In the aftermath of the horrific attacks on September 11, 2001, the significant failures in public safety communications became apparent and were documented in the 9/11 Commission Report. These communications failures directly impacted firefighters and police officers in New York City and at the Pentagon. Among the many findings, the report identified the need for additional radio spectra for public safety to ensure effective communications during major incidents.

In 2006, a group of public safety leaders across all disciplines united to push for legislation creating a nationwide public safety broadband network. This public safety broadband network needed to be robust and resilient and provide responders with priority and preemption. In 2012, Congress passed legislation to build the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet. In 2017, a 25-year contract was awarded to AT&T to build and operate FirstNet nationwide — a private/public initiative.

The FirstNet legislation provided 20MHz of dedicated 700MHz broadband spectrum for public safety. While AT&T was required to provide 20MHz of spectrum by law, they went a step above and made their entire network spectrum available for public safety. FirstNet provides priority and preemption, so that agencies can use broadband, even if the network is otherwise overloaded. In the past, when the network’s capacity was exceeded, public safety communications could (and likely would) fail, just like civilian calls and data transmissions.

The FirstNet rollout and the expansion of 4G network support by all carriers has created a foundation for mobile innovation across public safety, and today allows fire departments to transition with confidence toward smart mobile technology and applications that can significantly improve operational effectiveness and safety.

Emergency Response

Firefighters utilize a great deal of mission-critical data during an emergency incident. During initial response, they receive an information download from the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) that is transmitted via LTE broadband to digital displays in fire stations, in-vehicle computers, and firefighters’ mobile devices. Information continues to flow as the response progresses so that firefighters can maintain situational awareness, and access to all this data must be immediate to be effective. 4G LTE networks deliver the broadband connectivity needed to support these vital transmissions.

Fire departments are improving communications by deploying a range of mobile apps that can provide near real-time information directly from CAD, locate responders and emergency vehicles, and deliver building plans and hydrant/water supply locations to users in the field. Other applications have been developed to provide information on who is responding to the emergency incident.

Emergency Mitigation

Once arriving at an incident, additional information may be needed to effectively mitigate the emergency. At a hazardous material incident, for instance, data to identify the substance released, evacuation zone and recommended mitigation procedures can be accessed on apps such as WISER. Operated by the National Institutes of Health, WISER provides a wide range of information on hazardous substances, including substance identification support, physical characteristics, human health information and containment and suppression advice.

During a train derailment, knowledge of what is on each rail car is critical to the safety and effectiveness of responders. The AskRail app is a collaborative effort among various public safety organizations and all North American Class I railroads, and is already in use by nearly 20,000 first responders in the U.S. and Canada. The app provides links directly to the DOT Emergency Response Guide, as well as real-time information on what’s being carried on each rail car, the nearest evacuation zones and railroad contacts for all Class I railroads.

For major disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, critical information can be accessed on the FEMA app, which provides important information on what to do before, during and after a disaster.

Fire departments can also use mobile apps that report damage to critical infrastructure, roads and bridges.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, are now being used to provide near real-time streaming video that can be livestreamed over LTE broadband directly to smartphones and tablets. Drone video streaming provides perspectives that are unattainable at ground level at structure fires, wildfires, hazmat incidents, floods and protests. FirstNet enables live transmission of bandwidth-intensive video data that would often be inaccessible in emergency scenarios on standard networks.

Wearables

The future of wearables is very promising for firefighters, offering physiological monitoring, communications and alerts and more. Smartwatches such as Samsung’s Galaxy Watch can monitor firefighters’ heart rates, movement and location, and dangerous conditions can be transmitted to the incident commander (IC). Wearable technology enables the firefighter to instantly view alerts and notifications, as well as communicate by voice.

Monitoring the physical locations of firefighters is a priority. Utilizing a wearable location-enabled device, a firefighter can be tracked and pinpointed on multiple axes — latitude, longitude and elevation — and even, in some cases, tracked indoors using building imagery and floor plans. FirstNet has defined this as a requirement by the year 2021, and it is already being achieved through the use of barometric pressure sensor technology.

From emergency response to mitigation to recovery to firefighter safety, going mobile-first makes a lot of sense for firefighters. To provide exceptional communications for firefighters, Samsung has made the Note9 and the Galaxy S9/S9+ FirstNet-enabled, and more FirstNet-enabled devices are in the product roadmap. Samsung also works closely with all the mobile carriers and many leading public safety software providers to make the jump to mobile-first simple and to drive innovation supporting firefighters in the field.

Learn more about the public safety technology that’s improving first responder safety and access to information.