Iowa Public-Safety Network Selects FirstNet Service as PSAP Backup Connection
Monday, March 15, 2021 | Comments

The Iowa Communications Network (ICN) partnered with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEMD) to use FirstNet, built with AT&T as the backup connection for Iowa-based public-safety answering points (PSAPs) providing 9-1-1 services to Iowans.

ICN has deployed FirstNet LTE connections to 24 PSAPs, harnessing the robust capabilities of FirstNet and enabling emergency dispatchers to share critical information about the scene of an incident to first responders in a highly secure manner. Currently, the ICN is the primary network provider for HSEMD and the 113 Iowa-based PSAPs. In the event the primary traffic route for 9-1-1 calls is damaged, the 24 PSAP connections will reroute to the FirstNet network to wirelessly connect redundant routers back to the PSAPs. HSEMD and ICN are expected to add additional PSAPs with the same configuration in the future.

“FirstNet supplies supporting agencies the ability to review tower information, which made deployment of the backup LTE connections easier,” said ICN Sales Engineer Mike Kauer. “FirstNet has provided a lot of tools to help answer equipment questions about external antennas, line of sight issues, vertical interferences, etc.”

In 2017, Iowa was the fifth state to opt-in to FirstNet, and since then AT&T has increased band 14 spectrum in the state and launched new, purpose-built FirstNet cell sites to connect rural and remote areas.

“The new FirstNet infrastructure is not only in major cities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids but also in smaller communities like Spencer and Estherville,” said Iowa FirstNet Consultant David Barnett. “Rural counties and rural sheriffs need communications just like the big cities. This is a huge project to take on to make sure the responders and agencies that support first responders have the network they need.”

ICN’s radio access network (RAN) deployment is unique for FirstNet, since it encompasses multiple sites and spans the entire state.

“There are smaller projects that are similar to what ICN has deployed, but overall from an implementation perspective, ICN’s project is the largest of its type and is setting an example for other states,” said Larry Ewert, principal architect with the FirstNet Program at AT&T.

ICN established a separate virtual private network (VPN) within the FirstNet infrastructure, which provides redundant connections for disaster recovery used for wireless and wireline 9-1-1 services.

“Ensuring there is a communications system in place that is redundant is our number one priority,” Lauer said. “There is no room for error when routing 9-1-1 data traffic.”

In 2017, HSEMD began an initiative to help the 113 PSAPs share equipment across centers. Blake DeRouchey, HSEMD 9-1-1 program manager for HSEMD, said that this was a cost saving measure for PSAPs by eliminating the need to fund their own individual call answering equipment through the use of shared technology, with no degradation of service or negative impact to the call takers. The PSAPs remote equipment is connected to the state's host equipment through the ICN.

“Adding FirstNet to the shared services environment helps ensure PSAPs continue to receive their calls even if the primary ICN connection goes down,” said DeRouchey. “The system setup provides a second, disparate connection to the 9-1-1 network. At the end of the day, when someone calls 9-1-1, they expect to talk to a public-safety telecommunicator 100% of the time. Our work with FirstNet makes that expectation more of a reality.”

The ICN is made up of approximately 3,400 miles of owned fiber optics that reach all 99 counties statewide, with leased connections making up the remaining miles of the network. Deploying a wireless backup service using FirstNet moves the ICN forward in the wireless arena and gives its public-safety users peace of mind that the system is resilient and redundant, ICN said.

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