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FRI 2018 Quick Take: FirstNet: Now and what the future holds

FirstNet Senior Fire Services Advisor Mike Worrell discussed the history, implementation and future plans for the first responder network


The idea of FirstNet is often said to have been created after 9/11, but the need for a first responder-exclusive network goes way back.


By Shelbie Watts, FireRescue1 Editorial Assistant

DALLAS — With FirstNet now being deployed all over the country, many responders are wondering not only what it means for them, but also how big of a burden the transition will be.

In his FRI session “FirstNet: Now and what the future holds,” FirstNet Senior Fire Services Advisor Mike Worrell walked the audience through a history of the technology, ways FirstNet eases your department into implementation and what FirstNet is looking into moving forward.

Memorable quotes on FirstNet

Here are some memorable quotes on FirstNet from Mike Worrell.

  • IAFC started marching on Capitol Hill saying ‘we need a system,’ and it took eight years of people in public safety working towards the goal of actually creating a network.”
  • “We initially envisioned that we would have to build this system out from scratch, but AT&T came in and said ‘we’re going to make available the entire spectrum we have today … so we’re actually five years ahead of schedule.”
  • “We are better at monitoring our mechanical systems than we are our human systems.”

Top takeaways on FirstNet implementation

The idea of FirstNet is often said to have been created after 9/11, but the need for a first responder-exclusive network goes way back, according to Worrell. Here are three takeaways from the presentation.

1. Answering a public safety communications need

With so many people tying up lines in emergencies, responders were never able to use their cell phones to communicate. Worrell, a former Phoenix Fire Department firefighter, said he would have to climb on top of a building and set up a signal so the crew could call out.

The issue was finally addressed in the 2004 9/11 commission report, which recommended a dedicated spectrum for public safety, but it wasn’t until 2012 that FirstNet was able to get funding.

A governance board of 15 members was created that is made up of telecommunications experts, federal government appointees and public safety officials in an effort to make sure expertise from every aspect of the network got a say in how it works.

When AT&T came forward with a partnership plan, FirstNet was fast-tracked five years ahead of schedule and is now able to focus on deploying all over the United States.

2. Implementing the technology to reconnect responders

Worrell acknowledged that departments may be worried about how burdensome it may be to successfully roll out the technology, and he highlighted a few ways FirstNet eases the process, such as a point of contact that will consult with you and gather your information to identify areas of needed coverage, a testing method to make sure the technology is adhering to your needs and a technology roadmap customized to meet the needs of your department.

Worrell highlighted examples when FirstNet has already proven its capabilities, including a #MeToo March in Washington, D.C., and the Boston Marathon. With so many participants utilizing the bandwith to connect with others through phone calls, texts and social media, responders were unable to access the network. However, when the FirstNet devices were utilized, the responders were reconnected, and were able to identify responders’ locations and communicate with ease.

3. Expanding future use of FirstNet and wearable tech

According to Worrell, FirstNet is hoping to implement several technologies in the future, such as a virtual reality location enhancement feature. He showed a video of an example, and the audience looked on as a firefighter walked through a building and was alerted to dangers, as well as where objects might be located. The technology prototype also alerted the firefighter to oxygen levels and the temperature.

FirstNet is also looking at smart, wearable technology to keep firefighters safe. Worrell recalled an incident when a colleague died from a medical emergency shortly after participating in a training exercise, and said these kinds of incidents could be prevented if firefighters were wearing smart sensors that measured heart rate and other vitals.

Additional Resources on FirstNet

Learn more about the deployment and adoption of FirstNet with these resources from FireRescue1: