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Potter County, Texas, Signs on to FirstNet

County officials voted unanimously to join the public safety communications network.

(TNS) — Officials in Potter County, Texas, have approved an agreement designed to enhance emergency response times, with the overarching goal of bolstering community safety and security.

During Monday's Potter County Commissioners' Court meeting the body voted 5-0 in favor of an arrangement with AT&T for access to the U.S. Department of Commerce First Responder Network Authority, also known as FirstNet. FirstNet was created to be a force-multiplier for first responders, officials said, providing public safety personnel 21st century communication tools to help save lives, solve crimes and keep emergency responders, as well as the communities they serve, safe.

Authorities said in emergencies and at large events, heavy public use can lead to wireless communications networks becoming overloaded and inaccessible, adding when those circumstances occur, public safety users are treated the same as any other commercial or enterprise user and communications can be limited due to congestion and capacity issues. However, officials said the FirstNet Network delivers a dedicated fast lane to public safety personnel, granting highly secure communications daily for every emergency - such as priority access, preemption and more network capacity.

"Right now we have all of our air cards with Sprint, but in case of an emergency, FirstNet moves you ahead of everybody else," Potter County Chief Deputy Sheriff David Johnson said. "So when you're calling at 5 o'clock going home and get a busy signal and it says try your call later, we would have priority over anyone else should an emergency occur. The main thing is the priority access in the case of an emergency. It will be for any of our vehicles that have computers."

FirstNet is delivering more than just a public-safety-dedicated wireless connection, authorities noted, adding it is also creating devices and apps ecosystems connecting first responders to life-saving technologies.

"What was interesting to me that I didn't know about this program, I think it was in 2012, is Congress took action to say all first responders need to be on some type of common network," Commissioner Mercy Murguia said. "And this partnership is what came together. This seems to be the only partnership that existed on this level for all first responders nationally."

All 50 states, five U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., serve as FirstNet participants, per the Commerce Department, which noted locale each has accepted its individual State Plan detailing how the network will be deployed in their state / territory.

©2018 Amarillo Globe-News, Texas Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.