Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission recommended the establishment of a nationwide, interoperable public safety communications network to resolve the communications challenges faced by emergency responders nationwide.
Since then, the public safety community has made progress in advancing emergency communications capabilities through enhanced coordination, governance structures, planning, training, and equipment. At the same time, private sector developments in high-speed, wireless communications technology have presented public safety with a platform to enhance information sharing and communications . Through broadband technology, public safety users can have the ability to access video images of a crime in progress, download floor plans of a burning building, or connect rapidly and securely with personnel from other communities.
Over the decade following the 9/11 Commission Report, public safety has worked with state and local government officials, the Federal government, and Members of Congress to gather support for establishing a nationwide interoperable network. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through the Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) has helped set a broad policy framework for a nationwide interoperable network to ensure it meets the needs of its users and aligns with existing emergency communications policy.
On February 22, 2012, President Obama signed into law H.R.3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which includes provisions to fund and govern a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). OEC is working with the Departments of Commerce and Justice to ensure it meets the needs of users in the public safety community. A Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network will provide a secure, reliable and dedicated interoperable network for emergency responders to communicate during emergencies and day-to-day operations.
A key provision of the law creates the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority within the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). FirstNet is responsible for deploying the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. To do so, FirstNet is working directly with states and territories, conducting outreach to state, federal, rural and tribal users and stakeholders to better understand their needs and priorities. FirstNet is also participating in a number of pilot NPSBN projects whose lessons learned will inform the national deployment.
Consistent with the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, FirstNet was required to establish a Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC). FirstNet established the PSAC in February 2013 consisting of members representing all disciplines of public safety as well as state, territorial, tribal, and local governments. The PSAC also has at-large members and federal members. The mission of the PSAC is to assist FirstNet in carrying out its duties and responsibilities.
Specifically, the PSAC:
- Offers FirstNet guidance, information, and subject matter expertise from a public safety perspective to ensure that user needs, requirements, and public safety operational capabilities are included in the network
- Provides subject matter expertise on concepts (e.g., policies, procedures, technologies, operational methods) developed by FirstNet
- Advises FirstNet through the creation of initial documents, plans, or reports related to the build-out, deployment, and operation of a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN). The PSAC reports include subject matter related to shared intergovernmental responsibilities or administration.
- Conducts regular meetings to remain informed and up to date on FirstNet’s progress.
Learn more about the PSAC, its charter, members, and its activities and contributions here.
The NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (NYS DHSES) Office of Interoperable and Emergency Communications (OIEC) has been designated as the State Point of Contact to assist the FirstNet Authority regarding the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) build-out in New York State.
Police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other public safety entities need a dedicated nationwide wireless broadband network. They need a network that they can count on during emergencies and to meet their everyday missions. Here are ten reasons why public safety needs FirstNet:
First responders need a reliable, resilient broadband network to perform their life saving mission. Most teenagers today own smartphones that are more powerful communications devices than those typically used by the public safety community. In many cases, emergency responders have to bring their own smartphones to work to access applications, search databases and share videos. FirstNet will facilitate the use of rugged, easy-to-use devices designed to meet public safety requirements and provide a rich set of applications and services that enhance their ability to do their jobs. The FirstNet network should provide the backbone to allow the public safety community to improve its communications and perform its mission more safely.
Major weather events such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina affect infrastructure when public safety needs it most. As wind speeds rise and electrical power begins to fail, cell sites need ample power backup to address outages and adequate hardening to withstand the destructive forces of nature. Simultaneously, the network must be designed so that it can stand up to criminal events by rerouting rapidly if portions of the network are destroyed or compromised. FirstNet intends to deliver a highly resilient and reliable network.
During emergencies like the Boston Marathon bombing, wireless traffic is concentrated in specific areas and capacity can become insufficient for public safety’s needs. Public safety needs an exclusive network so they can communicate without interruption. This is especially important during large emergencies when consumers may possibly overload commercial wireless networks to reach their family and friends. FirstNet will provide public safety with a priority communications network when they need it most.
Capacity isn't only an issue during emergencies. When thousands of people converge at special events such as concerts, art festivals, sporting venues or political rallies, public safety has to be there. Hundreds of cities host special events annually. For two weeks a year, even the remote Nevada desert is home to the Burning Man festival. Two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, half a million people occupy one square mile for Thunder Over Louisville. FirstNet will deliver mobile and robust capacity, as well as enhanced public safety coverage to keep citizens safe.
Maintaining contact with the trauma center is a lifeline for emergency medical services personnel when treating an injured backpacker. When life-threatening emergencies happen in rural or wilderness areas, public safety often ends up without a network connection that could enable expert medical support during transport to the hospital. FirstNet will provide reliable, mobile coverage solutions because emergencies don’t just happen where people live.
Situational awareness during an incident will help protect people, property and first responders. When public safety personnel have a common picture of an incident that's unfolding, they are far better equipped to respond. During structural fires, crimes in process or medical emergencies, the ability to share real-time images and video of the scene as well as the locations of responders and locally relevant information improves communication and outcomes. FirstNet will carry high-speed data, location information, images, and eventually streaming video that can mean the difference between life and death.
Public safety learned long ago that one simple number, like 911, made it easier for all citizens needing help in an emergency, anywhere in the country, to call one number. Now we need to complete that mission and provide one interoperable network for those first responders that are answering that call, to be able to respond with one, nationwide network of communications. This integrated network will improve communication during mutual aid calls and is intended to provide the latest communication technologies in a single nationwide network that is dedicated to public safety.
Today, first responders rely on more than 10,000 separate, incompatible, and often proprietary land mobile radio networks. This makes it difficult, and at times impossible, for emergency responders from different jurisdictions to communicate, especially during major emergencies. FirstNet devices will work anywhere on the network and will save time when seconds matter. In addition, the network design and services offered by FirstNet are intended to ensure interoperability among first responders.
A single nationwide network will inspire new ways to perform public safety roles that are safer, more effective and more efficient. In the future, FirstNet will provide an interoperable communications system that can be used by all first responders, from a variety of jurisdictions, all at the same time. New applications will be created, new purpose-made devices will be available, and public safety will be able to serve our nation more efficiently than ever before.
A market of millions of public safety users is designed to bring savings opportunities to state and local budgets. FirstNet will bring the benefits of a single, nationwide, interoperable network that is built to open standards to public safety agencies across the country. With millions of users on a single network, FirstNet hopes to take advantage of increased vendor competition and economies of scale to drive down the final cost to the public safety user. FirstNet is designing the network to be able to offer a dedicated public safety service at a highly attractive rate that will in turn enable state and local governments to save on operating costs.
In the face of terrorist attacks or natural disasters, public safety must have a nationwide network. Incident commanders need the ability to quickly convey vital data to every first responder. They need to know what resources from neighboring jurisdictions can be available if required. One network with interoperability built-in from day one will enhance public safety’s ability to protect and serve. FirstNet will ensure that a single platform for public safety communications is created.
FirstNet is establishing a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network dedicated for first responders. In establishing this network, FirstNet is guided by these ten important principles:
FirstNet will be a public safety-grade network built to meet the needs of our nation’s first responders
FirstNet is working with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program and standards organizations on network requirements and on defining how standards can support building future networks as public safety-grade. We believe it has many dimensions.
Some of them include:
- Coverage based on geography for public safety service as well as the population
- Solutions for serving rural and underserved areas
- Reliability that public safety can count on
- Group communications to enable effective teamwork
- Redundancy and resiliency to sustain service
- A robust and reliable portfolio of devices for different user types
First and foremost, the FirstNet network is being built for public safety. The purpose of the network is to provide a broadband wireless communications to police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other public safety and support personnel to meet their important mission every day. We know that traditional first responders must have access to the network. During incidents where multiple agencies converge in a small area, first responders must be able to leverage access priorities.
FirstNet anticipates that the amount of available contiguous spectrum will provide capacity for public safety’s needs. FirstNet also anticipates there may be times when there is excess capacity. FirstNet is exploring ways to make this valuable resource available to other users while preserving priority access to first responders.
FirstNet will harden the network to assist with resiliency during natural disasters, incidents and man-made threats
Hardening entails strengthening cell tower sites and the overall network to ensure maximum reliability. FirstNet intends to design a network with as much resiliency and redundancy that it can afford to support. The network will be engineered with back-up equipment and services to sustain operations during adverse conditions. Hardening will not be a one size fits all approach. Hardening for earthquakes may be needed in the western United States and along a vulnerable stretch of the Mississippi River. Hardening for wind speeds from hurricanes or super storms may be needed in the Midwest and along the East and Gulf Coasts. FirstNet will create hardening guidelines for all components of the radio access network (RAN). Hardening will look at towers and antennas, power supplies, temperature control and the physical and electrical connections from the network to the user devices. We also plan to determine how best to address hardening for data centers, aggregation points and servers.
FirstNet will enhance public safety communications by delivering mission-critical data and applications that augment the voice capabilities of today’s land mobile radio (LMR) networks
When the FirstNet network is initially deployed, it will provide mission-critical, high-speed data services to supplement the voice capabilities of today’s LMR networks. FirstNet users will be able to send and receive data, video, images, text, as well as use voice applications. They will communicate over the network and benefit from the ability to share applications.
In time, FirstNet plans to offer Voice over LTE (VoLTE). VoLTE can be used for daily public safety telephone communication. FirstNet can’t predict the arrival of mission critical voice in part because the standards are still under development. Standards will determine the functionality and performance requirements for mission critical voice. FirstNet is actively involved in the standards-setting process. The industry at large is working to accelerate the development of this new worldwide standard.
FirstNet understands the importance of local control. We know that most incidents are local and need to be managed at the local level. How we enable local control has not yet been determined. In addition, FirstNet will be operated as a nationwide public safety broadband network with the ability for national and regional operations centers (NOC/ROC) to exercise control. These hierarchical control levels parallel many incident management plans already in use by public safety.
The FirstNet vision of a single, nationwide public safety broadband network with local control has many dimensions. If needed, FirstNet intends to make it possible to shift capacity to different parts of the network. Local control means that agencies will determine who has local priority to use the network to ensure public safety priorities are met. FirstNet is committed to enabling local control in a manner that aligns with public safety incident management protocols.
FirstNet will be judicious with taxpayer dollars while remaining focused on offering its services to public safety at a compelling cost
FirstNet plans to deliver valuable applications and services as well as a network tailored to the requirements of the public safety community. FirstNet acknowledges that public safety-grade reliability, security and resiliency come with a price. FirstNet plans to invest in building the first nationwide network with this level of performance. FirstNet also intends to meet its mandate to find a way to better service unserved and underserved areas. FirstNet will make every effort to keep user costs down. FirstNet plans to leverage its buying power as a nationwide network serving millions of public safety users. In addition, FirstNet will enable multiple jurisdictions to cost-effectively share access to applications and common databases such as motor vehicle and criminal background information.
The legislation that established FirstNet stipulated that FirstNet would be self-sustaining and that any fees collected by FirstNet shall not exceed the amount necessary to recoup expenses. FirstNet is working to establish a pricing model that will attract users and ensure the network is self-sustaining. FirstNet will strive to price its services in a manner that enables public safety users to benefit fully from everything the network has to offer.
To defend against today’s complex and rapidly changing security threats, FirstNet will be built with layers of security at every vulnerable point. Security will be designed into all radio access networks (RAN), the evolved packet core (EPC) network, service platforms, as well as the devices that use the network. Firewalls will enforce stringent security policies developed in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Defense (DoD) to meet National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) requirements. The FirstNet design will be guided by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) standards for encryption as well as other standards-based security measures and best practices. FirstNet also plans to work closely across Federal agencies with expertise in telecommunications security design modeling.
FirstNet also will enable robust identity management and authentication practices at the local level. Proper credentialing will be essential to enabling the network to carry protected confidential and private information. We are seeking input from the world’s leading experts. For example, FirstNet board member Teri Takai is a government information technology expert and previously served as the former CIO for the states of Michigan and California. She currently is the Chief Information Officer at the Department of Defense. We are fortunate to have her expertise and leadership on security topics.
The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) administered by NTIA provided funding for seven public safety projects in 2010. These funds were partially suspended two years later, after Congress enacted the law creating FirstNet. The suspension was needed to ensure that any further activities would be consistent with the mandates of the new law. FirstNet reviewed the proposed BTOP projects and determined that there was value in continuing to support them. As a result, FirstNet reached spectrum management lease agreements with the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (LA-RICS), Adams County Colorado (ADCOM-911), the State of New Jersey, and the State of New Mexico. Using non-BTOP funds, the State of Texas also struck a spectrum lease agreement allowing Harris County Texas to build an LTE data network.
FirstNet will provide technical support to these Early Builder projects and will share any lessons learned with the broader public safety community to enable the successful implementation of FirstNet’s nationwide deployment.
Backhaul carries the voice, data and video traffic on the network. Backhaul provides the connections between cell sites and the core wireless broadband network. Backhaul will also connect FirstNet to the Internet and other networks such as 911 centers. Typically these connections are made via fiber optic and microwave technology. To meet the reliability needs of public safety, backhaul will be redundant wherever feasible to ensure that network traffic continues to flow during periods of extreme network demand and stress.
Through its request for information (RFI) process, FirstNet is learning about the existing backhaul capabilities of suppliers and key stakeholders including managed service providers, power utilities, commercial providers and local government agencies and facilities. Whenever possible, FirstNet will work to leverage existing government and commercial backhaul to keep costs down. FirstNet is committed to building a network where multiple transmission paths keep the traffic moving so that first responders can rely on FirstNet.
FirstNet is developing a public/private partnership strategy to help accelerate its deployment of a broadband wireless network dedicated to public safety. When Congress created FirstNet, $7 billion was allocated to build the network. The law directed FirstNet to explore the use of existing state, local, federal and commercial assets as a way to keep costs down. We are open to all ideas and proposals. A national arrangement as well as regional partnerships involving multiple commercial carriers or utilities or federal agencies might also make sense.
FirstNet plans to evaluate where it can use existing infrastructure to build its new Band 14 network. We welcome the opportunity to leverage existing government and commercial buildings, towers, fiber or microwave backhaul and data centers to help reduce costs and enable FirstNet to launch service as quickly as possible.
During the consultation process, FirstNet will talk with state and local representatives about assets that might be leveraged. We will assess certain characteristics such as how much a site will cost, what kind of coverage it will provide and whether it meets public safety standards, to determine if it could be incorporated into the network infrastructure. All of these considerations will influence site selection. FirstNet will look at lessons learned from commercial tower operators to help us identify existing state assets and sites we can incorporate into our local radio access network planning.
Designing and deploying a network that lives up to these principles will require an extraordinary level of coordination and collaboration among all stakeholders.
FirstNet has established spectrum management lease agreements for the use of Band 14 spectrum with the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (LA-RICS), Adams County Colorado (ADCOM-911), the State of New Jersey, the State of New Mexico, and Harris County Texas. Each of these early builder projects serves to demonstrate and prove out specific key operational capabilities needed for the NPSBN in real public safety settings.
The following are highlights of these programs. For additional details of these projects visit FirstNet’s Reading Room, and download the Early Builder Projects Technical Summaries (found under the Technical Papers folder).
LA-RICS – This large communications project includes a Band 14 Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) component consisting of 63 fixed towers and 15 mobile units that use long-term evolution (LTE) technology. This network was completed on October 1, 2015 and is currently undergoing testing.
Key Learning Conditions (KLC) for this project include secondary responder partnerships, quality of service, and priority/pre-emption.
New Mexico - The New Mexico Department of Information Technology (DoIT) has completed the first phase of the state’s public-safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) network in Santa Fe. The state connected its LTE network evolved packet core (EPC) with the EPC in Adams County, Colorado. The phase one capability marks the first Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) project to demonstrate core-to-core interoperability between states. The state also completed a data call from New Mexico to Adams County over the network.
With phase one complete, the state is starting work on the second phase, which will deploy an LTE network in the Mexico/New Mexico border region. Working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and DoIT, the state will assess the public-safety network as it relates to managing public-safety operations in close proximity to the international border.
Key Learning Conditions (KLC) for this project include hosted core, international border spectrum management, and federal partnerships.
New Jersey - JerseyNet is being tested in Atlantic City, Camden and along the Route-21 corridor. In September 2015, the network was tested live during three events at Atlantic City Beach: two large music concerts and for the Atlantic City Airshow. By the city's accounting, the network performed perfectly as public safety officials watched over crowds of more than 100,000.
As of September 2015, JerseyNet was composed of seven deployable units. In Atlantic City, four cells on wheels (COWs) and one system on wheels (SOW) bridge public safety officials onto the 700 MHz LTE public safety band where otherwise they might not have connectivity for the transmission of voice, data and radio. Neighboring New Jersey cities of Pleasantville and Absecon also have one COW each. Eventually, there will be 34 COWs and 8 SOWs across the state.
The project team is now focused on optimization and operational readiness.
Key Learning Conditions (KLC) for this project include deployable assets, disaster recovery, training exercises, and network operations center notification.
ADCOM-911 - Adams County (Colorado) Communications Center (ADCOM 911) is a 16 site 4G LTE dedicated wireless broadband network that provides coverage throughout most of the County for their 2000 first responders, with seamless access to the systems that support daily responses to incidents.
Additionally, ADCOM 911 is working with Denver International Airport and its federal partners to build 4 more LTE sites on airport property. This will demonstrate collaboration between local and federal stakeholders to enhance airport public safety operations.
In November, 2014 the Northglenn Police Department (NPD) was connected to the network and became the first agency to begin testing the network using a full vehicle installation including an LTE modem. Per ADCOM 911 staff, the network coverage has far exceeded their expectations and system performance will continue to be tested as the network is adopted county-wide.
Key Learning Conditions (KLC) for this project include Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program/FirstNet test support, Band Class 14 device testing, and demonstration access.
Harris County - Now operational, the Harris County (Texas) "BIG-Net" currently has 18 of 37 planned sites operational, plus one mobile unit. Nearby Brazos County has another site for the purpose of testing extended range operation. LTE Band 14 In-Vehicle-Routers (IVRs) are being installed in patrol cars. The Harris County network is also providing valuable operational lessons. After the 37-site mobile coverage objective has been met (expected summer 2016), the County will begin building 60 additional sites to provide portable level operation. Although the County’s project is focused on data operation, they are also developing a voice (VoLTE) strategy.
FirstNet has established on-the-ground working relationships with Harris County and the State of Texas to understand the key lessons learned in building, deploying, and operating LTE data networks for public-safety-specific use.
Key Learning Conditions (KLC) for this project include core migration, data analytics, rural coverage, special events, and LTE training.
By the Numbers
FirstNet released the RFP for the NPSBN on January 13, 2016 and closed the submittal window May 31, 2016. Although the selected bidder and an award announcement were expected in November 2016, a challenge to the procurement process by one of the bidders resulted in FirstNet delaying the award. After resolving the legal challenge, on March 30, 2017 U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the First Responder Network Authority will partner with AT&T, setting in motion enforceable deadlines for the next phase of the NPSBN:
- Delivery of State Plans not later than September 26, 2017
- Governor Opt decisions deadline 90 days following receipt of State Plans (i.e., not later than Dec 25, 2017)
- Completion of the first of five annual implementation phases in the Fall of 2018.
- Continued Phased build-out spanning 60 months, to be completed not later than 2022.
Given these milestones along with AT&T's planned incorporation of existing commercial infrastructure, initial deployment and beneficial use of the NPSBN may start as early as late 2017 for Opt-In states. The implementation schedule for Opt-Out states will be delayed given the additional steps required to take a separate course.