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FirstNet broadband network can enhance rural safety.

Public safety professionals put their lives on the line every day to protect our health, safety and property. Their ability to provide these critical services in our communities depends on communications, including access to and sharing of information among other first responders.

Communications challenges can affect response operations and hinder public safety personnel from saving lives and property. While the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, brought this issue into focus, these challenges can still occur during emergency response operations. Because of this, Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Act) to create a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Under the Act, Congress established the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) as an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce to take all actions necessary to ensure the building, deployment and operation of the NPSBN in all states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. FirstNet's mission is to create an interoperable nationwide public safety network linking first responders from local jurisdictions with state, tribal and federal public safety agencies across the nation, including those first responders operating in rural communities.

Modern wireless network for public safety

Like the commercial 4G (fourth generation) Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks supporting personal smartphones, FirstNet is working to deploy an IP-based wireless public safety network. A key difference, however, is that the NPSBN is being developed specifically to meet the needs of first responders and provide them with mission-critical capabilities, such as priority and pre-emption during large emergencies.

Initially, the network is intended to provide high-speed mission critical data services, in addition to non-mission critical voice capabilities, to augment responders' land mobile radio networks. FirstNet plans to enable users to send and receive data, video, images, voice and text--and benefit from the ability to leverage applications. Just as one can now download apps on personal smartphones, tablets or laptops, once the FirstNet network is established, FirstNet envisions public safety users being able to download public safety apps for their FirstNet devices.

Mobile technology to benefit rural first responders

Just as smartphones and IP-based networks have changed the way individuals communicate in their personal lives, FirstNet believes the network will change the way public safety entities operate for the better. FirstNet's goal is to enable first responders to take advantage of evolving, mobile communications technology through intelligent devices like smartphones and tablets, as well as wearable technology.

Increased broadband mobility holds great promise for the public safety community. This is particularly true for rural public safety entities. In the case of emergency medical services (EMS), for example, critical facilities, such as trauma centers, could be 90 minutes away from the site of a serious accident.

As such, rural emergency medical technicians (EMT) may be confronted with a patient who appears stable enough to transport in an ambulance, and midway into a 90-minute transfer to the city trauma center, the patient has a more severe reaction than anticipated. Using video transmitted over the NPSBN, creating a "virtual doctor" in the ambulance could enable doctors to look at the patient and his or her vitals, consult with the EMT, and make decisions about implementing a treatment plan to help stabilize the patient until they arrive at the hospital.

Evolving mobile technologies present endless possibilities for how the NPSBN could benefit response operations. FirstNet's goal is to facilitate a faster, more informed, and better coordinated response to incidents across city, county, regional, state, tribal, and federal public safety personnel.

During a crime in process or medical emergencies, for example, the ability to share real-time images and video of the scene, as well as the locations of responders and locally relevant information, improves communications, situational awareness, and outcomes.

To plan for this network, FirstNet is consulting through the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) in each state and territory to increase its understanding of the communications needs of local jurisdictions and public safety entities. The consultation process is an opportunity for stakeholders to provide FirstNet with feedback and directly inform the build-out of the network in their state or territory.

Rural telecommunications and utility cooperatives can be part of that process by working with key individuals in each state, including the SPOC. To participate in consultation meetings, stakeholders should contact their state SPOC. A list of SPOCs is available at: 0213_DIR_SPOCs.pdf.

FirstNet's RFP Process

FirstNet's enabling legislation (the Act) requires the organization to conduct a Request for Proposals (RFP) process for the building, deployment, operation, maintenance, and improvement of the network. FirstNet intends to issue an RFP in order to enter into an award(s) for a network provider or providers for equipment and services to provide Band 14 LTE services to public safety entities nationwide. Our goal is to ensure the deployment of a nationwide broadband network that achieves the best value for public safety entities.

FirstNet is initiating an acquisition process that promotes innovation, allows for flexibility and encourages competition. In April, FirstNet released draft RFP documents and is seeking feedback from industry and states. Deadline for draft RFP responses is July 27, 2015, at 12 pm Eastern Time. Additionally, FirstNet continues to create numerous opportunities for feedback from interested parties, including states and territories, local jurisdictions, tribal nations, federal agencies, public safety stakeholders, and market participants.

FirstNet has an Industry Liaison who serves as a point of contact for market participants who have general questions about doing business with FirstNet. For more information, please contact the Industry Liaison at:

Broadband network speeds response in emergencies

Assume it takes 30 minutes for a rural car crash to be discovered and 30 minutes for paramedics to arrive at the scene and assess the severity of patient injuries. Today, this could delay the call for a helicopter and other decisions about what the patient(s) need. This time lost is critical to the survival of trauma patients.

In contrast, FirstNet intends to enable capabilities like automatic advanced crash notification (AACN) introduced by car manufacturers to be integrated into emergency response scenarios to decrease response times, improve treatment, and better equip responders. In 60 seconds, data coming out of car systems, including the location of the crash, the speed at impact, and the forces acting on the car and people in it, could be transmitted from the car to public safety answering points and communicated via FirstNet to first responder smartphones.

EMS could run AACN data from a wrecked car through an app enabled by FirstNet to determine the percentage likelihood of severe injury. If the chance of serious injury hits a predetermined threshold, the local medevac team would report to the helicopter team and standby. If the chance of serious injury hits a higher threshold, the helicopter team could be dispatched for the scene immediately and, because the car is assumed damaged enough to warrant extrication assistance, extrication equipment could automatically be dispatched. This way, when the ambulance gets to the scene, the helicopter and extrication professionals and equipment are already en route.

When a paramedic exits the ambulance at the scene of a car accident today, it can take 6-10 minutes to approach the car, make sure the scene is safe, do an adequate patient assessment and history, write that information down, and report all that information to the ER and get treatment instructions. In contrast, with the envisioned capabilities of FirstNet, paramedics could begin sending vital signs and monitoring and history data to the entire patient care team, including emergency room doctors and specialists, within 60 seconds of seeing the patient.

Editor's note: USDA Rural Development is among the federal agencies participating in the effort to ensure that a wireless public safety network is available nationwide. USDA Rural Utilities Service borrowers--including some rural electric and rural telephone cooperatives--are also part of the FirstNet efforts. For more information, visit:

By T.J. Kennedy

Acting Executive Director

First Responder Network Authority
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Author:Kennedy, T.J.
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Date:May 1, 2015
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