Connecting New England subscribers and supporting public safety and healthcare during COVID-19 pandemic

by The FirstNet Editorial Team

Tens of thousands of first responders across New England are now subscribed to FirstNet, bringing them the prioritized connectivity, reliability, and accountability they trust to carry out their mission.

And we’ve deployed Band 14 spectrum – the nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the U.S. government specifically for FirstNet – in areas across New England. This helps ensure first responders have as much coverage and capacity as possible, as well as a dedicated lane of connectivity whenever they need it.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, FirstNet has been at the ready to support public safety across New England.

Major Medical Centers

FirstNet provided devices to Yale New Haven Medical Centers, South Shore Hospital, the City of Boston, Boston Hope Field Hospital and many other COVID-19 care facilities throughout New England.

In Bar Harbor Maine, we deployed a mobile satellite cell tower to Mount Desert Island Hospital to maintain emergency communications during the influx of COVID-19 patients.

“Serving an Island community is challenging, within the first few days of the COVID-19 lockdown, AT&T reached out to offer support. When we reported that our Emergency Department had poor to no cellular signal, the FirstNet team went into action. Within days we received a portable tower, repeaters and a superb cell signal in our Emergency Room,” said Will Houston, Manager of IT Security at Mount Desert Island Hospital.

Testing Facilities

At Yale University in Connecticut, FirstNet deployed a mobile satellite cell tower to help ensure reliable communication for a pop-up testing site and nearby medical centers during the crisis. The state governments of Vermont and New Hampshire and the State of Rhode Island Emergency Management activated hundreds of additional FirstNet Ready™ devices for their COVID-19 response.

During New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s COVID-19 press conference he noted “Our FirstNet mobile system and communication response system is allowing better connectivity with broadband and cellular service in those areas that typically had worse service.”

“The City of Chelsea had one of the largest concentrations of COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We turned to FirstNet to provide connectivity at the Command Post at our COVID-19 quarantine shelter site,” said Steve Staffier, Director of City of Chelsea Emergency Management/Communications. “FirstNet was quick to deliver the devices I needed to connect my team."

Additional Emergency Support

In Milton, New Hampshire, the Milton Fire Department was able to locate the exact location of a forest fire in Pineland Park on March 31, during the height of the pandemic, using a Strafford County Sheriff’s drone on FirstNet.

“Utilizing the drone with FirstNet we were able to quickly and accurately pinpoint where the fire was and dispatch units to the appropriate locations to quickly bring the fire under control. This part of Milton has marginal coverage, but we were able to stream video to everyone who needed it without any issues,” said Captain Justin Bellen, Milton Fire Department. “Strafford County Sheriff has been on FirstNet for over a year, not only do they use it for the drone, but all of their phones, tablets, and laptops are on FirstNet as well. We had multiple supervisors in the county on FirstNet devices watching the operation live while it was ongoing.”

In Brookline, Mass., police officers responded to a call in a building and lost radio communications. Dispatch was trying to update the officers with additional information, but due to their location, they were unable to communicate with dispatch or other responding units. A Sergeant arrived on the scene with his FirstNet device with push-to-talk and was able to communicate with dispatch using FirstNet and update the officers on the scene who could not communicate over the portable radios.

“It’s an easy application to learn and utilize. Our officers who are using FirstNet and push-to-talk have been giving me a lot of good feedback and they are pretty excited about it,” said Scott Wilder, Director of Technology for Brookline Police Department. Mr. Wilder and Brookline PD have been using FirstNet since 2018 and recalls the problems with network congestion which occurred during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. “That was tough, we had a lot of things going on and we lost our wireless, we had no cellular for a while,” Wilder said. “If that happened today, we’d be able to communicate. Communications would not be interrupted.”

In Ashland, Mass., a commuter train collided with an automobile causing a prolonged delay and hundreds of commuters to take to their cell phones. The Police Chief was unable to provide updates to the Town Manager over his cell phone due to network congestion. The next day, Ashland began the process to implement FirstNet devices. “We are happy we made the change to FirstNet,” Susan Robie, Executive Assistant, Town of Ashland.

“The need for a single nationwide broadband network for public safety was exemplified during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt. I am proud to see AT&T and the FirstNet Authority are following through on their commitment to first responders in Massachusetts,” said Ed Davis, former Boston Police Commissioner. “FirstNet has already deployed Band 14 in over 280 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. FirstNet has enabled Boston Fire Department, Chelsea, Beverly and many other agencies to use state of the art communications and enhance public safety. With thousands of subscribers across Massachusetts, FirstNet is providing first responders with a highly secure interoperable broadband network.”

“In order to most effectively and efficiently serve the public and address public safety crises, first responders need and deserve reliable coverage no matter where they are in New England. With FirstNet, that’s exactly what they’re getting,” said Patricia Jacobs, President, AT&T Northern Region. “Our AT&T and FirstNet team here in New England will continue to work closely with state and local officials and agencies to continue expanding this unique public safety resource. We couldn’t be more pleased to support the public safety mission and bring our region’s first responders – and residents – greater access to the connectivity they need.”