Infrastructure and access to deployables in Black Hills give Pennington County incentive to join FirstNet
“We put our chips on FirstNet because we believe the infrastructure is going to be there...”
The unique thing about Pennington County is that we have the Black Hills in our jurisdiction. And this obviously makes cell phone communication and digital communication difficult because of the terrain. The Eastern side is much more plains and flatland.
Another factor is that Rapid City is the biggest city, until you get to the other side of the state, or Denver or Salt Lake or Fargo. So, we're kind out here on an island – 300 to 400 miles away from the next biggest help. And we have to rely on each other when we have a major event, because we're all we have until you get help from other bigger places.
So, when we looked at the FirstNet plan, we knew we wanted great coverage. We wanted that FirstNet Band 14 quality. Technology has evolved so much with patrol cars and body cameras and car cameras, that we need a bigger wire to push information through. And we felt the FirstNet pipe would be the pipe that we needed.
So we put our chips on FirstNet because we believe the infrastructure is going to be there. What's not there now, will be there shortly. And we really believe that the government is going to hold FirstNet to a higher standard; that it’s going to meet our needs.
For us, the new infrastructure that FirstNet is putting in – especially the tower coverage – is the most critical thing.
We have deputies who need to make cell phone calls. And we need them to be able to access their mobile computers for our records management system. Plus, we use body cameras that upload through the cellular network. So we need a good, strong signal to get all that done.
There are places in the Hills that will never have coverage because it's physically impossible to get a cell signal down to it. We recognize that. But what we want is just the biggest, strongest signal that we can have in the areas that have it. For us, in the jurisdiction we're in and the agencies we work with, it was important that there was a plan built out over the next 2-3 years for coverage.
Communication is the foundation of any event. If you lose your communication, you can lose your management and command and control of an event.
We have tons of hunting and fishing in the Black Hills. Oftentimes, hunters or hikers get off the trail and get lost. Having the ability to call FirstNet and have them bring in a COW (Cell on Wheels) has been a great help in searching.
When we bring in dozens of people to search, we need a strong network to communicate. Cell phone communication back to headquarters is important so we can get information we need. So the ability to get those portable cell phone towers is a very important feature for us.
Having access to search and rescue apps is also important. And you can’t use those if you don’t have a good cell signal. There’s an incredible app you can download and pull up a map of the Hills. You can build a box that you want to walk so you can track where you’ve been. Technology's come so far, but without the ability to use a cell signal, sometimes it just doesn’t work.
When you have an event like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which brings in half-a-million plus people over the course of a couple of weeks, the stress of the network goes up. Plus, with more people, that leads to more crashes, more disturbances. And all of that combined can stress the network. So it’s good to be on FirstNet and Band 14, which gets us above that commercial level. It allows us to get the work we need done so we can serve the citizens of our county.
Having that high level of communication is super critical for us and for all the law enforcement agencies we work with. We want to make sure we can control an event and not have an event inside of an event simply because we couldn’t communicate.
FirstNet really is the foundation of all of our operations across Pennington County. It’s our primary cell phone provider for all our sergeants, command staff, investigators. We also use it as our platform for our Cradlepoints in our vehicles.
But probably the biggest benefit for us is the speed at which our cars are moving data. For the patrol folks out there – the guys and gals who wear the uniform – the car is their office. And they tell me that since we moved to FirstNet, information goes across and comes back across quicker at traffic stop time.
Our deputies don’t have the luxury of having a hardwired desktop computer. They have to rely on a strong cell signal. And that’s what FirstNet provides.
Captain Tony Harrison is Investigations Commander for the Pennington County Sheriff's Office and was most recently Commander of the Patrol Division. He has worked in Law Enforcement for nearly 24 years, starting in October 1996. He is also the Commander of the Rapid City / Pennington County Special Response Team (SWAT Team) and when there is a critical live-saving mission, the SRT counts on good cell signal and communication to resolve those dangers situations safely.