Pa. needs this critical public safety tool

Charles Ramsey, Keeping America Safe Advisory Board Member | PennLive

Also appeared in Pennsylvania Legislative Services

In my nearly 50 years as a law enforcement professional, including my time as Philadelphia’s police commissioner and as the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, I can say there’s one major item that makes a huge difference when responding to an incident: effective communications among the many first responders who are responsible for protecting property and saving lives.

In 2012, Congress passed a law that created FirstNet – a nationwide, interoperable mobile broadband network that keeps our heroes connected during times of crisis.

FirstNet was first recommended by the 9/11 Commission, who reached the conclusion that all fire fighters, police officers, EMS and other public safety officials should be able to communicate with one another on one wireless network  without risk of interference or being dropped. It’s been nearly 20 years since the tragic day of September 11, 2001 and we now have another resource that will keep our first responders connected and informed during times of crisis.

FirstNet will address the communication jam caused by an overworked mobile broadband network. You may have experienced this overworked network during a large event when thousands of people are congregated in one area during a span of time, all trying to call, text, or use data with no luck. This also happens during times of emergencies, when people are trying to contact friends and loved ones, causing a jam on the network. Unfortunately, this is also a communication problem for first responders who typically rely on the same commercial network to relay vital information when it’s most needed.

Fortunately, FirstNet, alongside its partner AT&T, will establish the first nationwide interoperable network that gives emergency responders first priority during times of high traffic volume on a dedicated mobile broadband network. By creating a network that gives emergency officials priority – across jurisdictions – FirstNet allows public safety officials to send and receive critical voice, text, data, and video information quickly and efficiently, including in rural areas. Opting in to FirstNet comes with no financial risk to the Commonwealth. It also gives our first responders access to an array of other resources, including a dedicated mobile app ecosystem, that’s unavailable today.

Last week, two states opted in to the FirstNet network, bringing the count to over half of all states and territories choosing to opt-in to the new high-speed broadband network for first responders. When Pennsylvania is added to this list, our communities will have another vital tool that allows officials to be better prepared and equipped for their daily tasks and emergency situations.

My experience in law enforcement helps me understand what is essential for first responders across our nation and in Pennsylvania to better serve and protect our communities. FirstNet is one of those solutions.

Charles H. Ramsey served in law enforcement for nearly 50 years. He is the former commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, former police chief of Washington DC, and former deputy superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.