California Tribal Groups Meet to Learn More About FirstNet Features
Friday, November 22, 2019 | Comments

Public-safety representatives from nine federally recognized tribes in the southern and central region of California met Oct. 3 for a training exercise to learn more about the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The Inter-Tribal Long Term Recovery Foundation (ITLTRF) and the Southern California Tribal Emergency Management (SCTEM) group organized the event with FirstNet and the FirstNet Program at AT&T.

“Our tribal communities in California have experienced fires, floods, mudslides and other natural disasters,” said Theresa Gregor, ITLTRF executive director. “These emergency events are unfortunately happening more regularly. During times of emergency, the ability for tribal emergency managers and first responders to communicate is critical.”

As part of the initial five-year buildout, the FirstNet Program is adding public safety’s band 14 spectrum to existing tower sites and deploying new sites to further extend the network’s reach. In addition, agencies on FirstNet have access to 75 dedicated deployable assets, including 72 satellite cells on light trucks (SatCOLT) and three flying cells on wings (flying COWs). And they can request deployable assets at no additional charge.

Gaming security officials also want to bridge disparate radio networks that tribal public-safety and casino security use.

“Keeping our patrons safe is a top priority for the tribal gaming industry,” said Ernie Stevens, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, who attended the event. “Effective communications and coordination between tribal casino security and public safety is essential. FirstNet provides a new tool that can improve this essential coordination.”

Floyd Velasquez, emergency services administrator for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, heard about FirstNet performance in other parts of the country and wanted to see a demonstration. He also leads the SCTEM group.

“I wanted to test the system firsthand to see how the network and technology work,” said Velasquez, whose group worked with the others to organize the day-long training and exercise at the Morongo Tribal Hall. “And we invited other tribes to do the same.”

Attendees had a chance to see the FirstNet LMR-to-Long Term Evolution (LTE) tool that connects push to talk (PTT) with existing LMR networks. The solution can extend the reach of an existing LMR network, provide redundancy and improve interoperability.

“I drove around with several members of my team and tested the Enhanced PTT (EPTT) application running off the band 14 signal from the SatCOLT,” said Velasquez. The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation is a FirstNet user and requested the FirstNet SatCOLT to be part of the exercise.

“FirstNet is still relatively new,” said Bill Denke, chief of police for the Sycuan Police Department. “The training was an opportunity for tribal public safety to see a SatCOLT up close and consider how deployable assets can be called upon during emergency events.”

Representatives from Sonim Technologies and Cradlepoint demonstrated the FirstNet Rapid Deployment Kit (RDK). The kit allows first responders to create a 300-foot communications bubble using FirstNet LTE or satellite connectivity to support communications in remote locations. The kit can serve as an interim connectivity solution until a FirstNet SatCOLT arrives.

Walter Lamar, former FBI special agent and deputy director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement program and now a public-safety and security consultant, also talked about federal grants that can help tribal public-safety agencies purchase FirstNet service and equipment.

“We need to make sure Indian Country isn’t left behind or left out as new technology emerges that can help keep our tribal officers and communities safe,” said Lamar. “Solutions like sensors in holsters that send an alert to dispatchers when a weapon is drawn, can give officers working in remote reservation locations an important safety edge.”

During 2019, FirstNet deployables helped boost connectivity for public safety during the Navajo Nation Fair, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s balloon festival and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s July 4 powwow. Tribal first responders also used deployables during a wildland fire in the Pacific Northwest and for a search and rescue on the Yankton Sioux Reservation.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety, the first tribe to sign up for FirstNet, said that prior to FirstNet, its police department had limited connectivity in its police vehicles.

“Our officers were dependent on local police substations in each town to manage reporting and other administrative tasks,” the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety said in a press release announcing its use of FirstNet. “This would take them away from patrolling duties. FirstNet gives us the ability to stay on the road and maintain critical police work from behind the wheel.”

More information on the meeting is here.

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