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Using Broadband in Case of Emergency

When disaster strikes, those that are injured, endangered or afraid turn to first responders to protect them, including police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. Keeping connections open and available is paramount to saving lives and stopping destruction, yet first response networks across the nation have remained largely untouched by telecommunications technology that could make reactions faster and better coordinated. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is working to upgrade the technology that first responders rely on.

When big events bring vast crowds to a single space, cell phone networks buzz with activity, straining the system. When over 700,000 Seahawks fans flooded Seattle for the Super Bowl victory parade, authorities urged attendees to reduce cell phone use to leave the lines open for emergency responders. The same effect occurs when large-scale disasters strike in populated areas. The need to build an interconnected emergency network is one of the last recommendations left from the 9/11 Commission, recognizing that slowed and blocked communications created a serious and, in some cases, deadly obstacle for first responders during the 9/11 attacks.

FirstNet aims to bypass strained networks through a clear, interoperable line using nationwide wireless broadband networks. Connected Nation, Connect Iowa, the Iowa Statewide Interoperable Communications System Board (ISICSB), FirstNet, and first response agencies are collaborating across Iowa to show what this network offers, how it can be achieved, and the best ways for all departments to implement it.

“The goal is to maintain and create interoperability between agencies and technology, allowing people to better communicate with each other, no matter what communication they’re using,” said Shawn Wagner, FirstNet Outreach Specialist with ISICSB. “This network provides a separate channel completely, so if the phone lines clog up, it wouldn’t affect public safety. It’s a completely separate mobile data system for first responders.”

Iowa is among the first states to bring first response agencies, government, and broadband providers together to discuss needs and action items required to implement FirstNet successfully. By bringing all agencies to the table as the service is being planned, all needs can be properly addressed and the services required to implement the network can be understood. Filling broadband “dead spots” would be one action item required to give blanket coverage.

“The people that need it most can’t be on a slow network; if they can’t get out there and help people, that hurts us all,” said Wagner. “This is about getting everybody on board and being collaborative, so everyone is aware of what’s happening. We want all agencies to be involved so we can create a solution where there’s data access wherever they are.”

See how broadband technology and access is changing the networks that we rely on every day. Learn more at