Emergency Communications 101: Part II

Often public safety telecommunication personnel are left out of the loop as technology becomes more and more complicated. In Part I, basic radio component were described. In Part II, I discuss some of the terms and changes facing telecommunicators today...

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)

In February, 2012, Congress enacted The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. Written into this Act was the mandate to create a nationwide interoperable broadband network that would allow public safety professionals to effectively communicate. This law created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The Department of Commerce describes FirstNet as, “an independent authority within the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration” tasked with taking “all actions necessary to build, deploy, and operate the network, in consultation with Federal, state, tribal, and local public policy entities.” It’s lead by a 15-person board of directors with a variety of expertise including numerous people who have served in public safety. Although a lot of good ideas have come from FirstNet, issues of practicality, generalizability and finances hinder this group’s biggest project, the Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN).


The area where public safety telecommunications is changing and expanding the most is in the realm of wireless capabilities. Hardware and software are moving into this technological realm and away from conventional hardwired and localized products and services. As a non-techie, I found Bradley Mitchell’s definition of LTE (the newest of the new in terms of wireless technology) quite useful:

LTE (Long Term Evolution) is a wireless broadband technology designed to support roaming Internet access via cell phones and handheld devices. Because LTE offers significant improvements over older cellular communication standards, some refer to it as a 4G (fourth generation) technology along with WiMax.

With its architecture based on Internet Protocol (IP) unlike many other cellular Internet protocols, Long Term Evolution supports browsing Web sites, VoIP and other IP-based services well. LTE can theoretically support downloads at 300 Megabits per second(Mbps) or more based on experimental trials. However, the actual network bandwidth available to an individual LTE subscriber sharing the service provider's network with other customers is significantly less.

Long Term Evolution service is only available in limited geographic areas, but telecommunications providers have been actively expanding their LTE services.

Many new products from a variety of manufacturers offer wireless broadband and LTE options including radio systems. Products making patrol car trunks hot spots and the ability to send virtually any text, voice, images and data to an officer’s cell phone or tablet is not too far off in the future.

Although I touched on quite a few common terms and topics within the new telecommunications center arena, there is so much more to learn. Public safety technology fell way behind commercial technology and is now trying to catch up while still maintaining its unique qualities. Staying up on the trends through organizations such as APCO, NENA and collaborating with colleagues will help all telecommunications personnel, especially those tasked with the duty usher in a new era of dispatch/9-1-1.


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