FirstNet, Built with AT&T: Connecting first responders for Maui Wildfires

by Jim Bugel - President, FirstNet Program at AT&T

Kākou. While the literal translation is simply “us,” the kaona (or hidden meaning) underpins that we are in this together. It is also a principle embodied by the public safety community – from the California governor deploying the state’s Urban Search & Rescue Task Force to the federal agencies coordinating with state and local departments to provide mutual aid in Maui and other parts of the state. As public safety agencies work to contain the fires and help those in need, we are honored to be by their side, delivering FirstNet® connectivity and an unparalleled level of support for their response and recovery efforts.

Dedicated FirstNet Assets in Hawai‘i

As part of public safety’s dedicated FirstNet fleet, we have deployable network assets stationed year-round in Hawai’i. These assets are available 24/7 at the request of public safety agencies on FirstNet – at no additional charge. Having 1 of these assets housed on Maui has been essential to expediently restoring critical communications to first responders where they need it most. Currently, a portable FirstNet cell site is providing first responders in Lahaina with dedicated connectivity on Band 14 (high-quality spectrum set aside by the federal government specifically for FirstNet).

Additionally, the FirstNet Response Operations Group (ROG) has liaisons working with officials to safely deploy additional network assets and expedite network restoration in areas affected by the wildfires. FirstNet ROG is led by a team of former first responders who have an intimate understanding of public safety’s mission. One of these leaders is our FirstNet ROG Section Chief for FEMA Region 9. He’s on the ground now in Maui to provide hands-on support and collaborate with other team members from the AT&T Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) team. Together, we’re working to deploy additional assets such as:

  • A new miniCRD™ (Compact Rapid Deployable) that is comprised of 2 ultra-portable ruggedized cases to provide coverage up to ½ mile without relying on commercial power availability
  • Satellite solutions to provide Wi-Fi or cell service
  • In-building solutions for indoor connectivity
  • Portable generators to our cell sites affected by commercial power outages
  • Backhaul equipment to restore macro service
  • Dedicated FirstNet COWs (Cell on Wheels) from neighboring islands, as well as a Flying COW® (or Cell on Wings)
  • A FirstNet Emergency Response Kit that equips public safety with a cache of 20+ FirstNet Ready® devices in a protective case to simultaneously recharge and immediately disperse to responders in the field

Furthering public safety’s command and control

FirstNet is specifically designed with and for first responders based on their mission-centric needs. It is not a commercial network. When public safety asked for greater network agility, we delivered the FirstNet Compact Rapid Deployable. Agencies can own their own CRDs to provide cell service like a COW, but it can be deployed by a single person within a matter of minutes to provide up to 2 miles of dedicated public safety coverage.

Hawai‘i agencies are now also turning to their own CRDs and miniCRDs to deploy FirstNet connectivity to areas where the wildfire has impacted macro service. This will help improve their emergency operations, making them nimbler and providing their first responders with command and control to have coverage when and where they need it.

FirstNet is also the only network that provides first responders with always-on priority and preemption. That means first responders battling the wildfires don’t have to dial special codes or take extra measures to ensure their mission-critical communications get through. They can be confident their information is protected from any potential commercial network congestion on cell sites across Hawai‘i. And since FirstNet does not “throttle” or slow down public safety’s communications, first responders can stay mission ready throughout their operations.

Kōkua: ROG the Dog

Communication is critical to first responders and the communities they serve. But at the core of the network are the people. We recognize the mental, emotional and physical toll first responders have experienced in the past week. That’s why “ROG the Dog” is enroute to Hawai‘i to provide animal-assisted therapy and further support the health and well-being of those on the frontline.

Wellness is critical to a first responder’s ability to perform. And interacting with animals can help improve coping and recovery, enhance morale, decrease stress and reduce the effects of PTSD and emotional distress. These individuals run toward danger to help protect our families, friends and loved ones. So, it’s essential we take care of those who put their lives on the line and help them be at their best, day in and day out.

Our hearts are with the entire Hawai’i community. From the fierce winds, brought on by Hurricane Dora, which fueled scorching fires on parts of the Big Island, to the catastrophic wildfires on Maui that have taken dozens of lives and destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings – first responders have been in the field to help those in need. And where public safety goes, we go. We’ll continue to be there for America’s first responders – today and for decades to come. After all, kākou.

How to help

You can also help the people affected recover by texting HAWAII to 90999 for a one-time $10 donation to the American Red Cross. 100% of the funds will go directly to immediate emergency assistance and long-term community rebuilding efforts. And stay up to speed on our Hawai‘i wildfire response and other ways to support those affected here.