By Jacque Miller-Waring
At first glance, Brazos County is like most other sprawling Texas communities with deep roots in farming and ranching. One look at the bustling city of Bryan or the thriving academic center of Texas A&M University explains why this southeast central part of Texas is quickly becoming known as an ideal place to raise a family or start a business.
Today, law enforcement and other first responders rely on countless video technologies to augment their day-to-day operations – including the use of security cameras, traffic and toll-booth cameras, license plate readers, patrol-car cameras and body-worn cameras.
During Lieutenant Thomas Randall’s (ret.) 37-year tenure in law enforcement, including time spent serving Brazos County Sheriff’s Department, he played a key role experimenting and testing digital video technologies for the department. His experience in the field led to the understanding that combining the full package of dashboard, backseat and body-worn cameras while on the scene provides the most accurate representation of an incident for an officer to conduct fair and unbiased investigations.
Yet in order for first responders to reap the full benefits of mobile video technologies, public safety must have access to a robust and reliable network operating on bandwidth dedicated exclusively to public safety use. The issues of inadequate broadband capacity and coverage are further complicated by first responders competing with the general public for limited bandwidth to run their devices. Ordinarily, a bad connection is a mere nuisance, but in times of emergency, a congested network can severely impact a first responder’s ability to communicate or compromise the safety and lives of the public or fellow responders.
The Brazos County Sheriff’s Office saw a unique opportunity to maintain the community’s security and safety by taking part in the FirstNet early-builder program to test network coverage and performance with Band 14 (B14) Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology.
Created by Congress in 2012 to deploy the nation’s first nationwide public safety broadband network, FirstNet is able to leverage lessons from the Harris County LTE Network and other early builder projects in designing and operating the FirstNet network.
Once the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office technology started operating over B14 on a network dedicated exclusively to public safety, Randall noticed a dramatic improvement in the quality of communications between fellow officers, including the ability to fully maximize the potential of mobile digital technologies.
While using the early builder’s B14 network, deployed and operated by Harris County Central Technology Services, Brazos County had a uniquely different communication experience at widely attended events or during weather-related incidents. Instead of experiencing slow or even lost connections, the B14 network provided officers with faster access to remote data and sufficient bandwidth to simultaneously run multiple mobile video technologies.
Shortly after this project began, Randall and others in and around Brazos County realized that after this experience of operating on wireless spectrum exclusively dedicated to public safety, there was no going back to sharing the network with the general public on commercial networks – rather, the solution was obvious – choosing FirstNet to meet their emergency communication needs.
Today, law enforcement and other public safety agencies continue to rely on separate communications systems that lack seamless interoperability with different agencies or jurisdictions when responding to an incident. The importance of interoperable communications was underscored in the aftermath of the recent storms that hit the Gulf Coast states last fall.
When a surge of public safety agencies across Texas flocked to Harris County near Houston to help their fellow responders during Hurricane Harvey, there was a high likelihood for misaligned communications between jurisdictions during a critical response time. Instead, disaster response equipment and support received from AT&T and FirstNet bolstered infrastructure in the weather-torn region to ensure seamless communications and help first responders stay connected, operate faster and more effectively.
Randall attributes the immediate and coordinated response effort to the fact that these multiple agencies were communicating over one interoperable network that gave priority and preemption to first responder communications.
“Thanks to that one network to manage all these folks, we don’t have a silo agency with all the information in one place,” said Randall. “Instead, we had true interoperability and better communications to serve and protect our personnel and our communities.”
Specifically, a single interoperable communications network made it possible for commanders to rely heavily on bandwidth-dependent video to show the magnitude of damage to multiple agencies, close roads, make water rescues and ultimately keep citizens and officers out of harm’s way – all in real time.
“The ability to live stream and share video of damaged areas made all the difference to our officers on the ground,” says Randall. “More information is conveyed using video than with verbal descriptions when dealing with multiple locations and events.”
Now the FirstNet network is ready to be deployed and operated through a public-private partnership with AT&T by early 2018. Governors across the country are making the decision to adopt the FirstNet solution and immediately start receiving FirstNet services and network access that will strengthen emergency response communications for public safety.
While governors have until December 28 to join FirstNet, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced his decision in September to bring the most advanced public safety LTE broadband network and the best technologies available to the state.
Public safety agencies across Texas that decide to subscribe to FirstNet as their broadband provider will have access to all of FirstNet’s key offerings as the network is deployed, such as:
As first responders increasingly rely on video technology to increase their situational awareness, the issue is no longer how law enforcement or other first responders will use video; instead, the question has become will first responders have access to a reliable and resilient network to support mobile video and other advanced technologies during the call of duty.
FirstNet makes it possible for any state’s public safety agencies to access the same dedicated public safety network that allowed Brazos County to leverage the full capabilities of video technology and to enhance the integrity of policing and keep communities safe.
To learn more about FirstNet in your state, visit www.firstnet.gov or contact your state’s Single Point of Contact. For subscription info, or to contact your AT&T representative, please visit www.FirstNet.com.
About the author
Jacque Miller-Waring is the Region VI (AR, LA, NM, TX) Lead responsible for facilitating collaboration between local, state, federal and tribal public safety organizations to ensure the FirstNet network meets the needs of first responders. She has over 23 years of experience in communications and information technology including roles as the deputy cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Information Technology and the deputy state CIO, as well as chief technology officer for the NM Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and private sector experience.