By Jason Porter, Senior Vice President, FirstNet Program at AT&T
It has been a week since Hurricane Laura came ashore as a massive Category 4 storm. I was on the ground with our network teams in Louisiana and saw firsthand the terrible conditions left in her wake: trees down, houses destroyed, as well as knocking out power and water to hundreds of thousands. But it is commonly said that we are at our best when Mother Nature does her worst. And Hurricane Laura is just the latest example in a year that has included a nationwide pandemic, wildfires in the west, tornadoes in the east and even a derecho in the Midwest.
During these challenging times, FirstNet has proven itself time and time again – working alongside those on the front lines every step of the way. Our teams have jumped into action deploying dedicated portable cell sites and restoring network operations in the aftermath of storms and other emergencies. But FirstNet is more than just a network. It is public safety’s communications platform, leading the way with innovative tools and solutions to help keep our first responders mission-ready. FirstNet One epitomizes this.
Less than a year ago, we performed our initial test of FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat, more commonly known as a blimp. And today, this first-of-its-kind public safety communications solution has taken to the skies over Cameron Parish, Louisiana. It’s providing hundreds of first responders in the area with vital, dedicated connectivity as they work to restore their communities.
Having FirstNet One in the air means we can extend coverage to a wider area for public safety, which is a gamechanger for those performing response and recovery following a large-scale, catastrophic event. FirstNet One can fly up to 1,500 feet and reduces the need for multiple ground-based assets like SatCOLTs being deployed to an area – allowing them to be on hand and used in other locations. Public safety who responded to devastating storms like Hurricanes Michael, Katrina and Maria can attest to the criticality of reliable communications, and they can have confidence knowing FirstNet
One is ready to support them during a large-scale emergency.
When public safety said, “we need more capabilities,” we listened. And FirstNet One is an example of how we are answering. FirstNet One is a first-of-its-kind public safety communications solution, and it’s yet another instance of FirstNet driving innovation for first responders. That is the power of partnership – it goes well beyond verbal commitments to “do better next time,” and we’re surpassing our contractual commitments in a drive to provide a best of class experience time and again. I am proud that we are able to bring FirstNet One to the first responders and extended public safety community as they respond to Hurricane Laura.
FirstNet One is a part of our dedicated fleet of more than 76 deployable network assets – available at no additional charge to public safety agencies on FirstNet. These assets provide first responders with similar capabilities and connectivity as a cell tower. And no other wireless network provider has deployable network assets dedicated solely and exclusively to public safety, backed by the oversight of the First Responder Network Authority, to help ensure public safety has connectivity when and where they need it.
Unique in the industry, our FirstNet Response Operations Group – led by a team of former first responders – guides the deployment of the dedicated FirstNet fleet. This is based on the needs of public safety in alignment with Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System (NIMS) and FEMA National Response Framework (NRF) that focuses our response on life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation.
With an intimate understanding of the public safety mission, this team works around the clock, 24x7x365, to support public safety’s emergency communications needs.
FirstNet is the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built specifically for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community. After everything 2020 has thrown at us so far, FirstNet remains committed to being there for public safety. We are public safety’s partner. And we’ll continue to stand by, and innovate for, the men and women who put their lives on the line day in and day out to protect and support our communities.