Improving the Health & Safety of all Emergency Responders

FirstNet Basics for First Responders

Martha Ellis explains the background of FirstNet and what the future holds for first responders.

June 11, 2018

When discussing FirstNet, it is helpful to understand the past in order to best prepare for the future. It is important to recognize that this isn’t happening to us; it’s happening because of us. Key players within fire, law enforcement, EMS, emergency management (EM) and communications have propelled us to where we are today. As our leadership continues to press for optimization of FirstNet and how it will transform communications for public safety service providers, much of its functionality will ultimately be up to us, the end-user.

Clearing the air

What do you think of when you hear the term FirstNet? Is it a familiar term? For those who have been tracking its development, it likely has a clear definition and meaning. For many others, however, it may still be a bit nebulous or mysterious—or perhaps not even on the radar.

As FirstNet becomes a reality, and discussion and interest intensify, so do the opportunities for mixed messages and misinformation to complicate the discussion. Because of the potential impact of FirstNet for public safety, it is important that first responders within every tier of the community understand what it is.

The development of FirstNet positions the emergency response community for one of the most significant service model transformations we’ve experienced in decades. I’d go so far as to say that we haven’t seen this kind of advance since we put the horses out to graze. But even changing from horses to horsepower was met with apprehension, uncertainty and resistance. Change is rarely easy. When people are asked to change, it usually requires them to let go of what they’ve known and be willing to consider what is being proposed as a better alternative. Trust and understanding help reduce the reluctance to step away from what is familiar toward a perceived unknown.

FirstNet—the What and How

What is FirstNet and what makes it different from what we’ve had in the past? The name comes from combining the words first responder with network. In a nutshell, it is roughly 20 MHz of prime bandwidth real estate on the wireless spectrum that the federal government has designated solely for public safety. In the past, we had to compete with the general public for spectrum use during large-scale emergent or non-emergent events. FirstNet now provides unparalleled access that will enhance how we talk, message, stream, and download data on a multitude of devices. It’s like a data HOV lane just for us.

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