MILITARY OCEAN TERMINAL SUNNY POINT, N.C. – More than 150 Federal, state and local first responders attended a joint-agency, critical-incident-communications training and First Responder Network demonstration virtually and in person at Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, North Carolina March 29, 2022 in support of Congress’s vision of a dedicated, interoperable nationwide public safety broadband network.
“This was a far-reaching endeavor, said Duane Eastmond, MOTSU telecommunications specialist and one of the event organizers. “We had attendees from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Department of Homeland Security – to include the U.S. Coast Guard, DISA, FBI, and ATF – New Hanover Sherriff’s Office, Brunswick County Sherriff’s Office, Wilmington Police Department, North Carolina Marine Control, and the Southport Fire Department.”
As a result of the communication challenges first responders faced on 9/11, the federal government established an independent federal agency to provide contractual and programmatic oversite to the development and deployment of this network.
“We are part of the Department of Commerce and are called the FirstNet Authority,” said Charlotte Whitacre, FirstNet Authority representative.
Ten years later – with input from the first responder community – congress passed a bill to fund the first responder network. FirstNet is the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community.
“With this legislation, we brought 20 megahertz of prime broadband spectrum to use for this network,” said Whitacre. “It also allocated $7 billion for this initial investment of the buildup for this network.”
In 2017, FirstNet Authority entered into what is called a public-private partnership with AT&T.
“The public-private partnership between FirstNet Authority and AT&T is important to MOTSU and the Army, as we leverage innovation and cutting-edge commercial technology to meet future operational challenges during times of crisis,” said Col. Chad Blacketer, MOTSU commander.
In the spring of 2020, MOTSU and Fort Bliss participated in a 60-day FirstNet pilot study.
“This study helped the Army determine if a large-scale program would improve interoperability and communications between our federal and civilian authorities during situations when wireless communications are unavailable or limited,” said Blacketer.
Today, the U.S. Army has identified 72 installations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico to use the technology.
“FirstNet is not only important to the Army, but it’s important to the communities surrounding our installations and is why we held this event,” said Blacketer.
The day’s agenda included training and briefings about the history of FirstNet Authority, as well as the associated technology.
“My biggest takeaway from this is that there are commercial partners available that can assess our needs for resources and equipment, and we’re getting as much information as we can to be able to take back to share with decision makers at our agency and at the county level,” said Lt. Christopher Smith, New Hanover County Sherriff’s Office.
During the demonstration portion of the event, FirstNet Program personnel with AT&T used FirstNet devices with AT&T deployable assets to initiate a redundant communications capability between MOTSU first responders and outside agencies possessing FirstNet capabilities.
“Along with the contract with AT&T came multiple devices with an IOS platform like cell phones and IPads that push various programs for us,” said Michael Scott, MOTSU fire chief.
Blacketer said that having technology like this at their fingertips could improve overall response time and interoperability between MOTSU and local first responders.
“The event was a success before it even started,” said Blacketer. “It was an opportunity for our MOTSU team to meet and train with other first responders whom we might not have interacted with until a disaster occurred in the area.”