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FirstNet Hears First Responders Loud and Clear at Summit

The FirstNet Authority mission continues to grow and change as the needs of public safety, emergency management, EMS, academia and health care evolve from voice to data and more.

Closeup of a firefighter holding a radio.
“We hear you loud and clear.” That was the message from the FirstNet Authority's 5x5 Public Safety Innovation Summit this week in San Diego, hosted in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Public Safety Communications Research Division.

The FirstNet mission continues to grow and evolve along with the needs of the public safety, first responder, emergency management, health care and academic communities. Even with FirstNet's 4.7 million users and 25,000 subscribers, it’s not time to rest.

“You can never say we’re done,” said Jeremy Zollo, FirstNet Authority chief market engagement officer. “We just released our third growth map this week, and that represents our evolving and changing needs of public safety that’s helping drive us to make better decisions around the network.”

The summit featured speakers including Dan Munsey, San Bernardino County, Calif., fire chief, who talked about the impacts of communications on the fire community and how FirstNet made a big difference for the fire community. Marin County, Calif., Undersheriff Sylvia Moir discussed the human element in law enforcement and how communications can save lives.

“Years ago when I started here, the problem we were faced with was how were we going to build, deploy and maintain the network,” Zollo said. “Today it’s to figure out what is it that public safety needs — law enforcement, emergency management, EMS, emergency communication centers — what do those primary users on the network need as operational requirements.”

Those sectors with increasing requirements also include health care and academia.

“School emergency management and health-care emergency management are two growing segments of the community,” said Bruce Fitzgerald, FirstNet’s senior public safety adviser for emergency management.

“It’s not just all hazards and disasters. You now have universities that have their own emergency management divisions, and a lot of health care and hospitals have emergency management programs now, so I think we see it as an evolving industry,” he said.

The summit marked the first time the FirstNet emergency management cohort was able to meet in person. The group knew each other only via Microsoft Teams until now.

“It’s something that we launched earlier this year and this conference was kind of the capstone for that group,” Fitzgerald said. “We set out to have someone each from the 10 FEMA regions and ended up with seven. We’re going to be looking to start cohort No. 2.”

The cohort helps provide feedback on deployable technology and products and broadband issues. “What we ask them to do is really help us review our products to make them better and we’re also looking at how they’re using emergency communications,” Fitzgerald said. Anyone who is interested in joining the second cohort can contact Fitzgerald at

Zollo explained why "we hear you loud and clear" was the theme of this week's summit.

“It’s an old communication term from the LMR [land mobile radio] voice days, but it can’t be about voice anymore as we move forward," he said, "and we hear them loud and clear on everything they need from video, to data, to communicating through the full life cycle of an event operationally."

“It’s where does it matter for public safety, understanding the needs and bringing a community together that’s got a common goal.”