With FirstNet, we’re able to go from “1,000 words, to a picture is worth 1,000 words”

Posted on May 10, 2019

by Rodney Reed, Assistant Chief of Operational Support, Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office

Harris County was one of the early adopters of FirstNet and access to Band 14. So, we got an early understanding of what it means to have an LTE network specifically designed for public safety and to support our first responders.

As we began to shift to FirstNet, we started looking for ways to migrate first responders and allow them to quickly take advantage of the extra band class. One of the gaps we have identified in technology adoption is figuring out how to create a pipeline that will allow us to move the amount of bandwidth we need.

That's where FirstNet is going to help us.

It's going to give us that resilient network. It’s going to give us the pipeline we need, when we need it. It’s going to allow us to work together and integrate. So that when we are in those mission-critical environments and have to share information, FirstNet is going to allow us to do that.

Testing the network

For the Port of Houston exercise, we brought together fire, EMS, law enforcement, hazmat from multiple agencies and emergency operation centers from the county and the city. Each one of us have our own procurement process. And as we adopt new technologies, one of the big challenges we face is bridging operational communication gaps.

The port environment created a unique situation that allowed us to look for those gaps. We have land-based operations, we have water-based operations, and we have ship boarding. All of these create some really unique problems.

But with the sensors that were on our first responders and on our simulated patients and victims, we could move that data back to the situational awareness screens. So, that allowed us to go from 1,000 words to a picture is worth 1,000 words.

It was an absolute eye-opener for us to visualize this data on these single screens. To have constant connectivity. To be able to see our first responders and our patients – despite the geographic distances.

The information management was absolutely phenomenal.

The new standard

For the longest time, LMR – or land mobile radio – was the standard for us to share information. But we’re going into a digital age where we’re sharing data and analytics, first responder physio capabilities, vital tags with patient information, so we have to transcend LMR.

That’s what FirstNet is going provide. Now we can go to our vendors and say, “Here is public safety’s network, you need to start focusing your research and development on the capabilities we've been asking for.”

Another bonus: Since moving to FirstNet, our agency has seen that we're able to move video and data in an environment where we're not afraid we're going to get throttled.

That's a critical piece.

I would say FirstNet is now the new standard.

Rodney Reed is Assistant Chief of the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office and was previously the deputy chief for planning. He was a Captain in the U.S. Army. Reed graduated with a master’s degree in Crisis/Emergency/Disaster Management from Columbia Southern University in Alabama and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and Media Studies from Texas A&M University.