Looking Back: The Ultimate Stress Test for FirstNet

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Looking Back: The Ultimate Stress Test for FirstNet

The past year has been challenging for first responders and healthcare workers. It’s also been the ultimate stress test for FirstNet. America’s first responders battled severe wildfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most active hurricane seasons on record in 2020. They are now on the frontlines of our nationwide vaccination efforts.

In an effort to shed light on the great work FirstNet has done over the past year, Ed Parkinson, CEO, First Responder Network Authority, led a conversation with Bob Latta (R-OH), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

A panel discussion followed, featuring:

  • Jason Porter, President, Public Sector and FirstNet, AT&T (moderator)
  • Chief Dwight Henninger, City of Vail, CO Police Department
  • Christopher Becenti, Executive Director, Navajo Nation Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, Window Rock, AZ
  • Chief Tommy Smith, Retired Fire Chief, Redmond, WA
  • Renee M. Gordon, Director, Department of Emergency and Customer Communications, City of Alexandria, VA

More about FirstNet:
FirstNet, originating from a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission in response to the communication challenges public safety experienced during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is available in all 50 states, the 5 territories and D.C., with more than 2 million connections and over 15,000 agencies on board. As public safety’s partner, FirstNet stood alongside America’s first responders and helped them effectively coordinate and communicate. While those that envisioned FirstNet could not have predicted this unprecedented year, they did know that first responders needed dedicated, fast and reliable communication to effectively protect citizens. FirstNet has answered the call.

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Event Recap

In an AT&T Policy Forum conversation, Ed Parkinson, CEO of the First Responder Network Authority, spoke with Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, about how FirstNet provided connectivity for first responders to support their response to the coronavirus pandemic and other challenges present over the past year.

With America’s first responders battling the public health crisis, while simultaneously being called upon during wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, it’s more essential than ever before for public safety to have dedicated, reliable and prioritized communications on FirstNet. Rep. Latta discussed the recommendation from the 9/11 Commission that resulted in Congress establishing the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. During the discussion, Mr. Parkinson and Congressman Latta highlighted how FirstNet supported emergency response in the fifth district of northwest and central Ohio, including providing reliable connectivity for ambulances and at COVID-19 vaccination sites.

In addition to connectivity for first responders, Rep. Latta emphasized the need to achieve universal broadband connectivity, particularly in rural, underserved areas. Expanding the reach of FirstNet in rural communities is a key priority for the FirstNet program, with more than 1,000 cell towers being deployed where public safety identified a coverage need. Rep. Latta also spoke of the tremendous investments private sector companies have made to help close America’s connectivity gaps and maintain robust and resilient broadband networks during COVID-19.

Following the fireside chat between Ed Parkinson and Rep. Latta, Jason Porter, President of AT&T Public Sector and the FirstNet Program, moderated a panel discussion with public safety leaders whose communities have experienced the benefits of FirstNet connectivity.

Christopher Becenti, Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, discussed how FirstNet’s dedicated fleet of portable cell sites enabled communications at the primary and backup sites for Navajo Nation’s coronavirus response operations. When a COVID-19 outbreak occurred at the primary staging location in Window Rock, AZ, Navajo Nation and FEMA personnel transitioned to the backup location at Tse Bonito, NM and had continued connectivity through FirstNet. Mr. Becenti also shared that Navajo Nation has relied on the FirstNet deployable assets during planned events, such as the Navajo Nation Fair and during the recent visit by First Lady Jill Biden to Navajo Nation. Mr. Becenti highlighted how Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has used his FirstNet device to communicate with the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Dwight Henninger of the Vail, Colorado Police Department explained how FirstNet helped address the connectivity challenges presented by his region’s rugged and mountainous geography, including during the Alpine World Ski Championship.

Retired Fire Chief Tommy Smith of Redmond, Washington discussed the interoperability that comes with FirstNet as a common platform for communication and his department’s experience using FirstNet to help improve both public safety response times and situational awareness.

To close out the panel discussion, Renee Gordon, Director at the Department of Emergency and Customer Communications in Alexandria, Virginia, recounted how the reliable connectivity on FirstNet helped her department transition to remote operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, including enabling 9-1-1 dispatchers to take calls from their homes and remote locations.