to improve emergency communication networks.
From that devastation, the First Responder Network Authority, commonly referred to as FirstNet, was born. In 2012, Congress gave FirstNet the authority to build, operate and maintain the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. Lawmakers also allocated valuable spectrum and as much as $7 billion to construct the network. FirstNet’s mission is to “put an end to decades-long interoperability and communications challenges.”
States’ Efforts with FirstNet
Since 2012, FirstNet has been working with states to get the project underway. In a 2014 survey, NASCIO found more than 70% of states had organized FirstNet activities with other stakeholders to develop governance models and support FirstNet planning and outreach efforts.
NASCIO was surprised too that 15% of states had already gathered data on operations, assets and user baselines. It’s an element of the second round of the State and Local Government Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP), which provides states with federal funds for planning and consultation.
Leading FirstNet Efforts by Example
Source: Government Accountability Office
Adams County in Colorado, which includes Denver, was the first public safety agency to deploy a broadband long-term evolution (LTE) network under FirstNet. Its key applications provide better field-reporting, enhanced deployable functionality, and the ability to stream video to and from mobile public safety vehicles, IWCE’s Urgent Communications reported in 2014.
New Jersey has created JerseyNet, as it prepares 300,000 public safety workers to cover 1,487 square miles of land and protect 4.5 million people. Officials plan to use a state-owned, 77-tower network. JerseyNet will install networks for the public safety community in three regions using System on Wheels (SOWs) and Cells on Wheels (COWs).
Washington State is also one of the leading states. Naming the program OneNet, officials have collected data, such as the 14,000 law enforcement officers, 26,000 firefighters and over 6,000,000 public safety calls made annually. Vendors and contractors interested in telecommunications related opportunities should note that OneNet estimates a potential for more than $100 million to be invested inside the state to support building the network.
The recent Tweet below shows some of the thought leaders around the nation in implementing FirstNet initiatives:
— FirstNet (@FirstNetGov) August 22, 2015
Vendors and Technologies Already Involved with FirstNet
Along with states and other local agencies, companies are getting involved with FirstNet in meaningful ways. Analysts increasingly see Verizon as winning the first FirstNet contract, although there is still the potential for the other major telecommunications carriers (AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) to be awardees, FierceWirelessTech reported in April 2015.
Vendors are also filling in public safety officials’ mobile needs. Sonim, a mobile device maker, is suppling Adams County, Colorado with its XP7 LTE Android smartphones, a smartphone that is specifically designed for durability.
General Dynamics has its FirstNet-Ready COWs that provide secure broadband communications and interoperability among 60,000 federal, state and local agencies across various jurisdictions. Its Fourth Generation (4G) LTE capabilities, which are created by the COW, enables public safety officials to use sensors, like iRobot and aerostat and smartphone technology.
FirstNet Efforts Opens the Floodgates for Businesses Nationwide
The FirstNet Authority is authorized to spend up to $126 million in fiscal year 2016. That amount includes $86 million on acquisition activities, such as a evaluating a draft solicitation and relocating spectrum. In April 2015, FirstNet issued a draft statement of objectives on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website and has gathered input from industry and government as officials plan for the future. In addition, in March, the federal government began the second phase of SLIGP funding. The $58 million will allow states to collect data identifying and prioritizing where public safety broadband coverage is needed, identifying potential users and their capacity needs, and detailing current providers and procurement mechanisms.
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Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center found 19 state and local governments have addressed FirstNet in their budget proposals and technology plans—at various stages of implementation. Project Center also found that 28 solicitations related to FirstNet were issued in 2014 with nine awards announced. Through July of this year there have been 22 solicitations.
FirstNet has opened plenty of business opportunities now and to come for a variety of industries. Wireless and telecommunications companies have important roles to offer services to public safety managers at state and local government levels. Mobile device providers and IT hardware companies can be of value to the agencies and public safety teams that need LTE-capable and durable equipment that match commercial standards. Furthermore, with many agencies in the early phases of implementation, business consultants and professional services providers can aid officials on outreach and strategic planning in the coming years.