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Driving Innovation for Disaster Planning, Response, and Recovery

Jeremy Zollo, Chief Market Engagement Officer, First Responder Network Authority

Every hurricane season, first responders face great challenges as they protect their communities during these storms. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) remains committed to ensuring responders have the tools they need to face these storms. From support offered by the FirstNet Authority to ensuring the latest innovation in solutions from our network contractor AT&T, we are focused on advancing technology to make disaster planning, response, and recovery easier.

Planning with Partners

Collaboration is key to facing disasters. Better outcomes happen when information is shared with all the stakeholders that are involved. At the FirstNet Authority, we offer two types of support that can help agencies work with partners to prepare for hurricanes.

For pre-planning support, our staff work with agencies that are preparing for impending disasters. We help gather all the appropriate partners and discuss the scope of the event, locations where communications will be needed, and determine what broadband capabilities responders will use. This information is provided to AT&T, and they can create a tailored plan to meet the needs of that event.

We also offer an exercise inject catalog with hundreds of injects and discussion questions related to common public safety broadband activities. These exercises allow agencies to practice different scenarios to identify the strengths and challenges before disasters hit.

Just a few weeks ago, my colleagues were in Florida for the National Hurricane Conference. This annual event is an opportunity for the nation’s emergency managers and other responders to gather and learn about the latest in hurricane preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. We were honored to participate, meet with public safety personnel from across the country, and hear some of the challenges faced by responders today. This feedback is critical to ensuring the network continues to meet its needs.

Dedicated Disaster Response and Recovery Tools

Hurricanes can wreak havoc on communities quickly, damaging infrastructure and properties and risking lives. As public safety agencies begin response and recovery efforts, they need solutions that can keep up with them and work wherever they need to go. FirstNet subscribers have access to several public safety-centric innovations that are designed with this in mind – keeping responders connected and communicating.

The Advanced Network Status Tool shows tower status and outages on the FirstNet network. This view can be checked after a storm hits to see where coverage is present and where sites may be compromised. This information allows decision-makers to adapt operational plans during response and recovery.

When public safety needs to communicate with non-traditional partners, such as public works and utilities, FirstNet subscribers can use the Uplift Request Tool to provide these Extended Primary users temporary elevation to the same priority level as Primary users. This ensures all entities remain connected and able to communicate to coordinate resources.

When communications infrastructure is damaged or destroyed in a hurricane, FirstNet subscribers have access to a dedicated fleet of 150 deployables for on-demand coverage. There are several asset options available to meet the needs of each event, including an aerostat, satellite cells on drones (cells on wings), and satellite cells on light trucks (SatCOLTs). The fleet also includes more than 50 Compact Rapid Deployables (CRDs). These small, portable assets can be set up by a single person and are nimble enough to be transported over difficult terrain.

The newly launched FirstNet Emergency Response Kit is packed with devices that agencies can hand out quickly after a hurricane hits. The kits hold more than 20 devices (smartphones and MiFi devices) that are ready to use when additional device support is needed.

Hurricane response is a huge undertaking for public safety. Responders need reliable communications to keep everyone safe and support their communities. FirstNet subscribers can use their FirstNet-enabled devices for push-to-talk (PTT) capabilities, reserving radio channels for more critical conversations. There are two 3GPP Mission Critical standards-based options for PTT on FirstNet, with solutions for land mobile radio interoperability, PTT calling over Wi-Fi, and video streaming.

After the Storm – Looking Ahead

After the storm, reviewing the successes and challenges of the event can provide invaluable information to first responders. This feedback can help prepare for the next disaster, highlighting what went well and what resources are still needed. At the FirstNet Authority, we offer a post-inquiry review program to examine how communications and technology were used during the event. Our staff facilitates discussions among all involved agencies to capture successes, challenges, best practices, and lessons learned. This is all captured in a report for participating agencies, the FirstNet Authority, and AT&T to help with future communications planning during disasters.

Finally, the FirstNet Authority Emergency Management Guide is available to all agencies as a reference to the solutions available for FirstNet subscribers. This guide provides tips, tricks, and information on requesting deployables, using the Uplift Request Tool, and more. Check out FirstNet.gov/EMguide to download your copy.

We continue to see more intense and damaging hurricanes affecting our communities. Public safety agencies work tirelessly to prepare for these incidents while carrying out their everyday duties and responding to incidents and emergencies. That’s why we are dedicated to ensuring public safety’s network is available to all responders with tools and innovative solutions that can make planning, response, and recovery easier and more efficient.

Learn more about how the FirstNet Authority can help prepare for, respond to, and recover from hurricanes with FirstNet at FirstNet.gov. You can also connect with the public safety advisor in your area at FirstNet.gov/advisor.

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