When FirstNet® was brought to my attention… It took about 30 seconds for me to say, ‘Let’s do it.’

by David Goodspeed - President of OEC Fiber, Vice President for Information Technology, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative

For Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, staying connected is critical. No matter which part of the company you’re in. You have to be connected. You have to understand what’s happening because so many of our safety issues rely on that communication – whether you’re working with highway patrol, county sheriffs or local police departments.

If the highway patrol has a question, they need to get to us immediately. So we can get out of their way – or they can get out of our way – in the event of an emergency.

That’s why we’re on FirstNet.

OEC is centrally based in Oklahoma. We serve seven counties – just over 47,000 members, and 60,000 meters. When we talk about members, we’re talking about actual people. One member could have five meters.

Our membership is extremely diverse. Being in a college town, you get a little bit of everything. You get college students who move in and out pretty fast. You get members who have been with Oklahoma Electric Cooperative for 50 years. And you get people who are moving in from out of state. 

Communication demands

The day-in and day-out communication needs for a utility like Oklahoma Electric Cooperative are very demanding – from our linemen in the field using the hardware devices to our meter techs out in the field.

As time has evolved, we’ve come to think like first responders. So, when things happen – storms, downed poles, hit poles, downed lines – we are one of the first calls made. They’re calling us and asking, “Before we send our highway patrolman in there, are we safe?”

And the relationship we have with FirstNet is great. It helps us support highway patrol, county sheriffs, and local police departments. They have a direct communication with us as they are doing what they need to do to keep the public safe.

Sometimes you may not need to dispatch the fire department, but you need to dispatch your local utility. We work closely with all of them. Being able to be in the same conversations has really elevated our service to our members. And it’s all about elevated service for public safety. 

Prioritized communication

Our linemen are out there working in the worst elements possible. They’re doing what they need to do to ensure people are safe and that the connectivity is back – electricity to the home or the business.

So we’ve got to have that prioritized connectivity. And FirstNet allows us to communicate easily and seamlessly.

Before joining the FirstNet program, a lot of our linemen in the field were not able to call into our control center and talk to them about a substation, or talk to them about downed lines. What the FirstNet program has allowed us to do is take that next level up in priority. Your call goes through without a busy signal or a lost connection.

Having that at our disposal is keeping our team members safe in the field. It’s also helped public safety, ensuring that if they need to reach out to us, they can get to us. 

Joining FirstNet

Oklahoma is known for just about any kind of natural disaster – tornadoes, ice storms, etc. And FirstNet has really allowed us to be able to communicate directly, quickly, effectively and efficiently with public safety. So, if we needed to keep an area blocked off while our linemen went in and did what they needed to do, which is a very dangerous situation, we could do that.

It’s not just about keeping our linemen safe, it’s also about keeping the public safe. It’s keeping communications open to where there’s no question of what’s happening, so we can all go home at night.

When FirstNet was brought to my attention, there was no question. It probably took all of about 30 seconds for me to say, “Let’s do it.” It makes sense. It’s the right thing to do. To put it in easier terms, it was just a no-brainer.

There is no doubt in my mind that if you are in any kind of public serving utility – or you’re in the business of life safety –this is an easy decision. 

Peace of mind

FirstNet has allowed us to have that reliable connection, which is more important than most anything. Before anybody goes into a dangerous situation, they have to know what they’re walking into.

If you were to talk to a lineman who’s been here 10,  15, or 20 years, they were dealing with these connectivity issues. Now, before they get there, they’re already talking on the phone. They have the ease and ability to just make the call and not worry about the connection.

If they’re out in the middle of the field with their gear on and they can’t get a bucket truck down, they’ve got their tablet and they’ve got their cell phone. They may be in the middle of an absolute nightmare and they have to be able to know what they’re walking into. The FirstNet program has allowed us to remove that barrier.

A lot of people may not see it on the surface. But they might see their lights come on faster. The roads open up quicker. And public safety can do their jobs easier.

The one thing I don’t worry about anymore is the ability to communicate with my team members and with public safety. 

David Goodspeed is Vice President of Information Technology for Oklahoma Electric Cooperative and President of OEC Fiber, a subsidiary of Oklahoma Electric Cooperative. He is a pioneer in leading the efforts to bring fiber to the home and business, internet service and more to OEC members and non-members