FirstNet will not replace existing mobile radio, cellular and Internet services being used by public safety agencies
FirstNet’s network would provide dedicated support to law enforcement on the scene not only from a local standpoint, but from a Federal standpoint as well

Someday in the not-too-distant future, first responders – from police to EMS will have access to a secure broadband network. It will keep them connected with other agencies while ensuring their data is protected even in the midst of natural and manmade disasters.  

At least that’s the idea behind the U.S. Congress’s creation of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). This authority just sent out requests for proposals (RFPs) to build a first-of-its-kind network of unprecedented scope and reliability for the nation’s first responders. Constructing this massive project will take both money and skill to ensure it works effectively and is protected against the types of hacks that have plagued businesses on the Internet.   

“It’s about having a system available to public safety that they can depend on and use without having to share it in a time of national need,” explains Patrick Flynn, Director of Homeland/National Security Programs for Intel Security (formerly McAfee).

Additionally, it provides a wide broadband pipe for public safety. The requirements for public safety professionals to do their job effectively are getting larger and larger as technology advances. They need to be situationally aware, and have a common operational picture. “It’s being able to diagnose the patient more effectively en route [for example],” adds Flynn. “[The network] would provide dedicated support to law enforcement on the scene not only from a local standpoint, but from a Federal standpoint as well.”

Separate From Commercial Communication Networks

FirstNet grew out of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and reflected a long-held goal of states’ public safety agencies and the 9/11 Commission. The new agency, which operates with an annual budget of $126 million, is expecting to get the first components of the system up and running within the next year.

FirstNet is envisioned to be a backbone based on open, non-proprietary standards and commercially available equipment. It will not replace existing mobile radio, cellular and Internet services being used by public safety agencies. Participating states will build out their own systems and interconnections using the backbone, possibly with Federal help.

Although plans call for relying on commercially available technology and commercial carriers, FirstNet will be completely separate from other commercial communications networks.

One goal of the new network is to make it easier for agencies to move from paper to web-based records
FirstNet operates with an annual budget of $126 million, and expects to get the first components of the public safety network operational within the next year

Mobile Apps For Police Personnel To Share Intel

One goal of the new network is to make it easier for agencies to move from paper to web-based records – much as another Federal program has enticed doctors and hospitals to switch to electronic medical records.

Many police are still writing field interview notes by hand and then eventually entering them into a central database. Private sector companies are busy creating mobile apps that allow police to enter their notes directly into a computer and then upload them for use by other officers.

“The beautiful thing is putting this information where everybody can use it,” says Doug Pasley, a former officer with the Tampa Police Department and now Field Operations Support Lead at Haystax Technology. “Say I document a field interview with a bad guy and he leaves me and goes on to commit a crime. (Police) are already using the data I just submitted because there’s no time delay.”

In the days before apps such as Haystax Technology’s new Mobile Field Interview app, there was usually a 48- to 72-hour delay. The officer had to enter it, get it approved by a superior and only then would it make its way to a detective who needed it for an investigation. 

Instant Communication During Natural Disasters

“The technology world is making it possible to investigate crimes that much faster,” he adds. “By getting that information to the detective, he can sit in his office and do an area search minutes after I hit submit and find a bad guy he may be looking for.” The always-on nature of the network will extend to natural disasters as well when many commercial networks fail.

“As (the Tampa police agencies) were moving into the technology world one of our biggest worries was whether the technology would be there after a hurricane,” says Pasley, who was charged with implementing new technology when he was with the Tampa police. “We’re always looking for the big bombs, but the big hurricanes or tornadoes are what hit us more often.”

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