A FirstNet training exercise for Tribal Public Safety

Posted on November 19, 2019

by Carrie Johnson, FirstNet Program at AT&T

For tribal first responders, communication can be tough in the mountainous terrain of California.

So public safety representatives from nine federally-recognized tribes in the southern and central region of the state came together Oct. 3 for a training exercise to see for themselves the benefits of FirstNet. The Inter-Tribal Long Term Recovery Foundation (ITLTRF) and the Southern California Tribal Emergency Management (SCTEM) group organized the event with the First Responder Network Authority and the FirstNet Program at AT&T.

“Our tribal communities in California have experienced fires, floods, mudslides and other natural disasters. These emergency events are unfortunately happening more regularly,” said Theresa Gregor, ITLTRF Executive Director. “During times of emergency, the ability for tribal emergency managers and first responders to communicate is critical.”

That’s where FirstNet comes in. It’s the wireless communications network built with and for first responders, including those in rural, tribal and remote areas. As part of the initial five-year buildout, the FirstNet Program is adding public safety’s Band 14 spectrum to existing tower sites and deploying new sites to further extend the network’s reach.

In addition, agencies on FirstNet have access to 75 dedicated deployable assets, including 72 Satellite Cells on Light Trucks and three Flying Cells on Wings. And they can request deployable assets at no additional charge.

Bridging networks

Gaming security officials at the event also want to bridge disparate radio networks that tribal public safety and casino security use.

“Keeping our patrons safe is a top priority for the tribal gaming industry,” said Ernie Stevens, Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, who attended the event. “Effective communication and coordination between tribal casino security and public safety is essential. FirstNet provides a new tool that can improve this essential coordination.”

Floyd Velasquez, who serves as the Emergency Services Administrator for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, had heard about FirstNet performance in other parts of the country and wanted to see a demonstration. He also leads the SCTEM group.

“I wanted to test the system firsthand to see how the network and technology work. And we invited other tribes to do the same,” said Velasquez, whose group worked with the others to organize the day-long training and exercise at the Morongo Tribal Hall.

The right tools

Attendees had a chance to see the tools in action. For example, the FirstNet LMR-to-LTE tool connects push-to-talk with existing Land Mobile Radio (LMR) networks. The solution can extend the reach of an existing LMR network, provide redundancy and improve interoperability.  

“I drove around with several members of my team and tested the enhanced push-to-talk application running off the Band 14 signal from the SatCOLT,” said Velasquez.

The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation is a FirstNet user and requested the FirstNet SatCOLT to be part of the exercise.

“FirstNet is still relatively new,” said Bill Denke, Chief of Police for the Sycuan Police Department. “The training was an opportunity for tribal public safety to see a SatCOLT up close and consider how deployable assets can be called upon during emergency events.”

Representatives from Sonim and Cradlepoint demonstrated the FirstNet Rapid Deployment Kit (RDK). The kit allows first responders to create a 300-foot communications bubble using FirstNet LTE or satellite connectivity. It supports communication in remote locations. And it can serve as an interim connectivity solution until a FirstNet SatCOLT arrives.

Grants help for FirstNet

Walter Lamar, former FBI Special Agent and Deputy Director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement program and now a public safety and security consultant, also talked about federal grants that can help tribal public safety agencies purchase FirstNet service and equipment.

“We need to make sure Indian Country isn’t left behind or left out as new technology emerges that can help keep our tribal officers and communities safe,” said Lamar. “Solutions like sensors in holsters that send an alert when to dispatchers when a weapon is drawn, can give officers working in remote reservation locations an important safety edge.”

Grant experts can help public safety agencies identify grants to help them expand their use of FirstNet. For help with grants, agencies should go to https://allthingsfirstnet.com/grants/help/ or send an email to grants@allthingsfirstnet.com.

Adopting FirstNet

FirstNet adoption among tribal public safety agencies has been strong. Just this year, FirstNet deployables helped boost connectivity for public safety during the Navajo Nation Fair, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s balloon festival, and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s July 4th powwow. Tribal first responders also used deployables during a wildland fire in the Pacific Northwest and for a search and rescue on the Yankton Sioux Reservation.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety, the first tribe to sign up for FirstNet, said that prior to FirstNet, it’s police department had limited connectivity in its police vehicles.

“Our officers were dependent on local police substations in each town to manage reporting and other administrative tasks,” the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety said in a press release announcing its use of FirstNet. “This would take them away from patrolling duties. FirstNet gives us the ability to stay on the road and maintain critical police work from behind the wheel.”