Straight Talk about FirstNet: First Responder-Designed and First Responder-Led
Published: 1/09/2024
Author: Chris Lombard, Assistant Chief of the Seattle Fire Department

Since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the events surrounding 9/11/2001, most of the nation’s public safety community have been striving, with federal support, to further interoperability with our equipment, within our responses, in how we operate, in how we communicate and more. This has been evident in the work of bodies such as:

  • The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate’s First Responder Resource Group (FRRG)
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) program
  • The DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) SAFECOM program
  • The FEMA National Incident Management System (NIMS)
  • The US Department of Commerce’s FirstNet Authority

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has been and continues to be a staunch supporter and participant in all these efforts.

Within the area of communications interoperability for emergency response, public safety’s coordination in, and utilization of their own allocation of the 4.9 GHz spectrum has been likened to the Wild Wild West, seeing very little coordination between states, uncoordinated use within given states, and even fractured coordination among disciplines. As was learned with all other areas of emergency response, this adamantly works against the improved coordination and interoperability efforts that most of the national public safety associations and agencies, working within the previously mentioned coordinating groups, have been striving for.

Regrettably, some entities wish to preserve this level of dysfunction either for their own advantage or to other’s disadvantage. They often do this under the banner of claiming to represent public safety’s interests and simply wanting to help public safety keep what’s theirs.

One such coalition, with substantial support from some of the cellular industry, takes such a position. Let’s be clear, many of these conflicting statements originate from cellular carriers whose support for public safety communications is only cursory at best. Ultimately, they are upset with the early successes that public safety’s official national network, FirstNet, is starting to demonstrate. Regarding select spectrum coordination and management, they don’t want to help public safety, and more importantly, they don’t want anyone else to help either. (e.g., “I don’t want it, but I don’t want you to have it either…”).

As has been done by many of the entities mentioned at the beginning of this statement, the FirstNet Authority, within the U.S. Department of Commerce, is trying to facilitate coordination of this spectrum amongst, and by, public safety representatives.

With the objectively demonstrated successes of FirstNet, many of these groups are trying to sow confusion and misinformation about what FirstNet is and is not. Some of these groups advocate that FirstNet is nothing more than AT&T, or a pawn of AT&T, and that it should be regulated as such. Their messaging includes things like:

  • Public safety has lost control of FirstNet,
  • FirstNet has not been a good steward of public safety frequency spectrum,
  • FirstNet no longer listens to public safety’s concerns on frequency management.

Let us tell you why this is simply not the case…

  • Within the wireless/cellular industry, there is only one provider with an advisory group that they have no control over (e.g., member/association selection, meeting agendas, etc.).
  • There is only one provider who is subject to independent oversight through a federal Inspector General’s office.
  • There is only one provider whose board and operations authority are subject to the 1966 Freedom of Information Act.
  • There is only one provider with contractual obligations to fund and support national public safety communications efforts.

The answer to all of this is, of course, FirstNet.

  • The United States’ Secretary of Commerce is responsible for determining who will have a position on the FirstNet Board.
  • This independent FirstNet Board determines which individuals and associations will be represented in its own Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) – an advisory group that, itself, was required by Congress in the formation of FirstNet.

When talking about who, in the cellular industry, is REALLY seeking and listening to public safety, one needs to go no further than the FirstNet PSAC whose membership includes, but is certainly not limited to:

  • APCO Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (9-1-1)
  • APWA American Public Works Association
  • IACP International Association of Chiefs of Police (law)
  • IAEM International Association of Emergency Managers (emergency management)
  • IAFC International Association of Fire Chiefs (fire)
  • ICMA International City/County Management Association
  • MCSA Major County Sheriffs of America (law)
  • Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) (fire)
  • NAEMSP National Association of EMS Physicians (EMS)
  • NAEMT National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMS)
  • NASEMSO National Association of State EMS Officials (EMS)
  • NASNA National Association of State 9-1-1 Administrators (9-1-1)
  • NATOA National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors
  • NEMA National Emergency Management Association (emergency management)
  • NEMSMA National EMS Management Association (EMS)
  • NENA National Emergency Number Association (9-1-1)
  • NGA National Governors Association
  • NVFC National Volunteer Fire Council (fire)

THIS is public safety working to help public safety and why the IAFC continues to support these efforts!

Sign up to subscribe to custom state Daily Dispatch emails for free

click to subscribe