All responders benefit from sharing critical information

Thirteen years after the World Trade Center attacks, FirstNet progress continues for the benefit of EMS


Most EMS providers will tell you that the key to successful operations during any major incident is communication, especially involving remote discussions through radio systems.

EMS systems have used radios since the beginning, starting with low band frequencies (remember those walkie-talkies with the long whip antennas?) and evolving to today’s 800 and 900 Mhz UHF trunked systems. Add in cellular-based, WiFi data systems and it seems like it should be easy to communicate with other EMS providers on the job.

Unfortunately we all know that’s not true.

Many of us have been unable to transmit or receive critical information at one time or another; more critically, nearly all of us do not have the ability to communicate with all other units across our region or state. And let’s try not to laugh when it comes to communicating across the country.

For years the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been working with public safety to set aside radio frequencies that will be used as common radio channels for first responders. Thirteen years after the World Trade Center attacks, it's seeing significant progress on FirstNet, with money being raised to build infrastructure needed to make it work.

Major events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina have repeatedly shown how difficult it is to effectively respond to large scale, long duration events without a common communication link among all public safety providers. Fire, EMS and law enforcement agencies tend to silo their communications, wasting precious time as key intelligence is relayed from one dispatcher to another over the phone. Directing EMS and fire strike teams from one area of the country to another takes significant communication coordination among agencies, handing off crews from one radio system to another.

Having such communication capability that the FCC seeks to create is essential And a lot of work needs to be done to bring this concept to reality.

Meanwhile, we can expect there will be a lot of politics mixed in. I can only hope that the system isn’t outdated by the time it is built. When success is dictated by the speed and efficiency of communications, we cannot afford to fail our communities when the big one hits.

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