As Cities Become ‘Smart’, Public Safety Looks to FirstNet for Priority Broadband

“FirstNet is the first effort I know of where cross disciplines – police, fire, EMS, mayors, city councils – have all been united.” -Tom Sorley, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Houston, Texas

(FirstNet)

FirstNet is developing the first nationwide public safety broadband network to provide first responders the advanced communication and collaboration technologies they need to help them do their jobs safely and effectively. (FirstNet)

This is a guest post by Ed Parkinson.

The term “Smart Cities” is a popular topic in today’s urban jurisdictions – but what is a Smart City? A Smart City has technological infrastructure which collects, aggregates and analyzes real-time data which it uses to improve the lives of its residents according to the National League of Cities, report “Trends in Smart City Development”. But beyond that, a Smart City partners with universities and the federal and private sectors in using technology to enhance the quality and performance of urban services. Innovation can improve city services – from finding energy efficiencies and reducing traffic to fighting crime and fostering economic growth.

The Department of Commerce recently recognized the potential of FirstNet to improve public safety services. In their January 2017 green paper, Fostering the Advancement of the Internet of Things, the Department said, “the FirstNet network will be an incubator and proving ground for public safety focused IoT solutions by linking more first responder data sources, such as their gear, emergency vehicles, fingerprint scanners, databases, and more.” Here are just a few innovations some cities are considering to enhance first responders’ ability to protect their communities:

  • Detailed surge maps to analyze patterns and display predictive outcomes for severe weather preparations;
  • Intelligent street lights to detect gunfire and alert authorities;
  • Subway platforms with embedded sensors to monitor and flag overcrowding;
  • Smart grids: embedded sensors for managing water, gas and electric services; and
  • Providing real-time information on traffic conditions to determine the fastest route to an emergency.

Some added benefits of these innovations include:

  • Directing the city’s first responders more precisely and efficiently to improve emergency response;
  • Managing technology and personnel more effectively by providing intelligent insight into areas where they’re needed most;
  • Increasing responders’ situational awareness and maintaining their safety during emergencies to speed up the decision-making process; and
  • Improve interagency communications and collaboration.

As urban planners and policymakers think about their cities becoming digitized and interconnected, a challenge will be ensuring investments are made to withstand the growth in Internet traffic. Increasingly, these technologies will depend on wireless broadband networks so cities can communicate securely, rapidly and with priority to their responders on the street.

Signed into law on February 22, 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The law gives FirstNet the mission to build, operate and maintain the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network with priority dedicated to public safety. FirstNet will provide a single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety communications.

As FirstNet progresses in its mission to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network, there will be many opportunities for policy makers and city officials to get involved and to make FirstNet a part of every Smart City.

The Smart City concept has grown to include at least 70 cities throughout the nation. The initiative includes federal grants in areas such as public safety, transportation, and disaster response. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) authorized $35 million in new grants last fall and over $10 million in proposed investments to build a research infrastructure for Smart Cities.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) also announced over $35 million in Smart Cities grants. FirstNet is ideal for bringing together the technology of Smart Cities to advance public safety.

Tom Sorley, deputy chief information officer for Houston, Texas, said FirstNet is “the first effort I know of where cross disciplines – police, fire, EMS, mayors, city councils – have all been united. Everybody’s come together and said, ‘We have to have this.’”

FirstNet is necessary to allow first responders to use the digital tools available to them on a reliable network, Sorley said. “This reduces risk. It makes the first responders and the citizens they serve safer. Data, more and more, is becoming that critical lynchpin in the service provision for public safety.”

Reid Vaughn, fire chief in Cuba, Alabama, agrees. “It’s often a challenge to get broadband services,” he said. “FirstNet will for the first time give us a mission critical, proprietary system. This will be a significant improvement for our rural communities. When everything is going wrong, this system is designed to keep going.”

Another key element to the efficiency of Smart Cities is the Internet of Things, which will extend Internet connectivity to items we use every day, such as light, electric switches and vehicles. Many in the public safety sector are looking forward to the ‘Internet of Lifesaving Things’ that will extend connectivity to responder gear such as body cameras and vehicles.

Key to making this all come together is collaboration between public safety agencies at the federal, state and local level, as well as public-private partnerships. Advances such as open data initiatives and the collaboration of research and technology to tackle key challenges – from fighting crime to providing shelter during a disaster – are most effective when working together.  Smart mobile technology, constantly driven forward by the marketplace, holds great promise for public safety as first responders strive to make communities safer. The National League of Cities, in its extensive work to share best practices used by Smart Cities, is a leader in this work.

First responders across the country will benefit from using next generation tools with prioritized, wireless broadband.  As cities continue to think about getting “smarter,” FirstNet hopes to work with them to be part of the solution.

To learn more and get involved, please visit FirstNet.gov and reach out to your FirstNet State Point of Contact (SPOC). You can also help by writing to your professional associations and ask them to pass a resolution in support of FirstNet, Following FirstNet on social media, and by writing a guest blog for FirstNet by contacting us at socialmedia@firstnet.gov.

ed_parkinson_125x150About the author: Ed Parkinson is the Director of Government Affairs at FirstNet.

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