New Video Showcases Texas Public-Safety Broadband Network
Monday, April 06, 2015 | Comments

If you ask Lieutenant Thomas Randall of the Brazos County, Texas Sheriff’s Office for his thoughts on public safety broadband, you might want to have a seat and get comfortable. The 36-year veteran officer has a lot to say and he makes no effort to hide his enthusiasm. “I’ve seen a lot of things evolve and I’ve seen a lot of new technology introduced during my career,” he said. “But public safety LTE is an absolute game-changer for all public safety professionals."

Lt. Randall is one of several law enforcement stakeholders and technologists interviewed by the Texas Public Safety Broadband Program (TxPSBP) during the production of a new video. The video features one of the first pilot applications of Harris County's Broadband Interoperable Gateway Network -- or BIG-Net – utilizing a test site in College Station.

Shing Lin, Director of Enterprise Public Safety Technology Services for Harris County, is equally excited and eager to get the word out about the capabilities of the system. “Harris County is extremely large in terms of both population and land mass, so it will be a few more months before we can show the system in action locally,” he said. “But it’s great to see BIG-Net already making an impact.”

When TxPSBP began planning for the production of the video to use in its outreach and education efforts, the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office was a logical first stop. Through an agreement with Harris County Enterprise Public Safety Technology Services, Brazos County is using BIG-Net, the nation’s first fully licensed and operational public-safety broadband network. After months of planning, testing and the procurement of network-specific hardware and infrastructure, Brazos County became one of only a handful of agencies in the country capable of accessing a broadband data network dedicated to public safety.

Todd Early, Texas Department of Public Safety deputy assistant director who oversees TxPSBP, said it was important for public-safety professionals in Texas and beyond to hear from those who are actually using the technology. “Being an early builder has its advantages as well as its challenges,” he said, referring to Texas as one of only five entities in the nation to be granted “early builder” status by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). “While we’re putting this technology into the hands of public-safety professionals for the first time, the rest of the country is watching,” he said. “We’re looking forward to sharing the information, insight and data we’ll be able to gather as the network expands.”

In the new video, Lt. Randall and other officials describe the challenges associated with data network congestion, and the solution the public-safety broadband network offers. A Texas A&M University football game, for instance, can pack more than 100,000 people into a relatively small area.

“Anyone who has ever tried to send a text message or an email while attending such a large event has experienced network congestion,” he said. “It can take several minutes to several hours for that data to go through, if it goes through at all.”

Lin said Brazos County’s use of the network exemplifies the types of situations in which the network becomes such a critical resource for public-safety personnel. “Saturation of the commercial networks can happen during any large-scale event or incident, and we’ve seen this happen all over the country,” he said. “When the public-safety folks or first responders need data communications the most, everybody else is also tweeting, texting, getting on Facebook or trying to send videos or pictures of the event, and the commercial networks just can’t handle that many data users at one time.”

Lin and the Harris County team have participated in a number of exercises and demonstrations since going live with the network in 2012, and he says the reactions from first responders, public-safety professionals and others is consistently positive. “It’s one thing to describe the capabilities of the network,” he said. “But when you can put the technology in their hands, and they see the speed, clarity and versatility the network offers, their interest usually turns to enthusiasm.”

Lin and Early agreed that the interest in public-safety LTE is increasing at a considerable rate, especially in Texas. “Our outreach and education team stays extremely busy and on the road much of the time, and we’ve had some great opportunities to provide information about the technology at statewide and national conferences,” Early said.

He said that the number of inquiries his office receives increases after every presentation and with the introduction of every new outreach tool. “We’ve launched a new website, and an online learning course will be available in the coming weeks,” he said. “The new video has been very well received, and we’re looking forward to showcasing more public-safety broadband applications in the months to come.”

The video is available here.

Learn more about the Texas Public Safety Broadband Program at www.txlte.com and FirstNet at www.firstnet.gov.


Walt Magnussen, PhD, runs the Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC), an emergency communications lab, at Texas A&M University. He also has an appointment with U.S. UCAN, which oversees the Internet2 Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant for $96 million to build national infrastructure with a commitment to support public safety. He also served on the FCC’s Emergency Response Interoperability Center (ERIC) technical advisory committee and the FCC Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) working group seven. He is a member of the MissionCritical Communications editorial advisory board. Contact him at w-magnussen@mail.telecom.tamu.



 
 
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