FirstNet Expresses Gratitude During National Public Safety Telecommunications Week
Monday, April 14, 2014 | Comments

This week — and every week — thousands of people will dial 9-1-1 to request help for medical conditions, report accidents or seek assistance from dangerous situations. While emergencies vary in scope and size, those making 9-1-1 calls depend on the same key things to happen: reliable connections to call centers, efficient dispatching of information to first responders, and fast and precise responses from public safety.

On behalf of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board and its staff, I would like to express our gratitude to all of the men and women who make this happen on a daily basis: the 9-1-1 dispatch center personnel who process calls from the public and communicate with first responders; the police, fire and EMS providers who coordinate at the incident scene to save lives and protect property; and the emergency managers, hospitals, volunteer organizations and other emergency personnel who interact with and care for members of their communities. It is critical that they have reliable, secure and dedicated communications at all times to carry out their missions.

This year’s National Public Safety Telecommunications Week takes place during the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. None of us will forget that tragic day. The 2013 marathon provides a stark reminder of the threats that we still face as a nation. As we reflect, we are also reminded of the bravery and professionalism that Boston-area emergency response personnel displayed after the bombings and during the manhunt that took place throughout the week. It was clear to anyone who witnessed those events firsthand or saw the news reports that the local emergency responders were well prepared for an incident of that magnitude. All of their training and pre-planning helped save lives.

It is also important to highlight the many different ways that communications technologies — both old and new — were used to share information and enhance situational awareness in the moments after the bombing, as well as during the ensuing search for the suspects. Boston-area police, fire and rescue personnel used LMR systems for their mission-critical communications; emergency managers used social media to broadcast timely and accurate information and messages to the public; and investigators analyzed and gathered evidence from smartphone photos and videos sent by the public. The local public-safety answering points (PSAPs) also processed thousands of emergency calls that week.

FirstNet is working hard to ensure that public-safety personnel have reliable and secure access to those types of capabilities and are able to integrate emerging technologies. As one of the board members of this endeavor, I am honored to be able to oversee the implementation of a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission — the deployment of a nationwide broadband network for public safety. The network is an opportunity to fundamentally change public-safety communications. For far too long, firefighters, police officers and paramedics have had to overcome communications challenges — such as basic operability and interoperability — to do their jobs.

Much progress has been made at the federal, state, territorial, regional, local and tribal levels to enhance public safety’s communications capabilities. But some challenges still remain to achieve truly interoperable emergency communications across the nation. Further complicating the situation is the fact that communications technologies are rapidly evolving.

That is why FirstNet has embarked on a nationwide outreach campaign to connect with the public-safety community at all levels of government. We recognize that we cannot make this network work without the support and embrace of the public-safety community and through the use of partnerships. This network is a rare opportunity for the private and public sectors to come together around a mission to innovate together and to leave a lasting legacy for our nation’s first responders.

Having a week dedicated to public-safety telecommunications is a fitting way to honor all of the men and women who are essential to accomplishing the public-safety mission. At FirstNet, we are focused on public-safety telecommunications every day so we can deliver a nationwide network that will enhance how public safety responds to disasters and operates on a daily basis — making them more efficient and effective and ultimately making our country safer.  

Jeff Johnson serves on the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board of directors. He is CEO of the Western Fire Chiefs Association and served as a representative of the Safecom Emergency Response Council. He is also chairman of Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI), a company majority owned by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) to provide emergency services consulting. Johnson served as chair of Oregon’s Statewide Interoperability Executive Council, which is transitioning from four independent state-owned radio networks into a single interoperable voice and data network. Prior to that, he was the Tualatin Valley (Ore.) Fire and Rescue Fire chief/CEO for 15 years. He has served on the IAFC board of directors and as president and chairman of the board. 

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