Sheriffs: With FirstNet Set to Launch, Make the Public Safety Network Yours

Sheriff Rich Stanek, Hennepin County, MN

As a member of the FirstNet Board since 2014, it has been exciting to see the progress we have made over the last three years to deploy the first broadband network dedicated to public safety. FirstNet is now on the cusp of launching the network because we have done it the right way from the start: by consulting with the future users of the network – public safety – so it will meet their communications and technology needs, both now and in the future.

The National Sheriffs’ Association has long been a leading advocate for this network.  Sheriffs from around the country joined together and linked up with leaders from the fire service and EMS communities to fight for the creation of FirstNet. We now have the opportunity to turn this vision into reality by encouraging our states to join the FirstNet Network. 

As a law enforcement officer for 33 years, and sheriff of Hennepin County, Minnesota since 2007, I know firsthand of the critical need for a mobile data Network that we can call our own.

On August 1, 2007, the I-35W Bridge in Downtown Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River. A tragic disaster that saw 13 people killed, and 149 injured. First responders from over 175 different law enforcement agencies across my state on local, county, state and federal levels arrived on scene. Members of the public and responders had many pieces of information, including video of the collapse that - in the right hands - could have helped police, fire and EMS responders have a better picture of the situation.

Recent years have seen first responders adopt and use mobile data services. During times of high use, like during large scale emergencies, responders are competing with the general public for space on increasingly congested wireless networks. The ability to send large data files and messages without impacts from this congestion is critical to emergency operations. The network needs to provide the dedicated bandwidth necessary to fully realize the benefits of mobile broadband, such as enabling streaming video from command centers to the deputies and police officers in the field. With a fully functional network, first responders will get a real-life picture on what is happening during a response to an emergency call.

The FirstNet Network will deliver these capabilities and more, enhancing our response efforts in day to day incidents and emergencies – keeping our officers and communities safe. In fact, the possibilities are endless in terms of how FirstNet will improve communications, situational awareness, and information sharing for all of public safety.

But FirstNet is more than a communications network.  It is high-tech platform designed specifically for public safety that will drive devices and applications, ultimately revolutionizing the way local, state, and federal law enforcement operate. FirstNet’s Network partner - AT&T - is making a significant investment in public safety: $40 billion over the 25-year life of the contract.  Working with FirstNet, AT&T will use its private sector expertise and best practices to focus on building and operating the nationwide network for public safety.

As of August 9th, a dozen Governors have already elected to join this network by approving the plan provided by FirstNet and AT&T for deploying the Radio Access Network (RAN) in the state.  Known commonly as “opting-in” to FirstNet, this decision delivers many benefits to the state and its public safety community. 

For starters, the decision to “opt in” will result in the nationwide broadband network being built out in a much shorter time-frame than the alternative, which is to have the state build it on their own.  If a governor chooses to opt-in, AT&T will deploy the network at zero deployment cost to the state.

NSA fought hard for this to be a truly nationwide, interoperable network that will give our nation’s sheriffs and deputies the best available technology to keep the public safe. FirstNet is now on the verge of making that vision become reality. But we aren’t done yet.  To take that next step, we need your support.

I encourage all NSA members and state sheriffs associations to make their voices heard. Recommend that your Governors allow FirstNet to build out the RAN in your state, and not to “opt-out” and build an independent RAN.  Please emphasize to your state leadership how this is a low-risk option that will support faster delivery of services to the state’s public safety community and help create an interoperable, highly secure, sustainable, nationwide network for public safety. 

In addition to my full-time duties serving the residents in Hennepin County, Minnesota, I have spent some time with the nation’s law enforcement community to talk about the promise of this network. What excites me most about FirstNet is that we’re right on the verge of delivering on this promise.
Very soon, we are going to have a nationwide interoperable broadband system that will provide exactly what law enforcement officers around the country need when they are out in the field every day. I look forward to going out to American law enforcement and saying, ‘look folks this is a network built by you, and for you, to be used by you.’

Thank you for continued support of this much needed, life-saving network.

Stay Safe!
Sheriff Richard Stanek

Sheriff Stanek is the current 2nd Vice President of the National Sheriffs' Association. He is Vice Chair of both the Global Policing Affairs Committee and the Homeland Security Committee. Sheriff Stanek was elected Hennepin County Sheriff in 2007.