Tennessee joins national emergency communications network, FirstNet

BY CAROLE GRAVES
TML Communications Director

Tennessee has opted-in to the nationwide network to help first responders communicate better during emergencies. The new network, called “FirstNet,” will improve the way Tennessee’s fire, police, EMS, and other public safety personnel communicate and share information.
Once builtout and implemented, the new system is designed to give police, fire and emergency personnel a seamless, state-of-the-art, high-speed voice and data communications system that will link public safety agencies across the state.
And by using broadband technology, it will go beyond voice-only connections. For instance, firefighters will be able to send and receive photos in real-time, or download blueprints of a burning building. A police officer might receive the audio recording of a 911 call or floor plans of the building where a crime is taking place. An EMT will be able to access a patient’s medical records from an ambulance. Gov. Bill Haslam opted into the system in August, making him one of 18 states and two U.S. territories who have said yes to FirstNet. The governor’s action now opens the door for AT&T to start work on FirstNet in Tennessee, with all construction, operating and maintenance costs borne by the company and the federal government.
Had Tennessee not joined the new network, federal law would have required the state to build and pay for its own network that would be compatible with a national system.
Under the law that established FirstNet, governors in all 50 states and six territories have the choice of making an “opt-in” decision—accepting the FirstNet deployment plan and allowing AT&T to build the radio access network (RAN) within the state’s borders at no cost to the state—or pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which would require the state to be responsible for building and maintaining the RAN for the next 25 years.
“Reliable communications are vital to public safety’s life-saving mission,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said in a prepared statement. “Gov. Haslam’s decision will help deliver innovation and interoperability to emergency personnel across Tennessee’s diverse landscape—including its rural, mountainous and remote areas, as well as federal lands. FirstNet looks forward to continuing our partnership with Tennessee to ensure the network meets public safety’s needs—now and in the future.”
Other jurisdictions that have opted in to FirstNet thus far are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming
Governors have until December to decide whether or not their state will participate.
Some states, however, have signaled they may not join and have issued RFPs for alternative networks. Among some of their concerns are coverage in rural areas, the timeline for implementation, and the ability for first responders to communicate outside coverage areas. But the law is clear – those states who do decide to opt-out will need to prove that their individual solutions meet the compatibility standards of the national network, plus be able to provide a financially-sound solution for the next 25 years.
Congress created the network in 2012 as one of the last recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to create a nationwide broadband network for first responders. Since that time, the FirstNet team has spent the past five years planning, meeting with public safety personnel, and providing educational outreach to each state and their agencies that will be a part of the new system.