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Baltimore Campus Taps FirstNet for Critical Communications

“It helps eliminate inefficiencies so we have our law enforcement to respond to our campus but we need, also on larger scale incidents, to be able to communicate with Baltimore city police.”

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As a public institution, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) operates its own police department and Office of Emergency Management. Those have their own public safety functions within the urban campus, which sits within the city of Baltimore but without a real defined boundary.

Recognizing the need for operable communications within the campus and interoperable communications with Baltimore police and fire, UMB has deployed devices from the FirstNet broadband network for its public safety communication needs to ensure reliability.

That UMB sits within Baltimore makes collaboration and communication with Baltimore police and fire all the more important during an incident, but also, as a research institution with critical resources located on campus, it is important to have a reliable network that stays online when other means of communication go down.

“We support the delivery of public safety, whether that be direct law enforcement or emergency notification to our surrounding community or the clinical support to the hospital of laboratories and storage of critical things like blood — those are things we support and have staff circulating,” said Jonathan Bratt, assistant vice president for enterprise resilience at UMB.

The UMB police use FirstNet devices much like a traditional first responder entity would — deploying them for officers on the street and for command staff and other public safety members for situational awareness and communication.

Those other public safety personnel include people like the president, provost and public information officer, who all have a critical stake in being able to communicate in real time and notify the public and staff of situations.

“That’s important to us as an urban environment because there is not a defined campus, so we are trying hard to collaborate with the Baltimore city first responder network and our own network to coordinate responses,” Bratt said. “It helps both eliminate inefficiencies so we have our law enforcement to respond to our campus but ... also on larger-scale incidents to be able to communicate with Baltimore city police.”

That is aided by a shared CAD-to-CAD integration system that enables UMB police communication operators to see where Baltimore city police, fire and EMS officials and their vehicles are at any time. That helps improve situational awareness and coordination during joint responses.

“A big topic today is active shooter, so you can imagine law enforcement and emergency management’s ability to communicate with each other in an active shooter environment when cell networks are congested,” Bratt said. “That’s critically important.”

“We’re going to have subject matter expertise (on campus) and our responders are going to be closest to that environment, but we will need to communicate with and support specialized resources that Baltimore city would bring like EMS, mass casualty and tactical teams,” he said.

UMB also used FirstNet devices to establish “Wi-Fi bubbles” around police vehicles so officers can upload data and stream video in real time. The high-speed network allows staff at the command center to view what’s happening in the field.

UMB also has a closed circuit television system that provides views of campus and has partnered with other entities, including the Maryland State Police, to integrate the system with video from traffic, security, portable and vehicle-based cameras from around the region, which can be accessed by first responders via tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices.

The UMB deployment suggests a game change for school districts and universities across the country, according to Bruce Fitzgerald, FirstNet’s senior public safety adviser for emergency management.

“You now have universities that have their own emergency management divisions so you see that evolving,” he said. “FirstNet can help because they have a need to communicate with each other, they have a need to communicate with public safety and if something is happening either at their facility or their neighborhood, they need to be able to communicate to first responders who are going to come in.”