Emergency workers optimistic about FirstNet technology

Published: Apr. 18, 2017 at 4:49 PM CDT
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First responders are one step closer to new technology aimed at making their response to disasters or emergencies faster and better.

It's called FirstNet.

Many of us have been there. You're at a Packers game or big public event and you can't get cell service.

It's probably just annoying for most of us, but when police, paramedics and other first responders can't get service, it's a big problem.

FirstNet is designed to be the solution.

"It really has the potential to change the ballgame entirely in the future. In the short-term, it's really going to give us that reliability that we crave, need and should have 100 percent of the time," says Cullen Peltier, director of Brown County Public Safety Communications.

Put simply, the system allows public safety to send and receive data, like video, pictures or maps, in real time, to each other, without the system slowing down the transmission.

Through special SIM cards in computers, phones or tablets, the network gives first responders priority.

"So they would be in the front of the line, so to speak, to get it, but then in those major emergencies, when the network is becoming jammed up, they would preempt anybody else from getting on the network," explains Peltier.

He says it shouldn't prevent others from using phones or computers, but it should eliminate delays for first responders.

The system is designed to have dispatchers relay information between the public and emergency workers.

"They could send us a wanted picture, so to speak, back to us that we could send... is this the person you saw?" says Peltier, describing a possible scenario.

The federal government started creating this broadband network after 9/11 and other incidents where first responders had trouble communicating.

It's taken years to get going, but AT&T was recently awarded the contract and is starting to build in the infrastructure.

Peltier thinks it'll cost the same or less than current data plans and hopes to see benefits here in Northeast Wisconsin within a year.

"Public safety, in some terms, lags behind the rest of the community in terms of technology, and we're trying to catch up to that," adds Peltier.