FirstNet: Public Safety’s Partner During Hurricane Ian

Jim Bugel – President – FirstNet, AT&T
December 6, 2022
Public Safety


FirstNet: Public Safety’s Partner During Hurricane Ian

When mother nature is at its worst, first responders answer the call.

This fall, as Hurricane Ian hit the Florida coast, thousands of first responders and public safety officials, spanning federal, state, tribal and local agencies, sprang into action—and FirstNet®, Built with AT&T went right alongside them. The only network built with and for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community, FirstNet was designed to improve interoperable communications across public safety entities nationwide and react to disasters like Hurricane Ian.

As public safety’s partner, the FirstNet team worked in tandem with first responders and other public safety agencies to both prepare for the storm and respond quickly to outages and remote recovery situations. Over the course of the storm and through recovery, the FirstNet team responded to more than 115 requests from public safety and first responder agencies. This includes deploying portable cell sites like Satellite Cells on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs) and Compact Rapid Deployables (CRDs) from the dedicated FirstNet fleet, as well as deploying in-building solutions and portable satellites to provide backhaul to macro cell sites.

City of Fort Myers, Florida

The City of Fort Myers originally joined FirstNet 4 years ago to ensure its first responders would be able to stay connected on public safety’s network and have access to the latest communications technology. But as the path of Hurricane Ian became clearer, the city quickly realized that priority, preemption and interoperability would be the most important assets their public safety community could have.

The storm left a trail of damage, resulting in limited connectivity for the city as the community began its recovery efforts. The FirstNet team at AT&T, including the FirstNet Response Operations Group (ROG) – a team led by former first responders – and local solutions consultants sprang into action, assessing the situation and providing the right assets for the city. When one of the city’s data centers went down, the FirstNet team quickly deployed assets like SatCOLTs, vehicles with mobile cell sites that do not rely on commercial power supply, to give the area backup FirstNet coverage until their system was restored.

With only some of the officers and staff members of the Fort Myers Police and Fire Departments on the network, FirstNet provided more than 300 additional devices for city employees, first responders and other essential workers, allowing them to connect to the network—even when others were down. And as cleanup was underway, local volunteers helping with emergency services were also able to temporarily connect to the network, coordinating with the city on rescue and recovery, food and water distribution and other efforts more effectively.

“In the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Ian, FirstNet was there for our first responders when emergency communications were needed the most. Within days of the storm’s landfall, FirstNet placed a portable cell tower within blocks of Police Headquarters and the City’s EOC,” said Chief Randall Pepitone, Fort Myers Police Department. “It was a relief knowing that a cellular service provider was available and operable for our first responders, when many other carriers were offline, during this tragic storm. When communication was imperative, FirstNet was there for us.”

Maury County 911 

Knowing that Florida would need further assistance during the storm, the state reached out to first responders and emergency response personnel in Tennessee to provide mutual aid. Evacuating hospitals, supplementing emergency ambulance services, and aiding wherever needed, the Tennessee ambulance strike team followed the path of the storm to lend a helping hand.

Mark Gandee, Director of Maury County 911, drove to Florida alongside nearly 40 other first responders from across Tennessee in ambulances and other support vehicles to help those in need. With several agencies to communicate with across departments, Mark and Maury County 911 turned to FirstNet to stay connected.

“While driving across state lines with agencies from around the state, our strike team needed to be able to stay in communication with each other, the State of Tennessee and the many different public safety agencies we worked with in Florida,” said Mark Gandee, Director of Maury County 911. “Knowing that we could talk back to our agencies in the state with a push of a button was a huge comfort during our mission. We had the confidence that with FirstNet, we would be able to stay connected to help those in need.”

Central Florida Educational Foundation

Citizens in the path of a storm can typically rely on one tried and true channel for communications—the radio. The Central Florida Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization that runs educational and community radio stations in the region, needed a solution to help broadcast the Emergency Alert System to the community during disasters like Ian.

An important part of the public safety ecosystem that is required by Florida law, the Emergency Alert System is critical in keeping both the community and first responders updated on the status of the storm. As an extended member of the public safety community, the Foundation used FirstNet as a backup, deploying Cradlepoint routers that allowed the system to update listeners on Hurricane Ian.

To uphold the integrity of FirstNet, users connecting to the FirstNet network undergo a rigorous verification process to ensure that only those who may be called upon to protect and serve are using public safety’s network.  Central Florida Educational Foundation’s network of radio stations proved to be an essential part in the complex emergency response to the hurricane. With FirstNet, the emergency alerts were able to reach people in need—ultimately helping to save lives and bridge the gap between public safety and the community in the process.

Built with AT&T in public-private partnership with the FirstNet Authority, an independent agency within the federal government, FirstNet is dedicated to supporting the men and women on the frontlines of these types of disasters.  From our Response Operations Group to our dedicated deployable assets, we are ready to provide solutions that will keep first responders connected during every unexpected turn. We are proud to work alongside these heroes and neighbors in Florida and follow as they lead the way through every step of the rebuilding process.

Additional Resources:

  • Learn more about our response efforts and how we’re helping keep communities connected following Hurricane Ian here: go.att.com/ian.
  • FirstNet CRDs are also available for agencies to own with a single person able to deploy within minutes, giving them even more control of their network in an emergency.
  • For more information on FirstNet, go to FirstNet.com.

FirstNet and the FirstNet logo are registered trademarks of the First Responder Network Authority. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.