Helping connect first responders for Hurricane Ian

October 7, 2022

by Jason Porter - President, Public Sector and FirstNet Program at AT&T

At FirstNet®, Built with AT&T, we prepare for the worst that mother nature can deliver. So, public safety can have the connectivity they require when it matters most. That’s why America’s first responders called for the creation of their own network – FirstNet. And it’s not a commercial network.

With FirstNet, public safety is our number one priority. We provide public safety agencies a level of support during emergencies that’s far beyond anything they’ve previously experienced. We’re the only provider with assets dedicated for exclusive use by public safety. And as public safety’s partner, we’ll continue to set the bar on what success looks like for network resiliency now and in the future.

Support after Hurricane Ian

After slamming the Florida coastline last Wednesday, Hurricane Ian battered the state with record flooding. Then it intensified and made landfall again in South Carolina over the weekend. Public safety – spanning federal, state, tribal and local agencies – quickly sprang into action. So far, public safety has requested FirstNet emergency support 100+ times for Ian. And we have been there for them each time.

Assets from the dedicated FirstNet Fleet have supported first responders in affected areas, including Charlotte, Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Lee, Manatee, Orange and Sarasota counties in Florida and Charleston and Georgetown counties in South Carolina. Currently, there are 20+ assets on air. This includes portable cell sites, in-building solutions and satellites to provide backhaul to macro cell sites.

Now, sheriffs, firefighters, search and rescue teams and those providing mutual aid have the dedicated connectivity where they need it most.

Sanibel Island

On Sanibel Island, Ian ripped away several parts of the causeway that was the island’s only access to Florida’s mainland. Boats were the only way to reach the island. A Satellite Cell on Light Truck (SatCOLT) was too heavy to travel via the available boats. So, the team deployed a Compact Rapid Deployable (CRD), which is a lighter, new addition to the fleet that gives us greater flexibility to support public safety.

All of these assets link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability. This makes them ideal for search and rescue missions. The AT&T Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) team was able to load the CRD into the trunk of one of its Amphibious Vehicles (AVs), drive it to the channel and then engage the hydraulic drive system to motor and navigate like a boat across the water to the island.

North of Sanibel Island, the FirstNet team coordinated with federal agencies to deploy a CRD and other assets via a Blackhawk helicopter to Pine Island. First responders on the island had dedicated connectivity with Band 14 – that’s the nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside specifically for FirstNet. And the team was able to turn on Wi-Fi calling to give residents connectivity on the AT&T network. In fact, just 5 minutes after the asset arrived, people were able to make urgent calls to let others know they were safe. These deployments help exemplify the power of the public-private partnership that created FirstNet.

Restoring cell sites

In addition to deploying FirstNet assets, the team has been expediting cell site restoration based on public safety’s needs, deploying generators and providing FirstNet Ready® devices to first responders on the ground.

And the AT&T Weather Operations Center (AWOC) has been in close collaboration with the FirstNet team to assess weather risk and help crews know when it’s safe to travel. Plus, FirstNet liaisons are embedded in state and federal Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) to help ensure first responders continue to have the mobile connectivity and devices they need.

FirstNet is built with AT&T in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government. It is the only purpose-built network designed with and for first responders to keep them connected no matter the mission. These are the individuals who run toward danger to help protect our families, friends and loved ones. Our hearts are with the communities affected by Hurricane Ian. Where public safety goes, we go. And we’ll continue to be there for America’s first responders – today and for decades to come.

Additional resources

  • Learn more about our response efforts and how we’re helping keep communities connected following Hurricane Ian here:

  • FirstNet CRDs are also available for agencies to own. A single person can deploy a CRD within minutes, giving them even more control of their network in an emergency.

  • For 140+ years, AT&T has used technology to keep people connected during disasters and life changing events. It’s why we’ve welcomed other carriers’ customers to roam on the AT&T network so we can stay #ConnectedTogether, even if their carrier’s service isn’t available after the storm.