Better Late than Never: Wireless Technology Optimizing for Public Safety

Just over eleven years ago, 9/11 rocked America to its core and revealed the frightening truth that our emergency response capabilities were severely lacking (note: the emergency response personnel were nothing short of heroic—their tools and systems were the limiting factor). This year, Hurricane Sandy swept the Northeast and, to a lesser degree, reminded us that we still have a ways to go to assure public safety. As NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly stated it, “a 16-year-old with a smart phone has a more advanced communications capability than a police officer or deputy carrying a radio.

A New Safety Net

Fortunately, 2012 has seen crucial steps towards nationwide, interoperable emergency systems that will empower First Responders and emergency crews like never before. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, passed in February, provides for the establishment of FirstNet (short for First Responder Network Authority)—a national wireless broadband network dedicated for emergency management. With 20 MHz of broadband spectrum set aside for public safety, $7 billion in deployment funding, and $135 million available in grants to offset implementation costs, FirstNet is suddenly making quick progress—eight years after the 9/11 Commission recommended it.

FirstNet ambitiously aims to streamline and support emergency responders in ways that weren’t possible before wireless communications. Fire fighters with mobile access to building blueprints, EMS crews who receive patient files via remote access, police officers with the ability to instantly distribute images of suspects or missing persons—not to mention the new technologies that will aid their investigations. These are just a few of the ways that wireless will play a vital role in the future of public safety.

Coming Soon: Texts to 911

Another technological handicap of contemporary emergency services lies in our surprising inability to text 911. It seems like something that should have been developed much sooner—SMS texting has existed for 20 years and people in 911 situations are not always at liberty to speak. But it wasn’t until this month that an initiative was launched to bring that capability to the four major wireless carriers, and that service won’t be ready until May 2014. For the year leading up to that, texts to 911 will receive an auto-reply that their message has not been received (but even that won’t be implemented until June 2013).

America’s public safety network is finally (almost) caught up to the technology of the past two decades—let’s just hope the experience has prepared us to stay abreast of the technology of the next two!

photo credit: atomicity via photopin cc


Brent Urmey is an avid reader and writer on a variety of subjects, including social media, SEO, the Wireless industry, and life in Lancaster County, PA. He is a graduate of Drexel University and a survivor of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. You can connect with Brent on Google +.