It’s a first. A press conference for a gadget. And what a remarkable little fellow it is.
CRD stood silent, not even blinking. A sign read: “FirstNet: Built with AT&T.” It’s a miniature cell tower, really, and I lacked the courage to ask what it cost.
FirstNet is a dedicated slice of wireless broadband for use by emergency service providers. CRD stands for Compact Rapid Deployable – it’s a quick way to get satellite transmission on-site of an emergency, think big fire or earthquake.
Gerald Risner is a senior public safety advisor for FirstNet. A former state trooper, Risner works for the First Responder Network Authority, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He was joined by Alan Hill, who handles external and legislative affairs for AT&T.
Hill said CRD is rarely seen by the public because it’s designed to be used during emergencies. “It can be easily transported (it’s mounted on wheels and can be towed by a vehicle with a trailer hitch) and set up within minutes to establish communications for public safety agencies on FirstNet.”
Hill describes FirstNet as a special wireless network, designed specifically for first responders to have priority access during a crisis. “Think of it as an express lane for first responders.”
“After September 11, 2001, a lot of us wanted a public safety network (for reliable and secure communication),” Risner said. By 2012, the federal government put out bids and AT&T got the contract to build out the network.
The 25-year contract allows AT&T customers to use what Risner calls “Band 14” during blue-sky periods when everything is calm. All money earned goes to FirstNet for future innovation. Hill anticipates $26 billion over the next 20 years.
“Every state could opt in or not. All 50 did,” said Hill.
Knoxville Police Department, under then-Chief David Rausch, was one of the first agencies to enroll. Now the Knox County Sheriff’s Office participates as well. Risner estimated 107 law enforcement and/or emergency service providers are in the statewide network.
Risner explained FirstNet’s priority of service. Although it’s primarily for police, fire and EMS, wrecker companies or water and electric utilities, for instance, could be given priority depending on the emergency.
Hill said FirstNet is available for individual phones, to be used by volunteer firefighters or rescue squads. With a push-to-talk function, the phone can be used like a radio. Customers can check online or just drop into an AT&T retail store for more information.
Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today Inc.