X

Connect (X)

Tag Archives: FirstNet

FirstNet, Built With AT&T, Celebrates 5 Years

Contributed article by the First Responder Network Authority

As public safety’s partner with the First Responder Network (FirstNet) Authority’s nationwide broadband public safety wireless network called FirstNet, AT&T is launching new public safety-centric innovations to modernize first responders’ interoperable communications during both emergencies and normal operations:

For in-building situational awareness, public safety organizations and businesses can now enhance their in-building wireless communications with the Cell Booster Pro, an enterprise-grade mini cell tower that provides reliable connectivity for public safety on FirstNet, as well as employees and visitors on the AT&T commercial network.

We’ve enhanced Z-Axis for FirstNet to give public safety an “altimeter view” or vertical visualization that shows the relative positions of first responders and incidents, as well as the ability to mark important areas within the building.

With respect to disaster response, public safety’s FirstNet fleet now has 150 dedicated deployable assets, including 50 compact rapid deployables (CRDs), available to support first responders in all 56 U.S. states and territories. The new FirstNet Emergency Response Kit equips public safety agencies with a cache of 20 FirstNet-ready devices in a protective case to simultaneously recharge and immediately disperse to responders in the field following a major incident.

When it comes to next-generation 9-1-1 services, AT&T ESInet is now integrated with the commercial AT&T wireless network to provide faster and more accurate location of wireless 9-1-1 callers through device-based hybrid precise location technology. ADT is the first home security provider to integrate with FirstNet and now, PSAPs using AT&T ESInet can receive verified text alerts when an alarm is triggered. It’s just one more way we’re supporting public safety from the initial call until their mission is complete.

For mission-critical push-to-talk, with the launch of FirstNet Rapid Response, public safety now has tow choices for its mission-critical push-to-talk (PTT) solution, as well as enhanced land mobile radio (LMR) interoperability capabilities to help modernize their communications. FirstNet push-to-talk now supports mission-critical video streaming and PTT calling over Wi-Fi.

Why is this important? Information is everything in an emergency. Before FirstNet, it was often hard for public safety officials to communicate and work together to save lives due to congestion on commercial wireless networks and interoperability challenges with public safety radio systems. Now, through an unprecedented public-private partnership in 2017 with the FirstNet Authority, an independent agency within the federal government, public safety has FirstNet, Built with AT&T. And it is not a commercial network. FirstNet is the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders.

Additionally, AT&T is the only public safety carrier that can provide end-to-end emergency communication solutions to support 9-1-1 telecommunicators, dispatchers, first responders in the field and other emergency personnel from the moment they’re informed of an incident until their mission is complete.

AT&T leads the next-generation 9-1-1 industry with more than 1,400 PSAPs having adopted AT&T ESInet. This equates to a 29 percent market share, serving 64 million people across the country. And more than 19,500 agencies and organizations, accounting for more than 3 million connections nationwide, are using the FirstNet network, which now covers more first responders than any wireless network in the country.

We continue to grow within the public safety market because of our distinct advantages over competing commercial offers. And these mission-ready solutions demonstrate our continued commitment to drive purposeful innovation to best support public safety, no matter the emergency.

How do in-building solutions improve situational awareness? With 80 percent of wireless calls taking place indoors, the need for in-building dedicated public safety connectivity is essential to public safety operations and overall safety. When public safety responds to an emergency within a building, if cell signal penetration is hindered (think stairwells, basements and other hard-to-reach places), the ability to achieve their mission is potentially compromised. That’s why we’re launching the Cell Booster Pro at an extremely low cost to help public safety organizations and businesses affordably enhance their in-building wireless communications. The Cell Booster Pro acts as a mini cell tower that transmits public safety’s high-quality Band 14 spectrum as well as AT&T commercial LTE, and provides first responders on FirstNet with always-on priority and preemption. With the ability to mesh three devices within a building, agencies and businesses can increase coverage by up to 45,000 square feet, supporting nearly 200 users. Agencies and businesses can purchase the Cell Booster Pro starting April 1.

Providing mission-critical organizations with timely and quality location information is vital to making decisions more quickly and accurately. Z-Axis for FirstNet, designed to assist with identifying the vertical location of a first responder when inside a building, is helping with exactly that. We’ve enhanced FirstNet Locate Pro and Locate Standard to provide an “altimeter view” or vertical visualization. Using geospatial technology, users can remotely see the location of team members in the field, based on their z-axis (or height). As first responders scale the building, the altimeter view will dynamically adjust, based on their movements. Plus, users can “mark” significant locations within the building to help reduce response times and eliminate unnecessary voice traffic.

How is FirstNet Improving Public Safety’ disaster response? After the United States experienced more than 60 incidents of extreme weather and climate in 2021, coupled with increasing instabilities in the commercial power infrastructure landscape, AT&T is going above and beyond its contractual commitment with the FirstNet Authority to grow the dedicated FirstNet fleet. Now, public safety has access to 150 dedicated assets, including 50 compact rapid deployables. CRDs are an extremely nimble portable asset that can be deployed and dispersed across affected regions. Strategically stationed across the country, these assets are at-the-ready to support first responders battling wildfires, hurricanes and other major disasters. These assets are also available for agencies to own and deploy themselves, giving public safety more control over their network. These assets are also dedicated to public safety and are in addition to the 300 assets within the AT&T network disaster recovery fleet that aid commercial network restoration in areas affected by disasters.

We’re also launching the new FirstNet emergency response kit. These kits are ideal for use following a major disaster. Devices can be stored and tucked away until an emergency strikes that requires surge device distribution, or agencies can use the devices for daily operations and recharge the equipment at the end of each shift. Kits are available for purchase starting next month and can hold up to 21 FirstNet-ready smartphones, two Mi-Fi devices, wall chargers and additional space for cords.

How do AT&T ESInet integrations with the AT&T wireless network and ADT help improve emergency response? When we worked with the FCC to establish the first 9-1-1 systems more than 50 years ago, landline communications reigned supreme. But communications technology has come a long way, and now 68 percent of adults don’t even have a landline in their homes according to the CDC). Today, 80 percent of 9-1-1 calls come from a mobile device, and PSAPs need to be equipped with technology that is compatible with what the majority of 9-1-1 callers use today. That’s why AT&T ESInet is the first next-generation 9-1-1 solution to integrate with both the commercial AT&T wireless network and FirstNet.

This integrated solution takes advantage of device-based hybrid technology so PSAPs can identify a more precise wireless caller location, route calls quicker and reduce emergency response times. In fact, the FCC estimates that more than 10,000 lives could be saved each year if public safety were able to reach callers just one minute faster. Device-based hybrid technology uses a combination of satellite GPS, Wi-Fi and a wireless network to track a caller’s location more accurately, even when a wireless call is coming from inside a building.

Additionally, as the only public safety carrier to deliver end-to-end emergency communication solutions, we’re helping public safety to cut down response times for residents and businesses with ADT security systems, using the Emergency Data Broker from Intrado Life & Safety. ADT is the first home security provider to integrate with FirstNet, protecting public safety’s critical communications from commercial congestion. PSAPs using AT&T ESInet can receive verified text alerts when an alarm is triggered. By seamlessly integrating home alarm information into AT&T ESInet, 9-1-1 telecommunicators can quickly assess information and provide critical information to fire, law enforcement, ambulances and other first responders on-scene. It’s just one more way we’re supporting public safety from the initial call until their mission is complete.

North Carolina is the first state to successfully implement and benefit from these integrated solutions. The City of Lumberton has integrated its PSAP with the AT&T wireless network, and The City of Raleigh is already receiving important incident information from ADT. These initiatives come as FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel stated it’s time for a nationwide digital upgrade of 9-1-1 and proposed a plan to dedicate proceeds from upcoming spectrum auctions toward a nationwide investment in next-generation 9-1-1 services. By integrating AT&T ESInet with the AT&T network, we’ve set the foundation for PSAPs to support the future exchange of multimedia. That means 9-1-1 callers can send photos and videos to improve public safety’s situational awareness during critical times.

How does mission-critical push-to-talk further interoperability for public safety? For over a decade, we have supported public safety and businesses with mobile broadband PTT solutions. But in critical moments, first responders need a standards-based mission-critical solution designed specifically to meet their needs to reliably communicate, regardless of factors such as location, jurisdiction, discipline or device. That’s why FirstNet is leading the public safety industry with a suite of mission-critical PTT solutions, which now includes FirstNet Rapid Response. This new voice, video and data solution gives public safety greater situational awareness and more informed emergency response. It further enables public safety agencies to use Motorola Solutions’ cloud-based Critical Connect for essential interoperability with LMR. Also it’s ideal for agencies familiar with AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk, but looking for the added strength and performance of a mission-critical standards-based solution.

FirstNet Rapid Response joins FirstNet Push-to-Talk, the first-ever nationwide mission-critical, standards-based PTT solution to launch in the United States, which now also supports PTT calling over Wi-Fi, mission-critical video streaming to further first responders’ situational awareness and enhanced mutual aid features for easy cooperation with other agencies. That means all mission-critical PTT users on FirstNet can stream what they are seeing on the ground with command and other first responders in the field, share images or send documents, enhancing their situational awareness and helping keep them mission ready.

For more about the value FirstNet is bringing to public safety, check out FirstNet.com.

Safer Buildings Coalition to Team with AT&T’s FirstNet at IWCE 2022 in Las Vegas

The Safer Buildings Coalition (SBC), an advocacy group focused on advancing policies, ideas and technologies that ensure effective in-building communications capabilities for public safety personnel and the people they serve, today said it will join the FirstNet team at AT&T during the 2022 International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) in Las Vegas on March 22 to give attendees an inside look at how their collaboration is furthering public safety’s network.

The SBC and First Net teams will host multiple joint speaking sessions at IWCE to highlight how collaboration is further strengthening public safety’s network infrastructure. At IWCE, Safer Buildings Coalition will be presenting the workshop titled, The Future of In-Building Communications – The Big Picture, on Tuesday, March 22, from 1:30 – 2:15 p.m., with two related sessions following at 2:30, and 3:30 p.m.

“Our collaboration with SBC supports the deployment of public safety’s Band 14 spectrum, promotes in-building installation standards that meet or exceed existing code and industry best practices, and reinforces the importance of mission-centric innovation like Z-Axis technologies,” said Scott Agnew, AVP FirstNet Products at AT&T.

“The evolution of public safety communications is a critical topic and a driving force in how our first responders will be equipped to protect the public now, and in the years ahead,” said Chief Alan Perdue, executive director of the Safer Buildings Coalition. “With over 3 million connections and almost 20,000 public safety agencies using FirstNet, the in-building sector and its ecosystem of industry players must get to work immediately to ensure that the benefits of FirstNet are available inside buildings – where public safety does so much of its work.”

As the private partner behind FirstNet and an SBC member, FirstNet Built with AT&T is committed to further its mission in delivering public safety a network that is second to none. At IWCE, AT&T is sponsoring the in-building session track, underscoring the carrier’s commitment to placing in-building wireless on center stage at this year’s convention. Scott Agnew from AT&T will also be giving the Keynote at the event.

The FCC estimates that over 10,000 lives could be saved each year if public safety were able to reach callers just 1 minute faster. And since 80 percent of wireless calls take place indoors, the need for in-building dedicated public safety connectivity is essential to public safety operations and overall safety. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) laid out the groundwork for in-building coverage as part of the FirstNet Roadmap, which was designed to guide the growth, evolution and advancement of FirstNet and serve as a view of public safety’s operational needs.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) laid out the groundwork for in-building coverage as part of the FirstNet Roadmap, which was designed to guide the growth, evolution and advancement of FirstNet and serve as a view of public safety’s operational need, according to AT&T.

First responders and other public safety personnel not attending IWCE 2022 can check out saferbuildings.org/events to see the SBC and FirstNet team schedule, as part of SBC’s North American Seminar Series. To learn more about FirstNet, visit FirstNet.com.

FirstNet Covers More U.S. First Responders Than any Other Network

Contributed article by AT&T

AT&T is America’s public safety communications partner. In the nearly five years since we were selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) to build and operate the FirstNet wireless broadband public safety network, we have moved quickly to bring more coverage, boost capacity and offer new capabilities for first responders and the communities they serve — rural, urban and tribal. The public safety community on FirstNet has access to the United States’ largest coverage footprint, reaching more than 2.81 million square miles. That means we cover 50,000 more square miles than the largest commercial networks, which is about the size of Alabama, giving more first responders access to an entire ecosystem of innovative solutions to keep them mission-ready.

Public safety agencies and organizations in thousands of communities across the country are staying connected with the FirstNet network, More first responders are gaining access to a one-of-a-kind 5G experience on the FirstNet network. 5G connectivity on the FirstNet network has been launched in 10 new areas: Savannah, Georgia; western Kansas; Lansing, Michigan; Minneapolis; Toledo, Ohio; Charleston and Hilton Head, South Carolina; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Richmond; Virginia;and Redmond, Washington; to further support public safety’s unique mission needs. These areas join 10 other previously announced cities. Public safety also has access to 5G+ (mmWave) spectrum in parts of more than 40 cities and 35 stadiums and venues. We’re continuing to roll out additional 5G connectivity for the FirstNet network in more communities nationwide.

We’ve also deployed Band 14 spectrum nationwide. Band 14, public safety’s VIP lane, is nationwide, high-quality spectrum licensed to the First Responder Network (FirstNet) Authority for public safety specifically on the FirstNet network. In an emergency, this frequency band can be cleared and locked exclusively for first responders and the extended public safety community. This is vital because, as seen at  this year’s Big Game, a first responder used more than 2 times more data for critical communications as compared to a general consumer.

Tens of thousands of communities are benefitting from the unique capabilities of Band 14. Since launching public safety’s network, we’ve upgraded tens of thousands of existing AT&T cell sites with public safety’s Band 14 spectrum, helping to surpass 95 percent of our Band 14 coverage target with the FirstNet Authority, as well as reaching several hundred thousand additional square miles that exceed our contractual target commitment. We continue to roll out Band 14 to help provide public safety with dedicated connectivity when needed.

Strengthening Public Safety’s Network Infrastructure

But we aren’t stopping there. The FCC estimates that more than 10,000 lives could be saved each year, if public safety were able to reach callers just one minute faster. Because 80 percent of wireless calls take place indoors, the need for in-building dedicated public safety connectivity is essential to public safety operations and overall safety. That’s why we are collaborating with Safer Buildings Coalition, an advocacy group that focuses on advancing policies, ideas and technologies that ensure effective in-building communications capabilities for public safety personnel and the people they serve.

No connection is more important than one that can help save a life. In 2021, the United States experienced more than 60 extreme weather and climate events, coupled with increasing instabilities in the commercial power infrastructure landscape. Although we’ve made significant investments to increase network resiliency, these unprecedented events have reinforced the need to take further action for today’s changing environment. That’s why we’re establishing a third emergency pathway to each mobility network hub (MTSO, or mobile telephone switching office). As public safety’s partner, we’ll continue to set the bar on what success looks like for network resiliency now and in the future.

Further reinforcing the reliability of the FirstNet network, we’ve gone farther than anyone in the industry to secure public safety’s communications. The FirstNet network is the first-ever nationwide network with comprehensive tower-to-core network encryption. Because FirstNet is designed with a defense-in-depth security strategy that goes well beyond standard commercial network security measures, first responders have superior protection without sacrificing usability or affecting public safety’s missions.

Why is this important? In less than five years, 56 states and territories unanimously opted-in to use the FirstNet network; we launched the highly secure, dedicated FirstNet network core to give first responders their own connectivity platform and added so many square miles to the FirstNet network service area that it was as though we added the entire state of California nearly three times over.

Today, the FirstNet network is solving for common and long-standing communications challenges that first responders face — things like interoperability, network congestion and commercial network providers slowing public safety’s data connection. The FirstNet network is giving them superior coverage for day-to-day response and life-saving missions. Although commercial wireless offerings remain available to public safety, the FirstNet network continues to grow because it offers distinct advantages from those commercial offerings. The FirstNet network comes with unique features, functionality and dedicated spectrum when needed for the public safety community. That’s why public safety fought for its own, separate, dedicated platform, pursuing the vision that led to the creation of the FirstNet network.

How does FirstNet help bridge the digital divide? Over the past five years (2017‒2021), AT&T’s investment in the United States, including capital investment and acquisitions of wireless spectrum, was more than $130 billion. The FirstNet network expansion is one way we are helping ensure all of public safety and the communities it serves have access to critical connectivity to help meet the urgent challenges of today and tomorrow.

We already cover more than 99 percentof the U.S. population, but the FirstNet network is built for all public safety. That means every first responder — career or volunteer; federal, tribal, state or local; urban, suburban or rural, and those that support them. We are working closely with local telecom providers across the country to more quickly address rural and tribal coverage needs and expand the reach of the FirstNet network for the public safety community. For example, thanks to these collaborations, we were able to nearly quadruple our coverage in Nebraska since launching the FirstNet network. Additionally, we’ve deployed Band 14 across nearly 100 cell sites on the Navajo Nation.

With FirstNet, it’s about where first responders need connectivity. That’s why the build is being done with direct feedback from public safety and local stakeholders. This feedback has been instrumental in deploying Band 14 spectrum nationwide. It’s helped to launch nearly 1,000 new sites in rural, remote and tribal areas so far, including areas where emergency responses have been previously challenged.

From collaborating with local providers to building out new, purpose-built cell sites in rural and remote locations, this new infrastructure will help improve the overall coverage and network capacity experience for public safety on the FirstNet network and for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T commercial spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when not being used by FirstNet subscribers.

What makes 5G on the FirstNet network one of a kind? The FirstNet network is not a commercial network. That means our approach to 5G wireless communications for public safety must be different from the way your friends and family experience 5G. With the FirstNet network, we’re taking the right steps for public safety in a way that meets its unique mission needs. Although 5G connectivity will ultimately bring a combination of benefits, such as ultra-low latency and ultra-high speeds to support all kinds of users, it’s essential we approach 5G in a different way for first responders. That’s why first responders maintain voice communications with priority and preemption on LTE, while the FirstNet network determines the best route for data traffic, whether that’s 5G or LTE spectrum.

The FirstNet network is the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community. Shaped by the vision of Congress and the first responder community following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FirstNet network stands above commercial offerings. It is built with AT&T in public-private partnership with the FirstNet Authority, an independent agency within the federal government. With more than 19,500 agencies and organizations, accounting for more than 3 million connections nationwide as of the end of 2021, the FirstNet network is providing public safety with dedicated coverage and capacity when it needs it, unique benefits such as always-on priority and preemption, and high-quality Band 14 spectrum. These advanced capabilities enable the FirstNet network to help fire, EMS and law enforcement save lives and protect their communities.

Here’s what some people have said about the FirstNet network:

Jason Porter, president of Public Sector and FirstNet at AT&T, said that interoperable connectivity is the foundation of the FirstNet network and the public safety-centric ecosystem it supports.

“As public safety’s partner, we’ve moved faster than anyone to deliver more coverage across tribal, rural and urban areas, powering the connections first responders count on most,” Porter said. “We’re doing it all with a hyper focus on the unique security, resiliency and reliability that their missions demand. Public safety is our priority and we’ll continue to be there for this vital community, no matter where their mission takes them.”

Edward Parkinson, the CEO of the FirstNet Authority, spoke of being pleased to see the FirstNet network continue to grow and deliver coverage and capacity where public safety said it needed it the most.

“The FirstNet Authority has taken a public-safety-first approach that is unlike commercial networks,” Parkinson said. “As we head into the fifth year of network deployment with our partner AT&T, we will continue to keep public safety at the forefront of everything we do.”

Jonathan Nez, the president of the Navajo Nation, said that the Navajo Nation continues to work with the FirstNet Authority and AT&T to build out FirstNet coverage throughout the Navajo Nation as part of a large collaborative effort to better serve the Navajo people, especially those in underserved areas.

“Ninety FirstNet towers sites have launched on the Navajo Nation so far, and we’re continuing to work together with the FirstNet Authority and AT&T to get additional sites launched,” Nez said. “The FirstNet buildout represents a historic investment in broadband infrastructure for the Navajo Nation. Our first responders have used FirstNet mobile technology during wildfires, large public events and for COVID-19 mitigation efforts. We look forward to expanding our telecommunications capabilities further to provide more resources for our frontline warriors with the help of FirstNet.”

Jeanine Sterling, an industry director with Frost & Sullivan, said that as weather intensifies and commercial power grids flicker in and out, first responder communications can become less reliable just when it becomes most critical.

“AT&T recognizes that secure, reliable communications are paramount,” she said, “and Frost & Sullivan is impressed with the network resiliency measures that AT&T continues to take to help public safety personnel stay connected even under the most trying conditions. One of AT&T’s latest moves, establishing a tertiary link — a backup for a backup — is an extensive process that injects even more reliability and further differentiates AT&T and FirstNet as custodians of public safe

FirstNet Provides Flexibility, Interoperability for Emergency Management During Pandemic

Contributed article by Bruce Fitzgerald, FirstNet Authority

First responders have worked tirelessly to keep our country safe, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. For law enforcement, firefighters, EMS and other response groups who are called on to deliver a unified response, their missions largely depend on effective and efficient communication.

As the federal agency charged by Congress to oversee FirstNet, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) is working to ensure that FirstNet offers reliable and adaptive mobile broadband solutions to first responders as they continue to be on the frontlines of COVID-19 response.

The pandemic brought on a new set of challenges to delivering public safety services, particularly for emergency managers. Across the country, emergency managers turned to FirstNet’s innovative solutions to support the continuity of operations. Here are a few of their stories.

As the State of Oregon’s statewide interoperability coordinator (SWIC), William Chapman coordinates interoperability among public safety agencies during emergencies, including fires, winter storms and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. FirstNet has provided the coverage and capacity necessary to maintain full operations at remote emergency operations centers, pop-up hospitals and vaccination centers. At the same time, during last year’s record-breaking fire season, Chapman relied on communications over FirstNet to help coordinate resources, provide situational awareness and stay in touch with public safety partners throughout the state.

FirstNet also made it possible to fulfill a fast turn-around request to move emergency operations into a new facility, the State Public Safety Academy, providing continuous communications to make the transition possible and helping Chapman’s team maintain continuous operations.

“The first challenge was to identify how to provide cellular service and signals,” Chapman said. “FirstNet was a big part of that by bringing hotspots and signals into the room to let the public information officers continue to work their missions.”

The City of Chesapeake, Virginia, incorporated FirstNet into its citywide approach to emergency management during the pandemic. The city based a large part of its response plan on the network’s ability to deliver a comprehensive communication solution. The city’s five police precincts and 15 fire stations relied on FirstNet to communicate during day-to-day operations, incidents and emergencies, including natural disasters, large events and, most recently, planning logistics surrounding the COVID-19 response.

This citywide approach to communications proved invaluable to 9-1-1 operations when the pandemic first affected the community. Chesapeake 9-1-1 call centers stayed operational with FirstNet, directing first responders to emergencies. They were also able to take calls and provide information on testing sites, test results and other vital services to residents.

Similarly, when Robert Gelormine, a senior planner for the Chesapeake Fire Department’s Office of Emergency Management, recognized that a successful pandemic response required organizing multi-agency responses throughout the city, he sought out FirstNet to facilitate citywide interoperable communications. In one instance, FirstNet was on hand when the Metropolitan Medical Response System coordinated a multi-agency response effort to identify, collect and redistribute essential equipment and supplies to frontline workers. Crews used FirstNet around the clock in every aspect of that response — whether on tablets and mobile devices, or patrolling in emergency response vehicles, FirstNet provided that critical signal.

With 2.8 million connections being used by 18,500 public safety agencies and organizations nationwide, FirstNet continues to expand its mission-critical capabilities so first responders can extend their reach into communities and keep more people safe.

The FirstNet Authority is committed to ensuring that FirstNet will continue to provide first responders with the support they need to fully operationalize its network for the biggest effect. Our team of public safety advisers works hand in hand with first responders across the country to ensure the network is meeting their needs.

__________________

Bruce Fitzgerald is a FirstNet Authority senior public safety adviser.

From the Command Center: A Conversation with Walter ‘Pete’ Landon, Maryland Governor’s Office of Homeland Security

Contributed article by Lori Stone

Walter F. ‘Pete’ Landon

When Walter “Pete” Landon was growing up in Montreal, Canada, he idolized the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. However, he was an American citizen whose father had moved the family north for work, and therefore couldn’t fulfill his dream of becoming a Mountie. Landon served for 30 years with the Maryland State Police and is now the director of the Maryland Governor’s Office of Homeland Security.

Now, after more than three decades spent in law enforcement with local and state departments in Maryland, he can look back on a career in law enforcement with pride and the insights of how policing has evolved in that time. In particular, he has seen how technology has improved the way officers communicate and share information, starting with the age-old phenomenon known as “skip.”

“When I started with the Greensboro Police Department in 1983, we had the old four-channel radio,” Landon said. “Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes I was heard; sometimes I wasn’t. And then when I became a Maryland State Trooper, I thought all the issues would be fixed. Well, little did I know that I would end up having to converse with Orange County, California, sometimes to get to the barrack because I could talk to them through skip better than I could my own barrack.”

Skip is the word used to describe atmospheric conditions that allow for radio transmissions to travel long distances. These conditions can bounce signals from state to state or even from country to country. Skip is a big part of the CB radio culture, and thousands of people across the United States talk long distances when conditions allow them to do so.

“It was a matter of the way the wind was blowing that night, whether the department in California heard us or I heard them,” Landon said. “A couple of times it was pretty serious. If I went into a bar fight and made arrests in a rural area, I was calling for backup or to let the barrack know what was going on. Several times, I actually had to go through Orange County and have their dispatch call the Maryland State Police and let them know what was going on. That was just the way it happened at that time.”

Leading Maryland Public Safety Through Tech Transformations

As technology advanced over the years and Landon’s career spanned from patrol trooper, investigato, and academy instructor to special operations, aviation command and lieutenant colonel, he’s experienced first-hand the changes in how law enforcement communicates, from the basic to the advanced.

When he oversaw the State Police’s special operations division and command, he needed to be able to talk to multiple agencies at any given time. For this to happen, he had to carry up to six different radios and two handhelds in his vehicle. Communications were cumbersome for Landon and his fellow officers.

“If you go back to the history of 9/11 and the World Trade Center, it was obvious that public safety did not have much interoperability. Then the big push was to flood the market with as much equipment as possible. Everybody jumped on board, got the equipment and nobody really thought about the back-end of that – the infrastructure needed to sustain that equipment and the communications networks. In Maryland, we went from several disparate networks and people not really talking to each other, to now we’re becoming organized, putting people in talk groups for Maryland FiRST [First Responder Radio System Team], and paying attention to make sure we’re appropriately using the bandwidth that’s available, whether it’s cellular or from a radio communication standpoint.”

When Maryland started building its statewide 700 MHz public safety land mobile radio (LMR) system — Maryland FiRST — in 2012, it brought a new ability to communicate across the state.

“I can talk to someone on the eastern shore of Maryland, down near Ocean City and speak to someone clear as day up in Cumberland,” Landon said. “I now have one handheld that I can use to talk to anybody that I want. I think that demonstrates how things have progressed.”

Bringing Public Safety Broadband to Maryland

Landon is also an advocate for the complementary role that the nationwide public safety broadband network, or FirstNet, has with Maryland’s statewide LMR system.

“These two systems really do work well together,” Landon said. “We are finally giving everybody what they need, whether it’s a cell phone or a radio, whether it’s the towers or the backup or the infrastructure to run it.”

LTE coverage has been a key factor for public safety agencies deciding whether to make the move to FirstNet. Landon, who lives in a rural area of the state and has FirstNet service on his work cellphone, understands the importance of building the network where it’s most needed.

“There were several places in Maryland, including my own house, that still had very little coverage,” Landon said. “You didn’t have the ability to communicate. FirstNet and the approach of taking the scientific method of figuring out the best places to position equipment [for public safety] has paid off. FirstNet through the coverage that it’s provided – it’s truly a network that works. I think we’ve seen the quality of not only the equipment, but the infrastructure that’s being created has made communication so much better. Maryland is kind of unique. We are small, but we go from the mountains to the beach, to the water in between, to the urban and the rural areas. It seems like the FirstNet approach complements the way that Maryland’s trying to do business from a communication standpoint.”

Staying connected is paramount in Landon’s dual roles as Gov. Larry Hogan’s homeland security director and deputy chief of staff, both of which keep him busy and on the road around Maryland. He has the oversight of “everything public safety-minded,” including the military, the state police, corrections and emergency management.

“Probably everything that you could think of in a single day that goes on, either my portfolio members or I have a touch on it,” Landon said. “That could be anything from a natural or manmade disaster or emergency to a terroristic event to a military incursion. And sometimes all those things are all bundled up in one incident. What occurred at our nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2020, is a perfect example of how the public safety community came together and had to act quickly to preserve the public peace and protect people.”

Landon said he appreciates how the FirstNet Authority and AT&T are working with public safety and listening to their concerns and feedback.

“I would tell anyone, if you listen to what FirstNet has to offer, where they’re going and the way they’re going about it, one would be foolish not to consider how it could improve their operation,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than being out on a figurative island, realizing you can’t really communicate. Because the truth is that with police officers, emergency managers, first responders and EMS, it could be seconds and their lives could change and the lives of the people they are sworn to protect just by the virtue that they don’t have the right communications platform. And I think that’s what FirstNet serves to overcome.”

________________

Lori Stone is senior public safety advisor at the First Responder Network Authority.