Helping 9-1-1 in Illinois Quad Cities connect with first responders

May 18, 2021

by Steve Seiver - Village Administrator, Village of Milan, IL and Chairman, Rock Island County Emergency Telephone System Board

The Village of Milan is a community in central Rock Island County.  We're a part of the Quad City Metro Area, a two-county region equally split between Illinois and Iowa.  We're nestled among 5 larger cities, which always takes a bit of explaining as to why we’re known as the "Quad Cities." And we share a lot of common problems and regional issues with our neighboring communities.

As village administrator I am involved daily with each of the individual city departments. We provide basic city services, and our departments include police (there is a separate fire district), public works, water and sewer and parks. So we provide a good quality of community service to both businesses and residents in our area, and benefit from the amenities of the larger metro area.

I'm also involved in the budgeting for the community. Working with our elected officials, volunteers and boards and commissions, we establish and carry out a mission and vision for the community.

FirstNet® provided us an opportunity to up our game – to make sure that we have reliable coverage and communications. That includes both for day-to-day operations and emergency services.

We've been involved with FirstNet for two years now. 

FirstNet Push-To-Talk                                                                                                       

FirstNet gives us the coverage we need in a very cost-effective way. Because in local government, finance is always a consideration, though it should never trump public safety.

Currently, we're using FirstNet both for administrative purposes and to communicate during the pandemic. We have a number of phones on FirstNet. And we're in the process of rolling out 15 phones onto FirstNet Push-To-Talk. We think that will probably grow beyond the 15 phones, but now we're excited to get it out in the field.

We were quite satisfied with the coverage and the additional functionality that it brings us. And the potential in the future to incorporate it with any kind of an emergency response.

The push-to-talk feature of the FirstNet phone gives us an advantage in effectively communicating with a large group in real-time, versus trying to text or make individual calls. It gives us many of the advantages of a local land mobile radio. But it also gives us all the advantages of a smartphone and the FirstNet network, which was one of the very key features we needed.

This is the reliability, the coverage, the 7x24 support, and the affordability of the FirstNet solution.

The 9-1-1 Board                                                                                                            

The Rock Island County Emergency Telephone System Board has oversight responsibility for 9-1-1 for Rock Island County and for coordinating with adjoining counties that provide 9-1-1 services. We were the first county in the state of Illinois to adopt Enhanced 9-1-1 in January of 1990. So, while we are very proud of having a 31-year track record providing Enhanced 9-1-1 services in Rock Island County, we have to adapt to the way the world and the technology have changed.

My role as chairman on the board is to try to help facilitate 9-1-1 dispatchers and first responders, giving them the tools they need for emergency response. And FirstNet plays a role in that.

Since we’re a part of a metropolitan area, we have a very close partnership with the people who provide emergency services in Scott County, Iowa, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa. Our two county area has a population of about 300,000. So, while we're a small community, we're actively involved with a lot of players in providing the best quality service we can.

Call handling

The Mississippi River divides the metropolitan area almost equally. As such, we have bluffs and ravines, and cellular coverage can bounce between cell towers. If a mobile call originates in the Illinois Quad Cities, a cell tower in the Iowa side might handle it. And the same goes for Iowa callers “hitting” Illinois cell towers.  As a result, 9-1-1 agencies always have a lot of calls to exchange.

So, the chance for a good outcome for somebody calling 9-1-1 starts with the call handling. That means getting the call reliably to the public safety agency that handles the 9-1-1 calls, so they can get people to the scene.

FirstNet will aid us in handling communications to our assets that roll on the street. Whether it's an ambulance or a police car or a firetruck that responds, those assets will have FirstNet-capable functions embedded in them for those communications.

In public safety, it's always a matter of trying to get the right response as quickly as possible. And  FirstNet helps us with that reliability. 

Why FirstNet?

One of the things I would encourage other providers, whether it's the 9-1-1 agencies or the emergency service providers in other areas, is to think outside the box.

It's important for 9-1-1 agencies across Illinois, the Midwest and the entire country to consider how they can use FirstNet. One of those is as back-up – to provide redundancy and reliable communications. Whether that is a data path or a voice path, we can incorporate both into our 9-1-1 process. And FirstNet excels at providing that reliably.

For us, FirstNet is more than just a technology. It's a group of people who support public safety across the nation. They're there seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with solutions and support that we can't do any other way.

While there are a variety of cellular services we could rely on, what FirstNet brings to the table for us is invaluable. It's also affordable. We couldn't do it without the support of the people who are FirstNet. It is an entire commitment to serving public safety across the United States.

Steve Seiver is the Village Administrator for the Village of Milan, IL, and Chairman of the Rock Island County Emergency Telephone System Board. He has been in 9-1-1 and public safety for 43 years.