Harris County, TX – Harris County is on track next year to become the nation’s first jurisdiction to launch a fully operational wireless broadband network for exclusive public safety use through the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet.
FirstNet grew out of the 9/11 Commission’s finding that it was critical to improve, prioritize and expedite communication between overlapping agencies and local, state and federal jurisdictions. Specifically, the commission recommended that a portion of the Federal Communication Commission’s radio spectrum be set aside for public safety purposes.
In other words, it was no longer prudent for government agencies to rely on commercial networks.
During catastrophic events like the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, commercial cellular networks become overburdened by calls – between spouses, friends, children and parents, for example – to the extent it prevents emergency personnel from getting a line out.
A decade later, public safety crews must compete with far less urgent transmissions for data capacity. As smartphones and tablets become commonplace, commercial Wi-Fi networks are increasingly gridlocked with mundane bulletins, civilians uploading wacky cat videos or posting brunch photos on Instagram.
In 2012, Congress passed a law authorizing FirstNet to occupy its own spectrum. In partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Harris County volunteered to be one of a handful of jurisdictions to test FirstNet.
The other pilot sites are Los Angeles County, Adams County, Colo., and the states of New Mexico and New Jersey.