FirstNet, Verizon Launch Dedicated Public Safety Networks

FirstNet debuted its long-awaited dedicated first responder network in a controlled introduction on March 27, and Verizon has set its general availability launch for March 29.

by / March 27, 2018
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The nation’s two dedicated first responder networks are going live this week with private core services for members, representatives of both entities said.

In a news release, officials at AT&T, the service provider for the First Responder Network Authority, announced the launch of FirstNet’s core network across 56 states and territories March 27. The core network, the company said, will have a controlled introduction to a limited customer set while it is tested extensively, followed by the onboarding of more customers, likely in April or May.

Meanwhile, officials at Verizon announced the private core of their own dedicated network for public safety and first responders would become “generally available” to all members beginning on March 29.

FirstNet had previously set a core completion timeframe of March 2018, while Verizon had announced its dedicated network plans in August. Members of both networks have already enjoyed unique capabilities such as priority services and pre-emption, but the core deployments further activate and securitize their separate networks, and offer enhanced communication and services.

FirstNet’s deployment, timed to the one-year anniversary of the approval of its official contract from Congress, was billed as a “major breakthrough” for first responders and the arrival of a “separate, nationwide broadband network” certified by the authority behind the network.

“We’re proud of the quick progress we’ve made in the short timeframe,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T-FirstNet, in a statement, calling the development an “exciting milestone.”

FirstNet’s “evolved packet core” offers trademarked First Priority designations — and two new, additional priority levels — to enable law enforcement, emergency medical services (EMS) and firefighters to better respond in real time to evolving incidents.

It also debuts an Incident Management Portal designed to let personnel do more to control resources and priority levels and “forms the basis for the unified, interoperable and nationwide communications that public safety envisioned,” AT&T said.

The core is built on separate hardware and secured with what’s described as a “defense-in-depth approach” securitizing the network at all levels and continuously monitored by a dedicated Security Operations Center.

Chris Kirk, sheriff in Brazos County, told Government Technology earlier this year that being the first agency in Texas to join FirstNet dramatically increased its coverage. In a statement, Kirk said partnering with FirstNet helped “cut through the clutter and get access to the vital information we need.”

“That was before the launch of the FirstNet network core. So, we’re expecting it to only get better from here, which we believe will continue to improve our operations,” Kirk said.

Verizon’s private core will feature the pre-emption capability — tested by law enforcement on New Year’s Day during the Rose Parade — and mobile broadband priority services, an expansion of existing priority.

The core will also offer traffic segmentation, to further differentiate first responders; improved security and enhanced service management and controls.

“Public safety users will have their data immediately recognized as public safety with priority access at the tower and across the network,” the company said.

Verizon’s mobile broadband priority service (MBP) offers priority for data transmissions, enabling surveillance camera video transmission as well as expanded communication via tablets and from vehicles. Its pre-emption service, the company said, enables automatic reallocation of network resources from commercial data/Internet users to first responders should network capacity be reached.

Nicholas Nilan, Verizon’s director of product development for the public sector, told GT that the network, which added its first customer last week, is an evolution of the company’s more than 20 years of supporting public safety.

“I think from here, the point to customers is that we are working closely with them to provide a seamless experience. This isn’t a major change in how they manage their accounts. Those services are really just the latest iteration of almost a decade of support for those precursor solutions,” Nilan said.

HACKING FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

The networks are coming online as the tech sector is drilling down on solutions for emergency responders. The FirstNet Public Safety Hackathon, held March 23-24 in San Francisco and sponsored by AT&T, IBM, Redlands-based mapping and spatial technology company Esri and others, generated winning solutions for law enforcement, firefighters and others.

The First Assist team won first prize for Best App Overall for its solution, which it said collects and sorts live data from people with mobility disabilities, to help prioritize rescue procedures based on "situational and health conditions.”

Second prize for Best App Overall went to the Dispatch.it team, which uses an algorithm to prioritize the urgency of at-risk 911 callers, and get crucial information for first responders.

Third prize in the category went to team SRescue, which used Esri technology to create what it described as a situation commander's web app, capable of tracking rescuers and victims' movements and locations on a three-dimensional map.

“As we look at things geospatially, if we can help someone by looking on a map to say ‘You are standing here and you are needed over here,’ it’s so much easier than even trying to give a description verbally and then hoping that the communication process happens. Visually, people are much quicker at making decisions when they can see them,” said Mike King, global public safety manager at Esri.

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.