How FirstNet Will Enhance Officer Safety

By Mike Poth  |   May 11, 2016
Baltimore City Police Department operates its Watch Center 24/7 to track crimes in real time. Police officers and civilian analysts monitor CCTV cameras feeds and computer programs that search through databases for connections between crime victims and suspects. Photo by: Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun

[Publisher’s Note: FirstNet is a federal initiative that, to put it simply, seeks to bring 4G LTE to first responders. What does that mean? In some ways that remains to be seen, and depends on how first responders and partner technologies adapt to increased network capability. But certainly it means improved situational awareness with better, more secure data transfer data among first responders. Stay tuned.]

The men and women of public safety deserve the best available tools to protect our communities. For example, body-worn, as well as dashboard cameras, and intelligent wearable devices connected to smartphones, can improve public safety operations by communicating on-scene data to dispatch and real-time crime centers. To be able to use technologies like these, we must first have the infrastructure available in the form of a broadband network.

That’s where FirstNet comes in. FirstNet is committed to establishing a network to enhance public safety’s communications capabilities and increase effectiveness, which will ultimately lead to the safety of our neighborhoods.

Just as smartphones and Internet-based networks have changed the way individuals communicate in their personal lives, FirstNet believes that the nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network will change the way U.S. law enforcement operates for the better. And just as one can download apps on smartphones, tablets, or laptops now, once the FirstNet network is established, FirstNet envisions users being able to go to the FirstNet app store to download law enforcement and public safety apps for their devices.

As a former police captain, I can appreciate the many things a law enforcement officer must deal with when responding to a call. In addition to assessing the situation at hand, they must describe what’s happening over their radio as he or she is arriving on the scene in a clear succinct manner. In self initiated stops, they may need to call for back up, provide their location, and describe any suspects.

With the FirstNet network, law enforcement officers will leverage their land mobile radio (LMR) as they do today, but the goal is that they’ll also have use of smart mobile devices (or even streaming body camera video footage, in some cases) with applications that allow them to wirelessly send real-time information to multiple destinations, including other officers. How much simpler and time-saving would it be to ask a secure virtual device assistant to request backup and provide GPS coordinates?

Unlike most wireless public safety communication systems today, the network’s significant bandwidth will seek to allow law enforcement to leverage mobile apps that wirelessly transmit key information as quickly as possible; aiding law enforcement not only in crime scene response but during situations when quick medical attention is required as well. Law enforcement officers might save lives during active shooter or mass casualty events not only by immediately helping critical victims, but by quickly connecting them to care at a trauma center. One-way emergency medical services (EMS) could accelerate emergency care by equipping ambulances with two-way video—connecting patients, EMTs, and paramedics that are in the ambulance to an emergency room physician or trauma surgeon at a hospital. In the future, devices in these ambulances might send vital signs such as heart rhythm, as well as the geolocation and pertinent medical history of patients to the hospital using FirstNet.

The bottom line is that it’s almost impossible to imagine all the new law enforcement capabilities the network could enable. FirstNet’s goal is to facilitate a faster, more informed, and better coordinated response to incidents across city, county, tribal, state, regional, and federal public safety personnel. When public safety personnel have a common situational awareness and a picture of an incident that’s unfolding, they are far better equipped to respond. During emergencies, the ability to share real-time images and video of the scene, as well as the locations of responders and locally relevant information, improves communication and outcomes.

Our network technology is not only important to the future of policing and understanding how data can be used in public safety, but it also aims to serve as a convening force for community engagement with law enforcement personnel.

FirstNet recognizes law enforcement officers across the country for the incredible work they do every day on behalf of the American public. Our goal is not just to deploy a network but to assist the public safety officials we serve by offering advanced technology, transparency, data and data analysis through the FirstNet network.

Understanding law enforcement’s needs and how we can fulfill those needs are critical to FirstNet’s success. The network is in the planning and design stages, and FirstNet is creating opportunities for the law enforcement community to shape how the network will work. Once built, it will ultimately be your network. That’s why public safety engagement and involvement has been paramount to FirstNet – listening and implementing your needs into the network from the start. We hope that you will get involved to provide your input.

We look forward to meeting with you as we move towards major milestones in our network deployment. On behalf of the FirstNet team, I would like to thank you for your service and sacrifice.

For more information visit www.FirstNet.gov.