What is First Net? And Why We Need To Care

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The first responders who were at that point where we were using some pilot testing, some early FirstNet, devices. They were able to enjoy all of the throughputs, all of the access, all of the attributes in common was again an unfettered and unthrottled cell network so that they could send videos back and forth. They could send emails back and forth. They could make phone calls me without any disruption.

David Buchanan
EM Weekly episode 106, FirstNet

Todd DeVoe:      Hi and welcome to the EM Weekly Show, your weekly emergency management podcast and this is your host Todd DeVoe. This week we are talking about FirstNet and cell and data coverage during an emergency. We all have had that issue where calls don’t get through and get you on the Internet is next to impossible is FirstNet the solution that we’re looking for. We’ll see.

Todd DeVoe:      Have you signed up for the EM Weekly Forum on the Emerging Technologies for Emergency Management yet? It has this March 28th at 10:00 AM Pacific and 1:00 PM Eastern. This is your chance to interact with the leading experts in the area of technologies and how they impact emergency management. I hope to see you there. Oh yeah. Did I mention that it’s free?

Todd DeVoe:      Hey, are you ready for the first EM Weekly Book giveaway? You need to be a member of the EM Weekly group on Facebook, and we’re giving away a few copies of Kelly McKinney’s book, The Moment of Truth.

Todd DeVoe:      You can catch Kelly’s interview here on the EM Weekly Show later this March. If you want a chance to win, just become a member of the EM Weekly group and enter to win.

Todd DeVoe:      Now onto the interview. I

Todd DeVoe:      I’m excited to have a couple of people from FirstNet here talking some really good communication solutions that it’s out there and, and I don’t know if you guys have not heard of FirstNet, but if you haven’t, by the end of this conversation you’ll learn all about it and why I think it’s an important tool that’s out there. So I have Aislynn Turner here and David Buchanan. Welcome to EM Weekly.

David Buchanan:              Thanks, Todd. Great to be on.

Todd DeVoe:      It’s kind of a kind of awkward questions since there’s two of you, but I would like to have a little bit of background for both of you. So whoever would like to start first, how did you guys get involved in FirstNet?

David Buchanan:              Sure. I can go first. Again, David Buchanan with FirstNet and glad to be on the podcast. Thank you for inviting us. I got involved five years ago when I joined FirstNet is the seventh employee. I’ve spent the last 20 years working in federal policy and federal programs in Washington supporting public safety and emergency management. I stood up the first congressional law enforcement caucus back in the ’90s, I worked for the office of community-oriented policing services at the Department of Justice for ten years in the early two thousand and then came over to FirstNet. And I’ve been very lucky to have such a fruitful career where I’ve been able to support first responders and those that keep our citizens safe and through the programs and activities we do. And so that’s how I got to FirstNet, and it’s been a terrific experience, and we’re looking forward to sharing more about what we’re doing at FirstNet. And how we’re helping first responders.

Aislynn Turner:  And for me, I honestly got started in emergency management first with the city of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department. I, was a poor Grad student living in Los Angeles, a very expensive city. And so, I was going to USC, and I needed a paid internship. So, I applied to a few things, and I just landed with a city of L.A. EMD, and I fell in love with that internship. And just the field of emergency management. I had never heard of the skilled before. This internship was pretty unique because I was working on all the same projects as all the staff members. It wasn’t like an internship. I was I think 30 to 40 hours a week. I’m going to school at night and writing disaster plans from scratch, which is cool as an intern. And I was organizing workshops with a bunch of different agencies to talk about the plans I was working on.

Aislynn Turner:  And so that was an amazing internship for me, and I knew that I wanted to make a career out of emergency management. And so, I worked for homeland security from after the city of L.A. EMD, and then I worked for GEMA, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, and I was their FirstNet program coordinator for GEMA. And that’s how I first heard about FirstNet. And I loved the idea of working on a communications network for public safety and building something new and exciting for public safety, but just something that was so needed. I mean, this network filled a huge gap in communications that’s been needed for so long and that just really drew me to this project. And the more I got involved with FirstNet at GEMA; I had wanted work for the federal side because you get to do a lot more with the federal team. And so that’s how I landed here, and it’s been wonderful.

Todd DeVoe:      That’s a cool story. That’s a cool story. So tell me a little bit about FirstNet and exactly what it is.

David Buchanan:              Sure. Todd, I’ll go first, then I’ll have Aislynn, jump in as well. FirstNet was created in 2012 to fill in the last remaining gap from the 9/11 commission findings on communications to create a dedicated broadband network for first responders. So FirstNet is essentially the fifth cell carrier. You have the four big commercial carriers, and we’re now the fifth carrier. The big differences are getting created by this law coming out of the 9/11 commission. It’s dedicated to public safety and built to public safety specifications. And what that means for first responders is that the network FirstNet is available all the time, every time or first responders. Today when first responders use commercial networks to communicate, they’re often congested, especially at times of emergencies. And I know emergency managers are well familiar with the shortcomings of that they experienced with commercial networks at disasters where there’s a lot of people using their phones at the same time first.

David Buchanan:              That eliminates that problem by creating again, a separate dedicated network for first responders. So that the data network everything we do with our cell phone or iPad or in-vehicle computers now run on this dedicated network. But it also means that it’s built for public safety’s use. So, there’s been built in a, in a secure way with, with an end to end encryption. So the first responders who need the security of a dedicated network know that it’s, it is secure. It’s been built redundantly with redundancy sent of deployable cell networks that can be sent to times of emergency to make sure the network is running even when mother nature has disrupted commercial networks, and it’s built with public safety applications or specific uses and specific applications. So, first responders can have on their smart devices the kinds of tools that make their jobs work more efficiently, have them work more safely and improve their livelihoods through these dedicated broadband network.

Aislynn Turner:  Dave gave a great summary. And the only thing I wanted to add about emergency management is that the reason FirstNet is so valuable to emergency managers is that, I mean emergency managers need to be able to communicate with all different types of agencies. People don’t normally think of emergency managers as people out in the field responding, but they are constantly responding with people who are in the field. And this network allows them to be bringing in data and information from lots of different forces and quickly being able to get all that data and it’s an immense amount, you know, video pictures and bring it all into one location such as the EOC where they can sift through it all quickly and sort through the data that they really need. And it’s just a very reliable network that brings interconnectedness with, you know, between lots of different agencies that are using it.

Todd DeVoe:      What’s FirstNet’s relationship with AT&T?

David Buchanan:              So, AT&T was selected by FirstNet two years ago to be our partner, the law called on the creation of a public-private partnership to deploy this network. And which we think is a great attribute. It isn’t a singularly a government program, nor is it singularly a private sector program. But it brings the best of both of those segments together to create this public-private partnership. So, the government in the form of the First Responder Network Authority, we brought the spectrum, and we brought $7 billion to the partnership, and AT&T brought their existing network and a 25-year commitment to building out the new spectrum to the public safety specifications. So, there are, they’re our partner, they’re the commercial side of this public-private partnerships. It’s building and deploying the network, and our job on the government side is to manage that and ensure that it gets built to public safety specifications and to be public safety’s advocate through this 25-year contract with AT&T.

Todd DeVoe:      Now, I know that there have been some issues here in California specifically with a cell carrier that during an emergency throttled back data coverage. How do AT&T and FirstNet reduce that? I guess that cause of throttling back when all the data are being used,

David Buchanan:              Todd is the perfect illustration of why first responders need the nationwide public safety broadband network FirstNet. At that time of crisis during those California wildfires. There were reports that some of the commercial carriers, were throttling the use of data of firefighters while they were doing their jobs. FirstNet because it’s a dedicated network for first responders, ensures that those firefighters and those instances or any first responder at any time emergency we’ll have unfettered access with priority and preemption over that networks meaning that those static communications will be unfettered unthrottled during that emergency. And it means that first responders can count on FirstNet is a mission-critical service that like the other mission-critical tools they count on to be able to do there, help them do their jobs at a time of emergency. FirstNet is, available to those first responders and because it was built for public safety and public safeties to their requirements, it will always work during those times of emergency and work the way first responders expected to.

Todd DeVoe:      So, if you’re with a different carrier now and you’re interested in coming over to FirstNet, what’s that process like?

David Buchanan:              People are doing that every day. People are making a decision now that we’re up and running and the network is in place — they’re making a decision every day to move from their commercial network to FirstNet. There’s a couple of ways it can happen. One is they’re AT&T has a dedicated FirstNet sales team that’s in every state in the country meeting with agencies to help them decide whether they want to come over as an enterprise-wide customer. But first responders can also as individuals go into any AT&T store with their first responder credentials demonstrate and illustrate that they are, they are currently first responder and, and we would call first responders, those in emergency management, those in, in the fire fighting services, those in emergency medical services and those in law enforcement as well as those that work in and around emergency communications or PASPs. Those five disciplines all can walk into an AT&T store show their first responder credentials and, obtain service that way. So, we’ve tried to make it easy for first responders to become customers, whether they want to do it as an agency-wide or where they want to do as an individual. We’ve also put in place a validation process and make sure that only the right people are getting on the network and only current first responders and have access to it.

Aislynn Turner:  And we’ve had great feedback, pretty great back so far about the process being pretty smooth and people having the support that they need to get signed up and to get onboard. There’s been, of course, a couple of small glitches along the way, but the beauty of having us on the government side available that we’ve been able to jump in when needed and help quickly resolve any issues that have come up with onboarding and making sure that people can quickly get transitioned over to the network.

Todd DeVoe:      So if you decided to go over as an agency, even the larger small, is it a long process or is it just, you know, just like changing out your phones? Like is that, what’s that look like for the transition?

David Buchanan:              The length of the process is dictated by how long it would take a municipality or a state or county or whoever the agency is to make any kind of purchase. The long part of the process is the purchasing process at, at the local end. From our side, from the FirstNet side, it’s just simple as bringing your new devices. As soon as you sign up and it as easy it is to walk into a store now and buy a new cell phone, it’s, it’s that easy to sign up for. FirstNet. Were It has taken some time as you know, agencies that are buying hundreds or if not thousands of devices. The procurement process, the contracting process, the provisioning process can take a little bit of time, but we’ve seen it happen as quickly as an hour if agencies are ready to purchase,

Todd DeVoe:      wow, that’s an hour us. I think that’s lightning speed when it comes to Moscow race. So I was taking a look at the www.firstnet.com website. You know, there’s, there’s a lot of cool information over there outside of firstnet.com how would people, you know, learn more about what you guys are doing.

Aislynn Turner:  We also have a firstnet.gov website that gives a lot of great resources on there for each discipline. So if you can go to www.firstnet.gov, we’ve got dropped down to the bar, you can click on emergency management, fire, law enforcement, I’ll take you to a webpage with resources we’ve designed just for each discipline, kind of the detailed information about the network and what you need to know as an emergency manager, as a police officer. So that’s, that’s also a great place. I would say it’s firstnet.gov

Todd DeVoe:      When you’re on the field, and you are using the FirstNet system, do you guys have, I a cell on wheels (COWS) and cell on the trucks? Like how does that, how does that work? How do you guys support a major incident?

Aislynn Turner : So we actually have 72 dedicated deployable for the FirstNet network, and we’ve got hundreds more that work with the AT&T network, but 72 that are capable for FirstNet specifically that are available upon request for free of charge to anybody that needs it to support a special event that’s preplanned or to support a disaster that happens, we can get it to you quickly and efficiently. As soon you submit the request, it triggers a process on our end where we quickly deploy that resource out to you. And that has been probably one of the main things I get people excited about FirstNet, especially in emergency managers, is that they have access to be 72 deployable units that are stationed all over the country in different places. So we can quickly get them to you when you need it pretty quickly.

David Buchanan:              The other wonderful part about the partnership with AT&T and the way we rolled out this network is the partnership also comes with 50,000 to 60,000 AT&T sights that they currently have. And with this contract with them, they made those sights available, Also, as part of this network with priority and preemption for first responders on the commercial network. So, the day we signed the contract with AT&T not only came to this 25-year commitment and the commitment to build out the new spectrum for public safety. It also come with the instantly lighting up the current network to get a high degree of coverage with redundancy to the network, in most cases first responders will never have to see a cell on wheels or a light truck to get these services. They’re going to have it every day because AT&T’s coverage is so strong.

Todd DeVoe:      Well that’s good news right there for sure. I mean I’ve been frustrated trying to use cell phones, you know, in some areas and it just doesn’t work. And communication is always a problem. Speaking of that, what are some of the challenges that you guys have seen with communication using not just the FirstNet obviously, but using a cell?

David Buchanan:              Well, I think one of the biggest challenges is that people see on commercial networks is competing with commercial customers for bandwidth. So, you’d see a video from last year Super bowl parade in Philadelphia where you know, two days after the Superbowl end that there’s now a parade in downtown Philadelphia with a million people there. People couldn’t text photos; people couldn’t make phone calls; people couldn’t respond to emails. But first responders who were at that point, we were, we were using some pilot testing, some early FirstNet devices. They were able to get all the, enjoy all the throughput, all of the access, all of the attributes that come with again an unfettered. And unthrottled cell networks so that they could send videos back and forth. They could send emails back and forth; they could make phone calls without any disruption because there is now a dedicated network just for first responders. And I think that’s the…When we look across the country at a challenge, that FirstNet is solving the best and solving first for first responders, it is that it is that preemption — and knowing that the folks that are keeping our communities safe have this new mission-critical service available to them that works when they need it, where they need it and how they need it.

Aislynn Turner:  Another challenge I would say is that emergency managers, in particular, have to work with a lot of partners such as the Department of Transportation and public works, Red Cross. I mean there’s a very long list, and if you think about an emergency operation center, you’ve got lots of different representatives, and they’re from different agencies. And one of the neat things about FirstNet is that we are making it available to what we call extended primary users. Though the primary users would be the five disciplines that Dave mentioned earlier, police, fire, EMS nine one one and emergency management. But then extended primary users are all those people and agencies that support such as transportation and public works and you know, there’s the list goes on and on. And so it’s a challenge sometimes making sure that we’re getting everybody who should be on this network signed up and using it.

Aislynn Turner:  We’ve, we’ve gotten some push back from people about making sure that we’re not letting just anyone on my people individual to our cleaning to be public safety, but who isn’t. So, we’ve seen a validate, make sure we’re getting the right people on the network, but we also have to make sure that we include all those extended, primary my partners that are emergency managers work with regularly. So a lot of that involves just making sure we’re talking with emergency managers about who their partners are, who they want on the network, making sure we come up with a comprehensive list because we do have a subscriber paid option for this network, meaning that individuals can signup if their agency hasn’t signed up, they can individually get an account with FirstNet. But that requires a lot of validation. And making sure that just your average Joe down the street isn’t signing up to try to download Beyoncé videos at high speed on FirstNet instead of using it for, you know, public safety reasons.

Todd DeVoe:      So that’s funny. So, if I sign up, I go to my local AT&T office and say, Hey, I want to come over and here are my credentials, and I belong at FirstNet. Do I bring my family plan on board that or is it just my phone? How does that work?

Aislynn Turner:  Yes, there are family plans available too, but like I said, with your sign up as an individual or family, there’s going to be, you know, validation that occurs and I think there are maybe slightly different rates for family members. I do know that family option is available, and you can go to firstnet.com for some of that rating info. I think, I’m not sure if they have family options on that one side, but um, there’s, you know, you can call or go to an AT&T store and they would, they give you more info.

David Buchanan:              The family plan. We’ve made the subscriber paid option available so that individuals could come in and purchase FirstNet. We know a lot of people also like to purchase family plans when they come in as individuals. You can get a family plan through FirstNet. However, only the first responder on the family plan would have access to the dedicated public safety network. The other members of your family or your spouse or your children or, or whoever would merely be on the AT&T commercial network. So it would be a hybrid and networks available on, but that family plan. But yes, the answer to your question is yes, you can come in as a family plan under FirstNet.

Todd DeVoe:      Okay, cool. Kind of got me thinking there for it. I’m like, wow, you can like get everybody on the family on the FirstNet and then you guys can communicate. But that’s a good answer. I kind of made me feel a bit better on that answer, David. I was thinking, wow, there’s, there are some people who have big families, you can, you can take over an entire area.

Aislynn Turner:  That’s true.

Todd DeVoe:      So how do, how do we get in touch with, with you guys?

David Buchanan:              So Aislynn and I work again for the First Responder Network Authority where the government side of the, of the FirstNet private-public partnership, the best way to reach us is through our website firstnet.gov. And our job at FirstNet is to work directly with first responders. Again, police, fire, EMS, the 911 community and emergency managers to make sure we are bringing you information about this network, that we’re capturing your feedback about the network. And, I think the most important part of this equation is that the information we get back from first responders, the information we’re going to use to improve and enhance and invest in the network over the life of this 25-year contract. So again, our job is to work with first responders, and our website’s the best way to get ahold of us

Todd DeVoe:      if I’m, so if somebody wanted a, if an emergency management organization wanted to have one of you guys come out or somebody from your organization to present to them, is us the best way to get ahold of you two is through that or is there, are there local partners that will come and speak to say a local emergency management group?

Aislynn Turner:  I must say we have regional leads that are dedicated to each area of the country. So like a southwest, southeast region, only northeast, Midwest, we’ve got, we’ve got some that are all over the place. And so you can also go to firstnet.gov And find who those people are. If you just go to the consultation tab, that’s at the top of our firstnet.gov website. And you can just find a regional lead on there and contact them directly, and they can get you set up asap, and they can also get you in touch with the correct regional AT&T side, our partner takes the sales call. But we also like to come out to meetings too. If you want to meet with us, we can spend, you know, an AT&T rep and a government authority rep as well.

Todd DeVoe:      Well that’s great. Okay. Here comes the toughest question of the day and I guess I guess we got two guys that have to answer it. What Book, Books or publication do you recommend to somebody in the field of emergency management?

David Buchanan:              I’ll take that one Todd, the book I read recently, I knew it was popular with a lot of folks on our staff, a lot of folks on our team and read it and maybe some of your listeners have too. It’s not specific to emergency management or public safety, but I think it’s a terrific book that has rooted our team and being as mission-oriented as possible. Simon Sinek Start with Why and for those of you that haven’t read it, I think it’s a terrific book. It describes how some of the world’s best organizations and best leaders focus on their mission and focus on why they’re doing what they’re doing. And at first that we think about mission and we think about why we’re doing every single day. And for those sources started with the organization and that very first year that why was the driver behind everything we did and everything we do.

David Buchanan:              And I think for anyone in public service, you know, being mission oriented and being focused on, you know, hiring for mission, organizing your work around mission and really being focused on why we’re, why we’re here and to do the work that we’ve been asked to do, that becomes the most important differentiator. And when I think about the difference between our network and the commercial networks, that why question being a dedicated network for public safety, that’s the real differentiator. You know, we don’t have shareholders. We’re concerned about; we don’t have a profit. We’re concerned about; we have stakeholders. And then in the form of first responders that are our mission. And so for me, Todd, that the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek. I think it’s a great reminder. And then we’ll straight some, some important lessons on our why organizations should be focused on the mission.

Aislynn Turner:  Todd, I would say there’s a, there’s a professor that I had at USC, my very favorite classes, my Homeland Security class. And this professor is amazing. His name is Erroll Southers and his very widely known in the field, very prominent. He’s been advisors to know prominent leaders, elected officials. He’s got a book called homegrown violent extremism that is fantastic. And he just, his speaking style in his writing style or both, just fantastic. And he delves deep into it with lots of research, and he’s just an amazing person all around. So, I love anything that he comes out with. But it’s funny that you asked this, Todd, because of a couple of days ago on Monday, Dave and I were prepping for this podcast and talking about this question about books that we recommend, and we were just joking it out. How mostly what we read is stuff through our churches and, and Dave and was saying how he just got done with the book of Philippians. So, we were like probably not what Todd was looking for that’s the vast majority of my books, I probably not exactly what you’re looking for. I like books like experiencing God and, but they’re the articles I read, or I read tons of articles related to emergency management daily. Homeland Security today is one of my favorite journal publications, and I stay up to date mostly through article writing, but

Todd DeVoe:      well, good stuff right there for sure. Awesome. Okay, great. Well, all right, so what would you like to say directly to the emergency manager before we let you go?

David Buchanan:              I would say, you know, we’re, we’re excited. I hope you can tell from this podcast how excited we are to do our jobs. We love working with folks in the public safety field. We love working with emergency managers, and I feel and on our whole team feels very passionate about our work. I, the one thing I also wanted to mention just makes a quick plug. We also have a podcast where we interview, first responders every week about their experience with FirstNet I would direct folks to the podcast titled Public Safety First. I’m the host of that. We can find it on iTunes and SoundCloud and our website, but I think it’s for anyone that wants to learn more about what we’re doing and enjoys podcasts, it’s a great way to be able to hear directly from the public safety community and first responders and how they’re using FirstNet, why it’s important, how it’s making their lives and jobs even better.

Aislynn Turner:  I would say I’m very excited about all the interconnectivity that FirstNet is bringing to emergency management, especially if you think of all the data that we bring in compared to 10 years ago. I mean an EOC processes so much data on so many different places coming in, video, audio clips, picture reports, intelligence reports, and it’s, it’s immense. And so, FirstNet is a very reliable, high-speed broadband network that is exactly what, what emergency managers needed to do their job well and quickly and efficiently.

Todd DeVoe:      Well, David and Aislynn thank you so much for being here with us today, David, for sure, we’ll direct people back over to the public safety first. But it was a; it was a pleasure having you guys on the show.

Aislynn Turner:  Yeah, I appreciate it.

David Buchanan:              Thanks, Todd.

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