Madison County counts on interoperable, reliable communication and dedicated support

by Brent Jensen, Executive Director - Madison County Central Dispatch

One of my top priorities as executive director of the 911 center is the safety of all our responders – as well as our community.

Madison County has about 130,000 people. We have 15 police departments, 15 fire departments and numerous state agencies that we serve here in Madison County. And we manage the communications and the portal for all 30-plus agencies here at Central Dispatch.

By going on FirstNet, we've been able to really connect our field officers, EMTs, fire departments with our CAD system here in Madison County in places they haven't been able to before.

That goes a long way toward helping us make sure communications are interoperable. We want to make sure everything is working – and that everyone is getting what they need from the data communications.

There have been very few issues since we’ve been able to use some of these devices on FirstNet.

We've been able to install to install devices, routers, tablets that can connect vehicles back to our CAD vendor in the dispatch center. And we're able to get that connectivity seamless.

We realized after a tornado in 2019 that FirstNet really was invested in us. They wanted to make sure we had a successful outcome. And the attention they put into us after really helped solidify our relationship.

Dealing with COVID-19

With COVID-19, the EMS crews were one of our first concerns. They were using expensive radios in the field and needed to decontaminate them using harsh chemicals. We wanted to prevent damage and make sure things worked the way they should.

So, FirstNet provided devices that gave us the ability to have a field “decon-able” solution that really worked for the EMS crews. You can dunk the Sonim XP8s in a bleach and water solution and decon them that way. EMTs don't have to spend time trying to replace covers or anything like that. They're just able to clean them with the chemicals and get those germs off.

Additionally, we can put those devices in an EMS vehicle and not worry about durability or functionality. They have excellent battery life. And they're definitely built for field ruggedness.

Plus, everybody is able to share information. We’re able to have truly interoperable communication.

That led us to Mutualink. With Mutualink we were able to install this in the dispatch center and create a network between dispatch, EMS crews, the hospitals, and the health department and the coroner's office, all to have a seamless response during COVID.

Tools to stay connected

We use Mutualink Edge and we use Mutualink @Team Push-to-Talk, and that gives us the ability to coordinate with anybody else that we have on this program. The Mutualink Edge and Mutualink @Team apps are both FirstNet Certified and available in the FirstNet App Catalog.

Currently, we have all our EMS agencies, the central dispatch center, our hospitals, our coroner's office, and our health department on the Mutualink program. They're able to use it for PTT, text, video, and data communications, so they're able to respond to each other no matter what.

And we're able to set that up on the fly as well. One of the problems we ran into with the extra Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) EMS responders are wearing is that they can’t communicate verbally. The masks don't make radio communication as clear and concise as it should be.

Being able to use Mutualink for the text, video and file sharing has definitely helped with the medical side of things. That includes getting those patient reports into the hospital, communicating with the nurses and doctors in the field, and being able to provide better patient care overall.

Using apps that matter

We’ve watched the FirstNet App Catalog grow. We've watched developers start to take an interest in public safety and what's available out there. And there definitely is room for growth in our area with it.

We see several areas where we may be able to eliminate the need for standard computers in response areas, especially with some of the networking and VPN and security apps coming through the app catalog.

We may be able to eventually go to just tablets and cell phones for complete communication in the vehicles. That definitely makes things safer for the officers and firefighters. They're not focused on a laptop. We all know the problems we have with laptops and using computers in an office setting. They have to do that in a car or in a firetruck. And when you're able to use a device from FirstNet that just works, it helps out quite a bit.

Peace of mind

The priority and preemption that FirstNet offers gives us added peace of mind.

We're only 30-40 miles from Indianapolis. They have one of the biggest convention spots in the United States, in addition to professional sports teams – the Indy 500, and many other events. Many of our responders here in Madison County go down there to assist.

They go down for mutual aid or they go down to work security details. Having that priority and preemption through FirstNet on their devices really helps when you have 50,000 people, or 200,000 people in the case of the Indy 500 in one area.

It gives them the ability to be highly secure and know they'll have a reliable communication in their pocket if they do need to use it.

FirstNet gives us subject matter experts who know and care about what we're doing. They live in our communities and they want to see things succeed. Having people who understand why we need them and having the ability to rapidly do what has to be done in a crisis  gives us confidence in FirstNet.

Brent Jensen has been the director of the Madison County Dispatch Center since December 2017. Jensen began working as a dispatcher for Madison County Dispatch in 2005. He was later  tapped to supervise the training of new dispatchers and subsequently promoted to assistant director before assuming the leadership role in 2017. Jensen also serves his community as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.