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NC Broadband Matters: Public Safety Needs Broadband for Maximum Effect
As people living in areas plagued by hurricanes deal with increasingly difficult storms this time of year, policy advocates consider the impact of broadband on public safety. In this article shared with us by NC Broadband Matters, author Fiona Morgan reports on connectivity as critical for first responders. She delves into the ways FirstNet and other tools are affecting the conversation and she talks to people who work in emergency situations and understand communication needs during natural disasters.
Fiona's article originally ran on February 21st, 2019, on NC Hearts Gigabit's Our Stories.
Surviving the Storm: Why Broadband Matters for Public Safety
by Fiona Morgan
The water rose faster and higher than anyone had anticipated. Hal Lowder, Jr., recalled watching Hurricane Florence’s impact arrive in Whiteville, where he is the city’s emergency services director. “It was all swamp on Madison Street,” he said. In low-lying areas that might flood two feet in a big storm, water was more than 12 feet high. Even downtown, on Main Street, some areas had eight feet of water. “It was over my head. It was just bizarre.”
The coastal plain of North Carolina was hit hard by the hurricane. The 911 call center was down, and the police and firefighter radio system was inoperable. But there was no loss of life in Whiteville, thanks to the dedication of emergency responders and to the communications systems they had in place.
One of the reforms that came out of the 9-11 Commission was an effort by the federal government to bridge gaps in emergency responder communications. FirstNet is a nationwide public safety broadband network, a service of the federal government provided under exclusive contract with AT&T. Whiteville, seat of Columbus County, was the first city in North Carolina to sign up for FirstNet.
While it’s not yet available everywhere, FirstNet has become part of the critical information infrastructure of emergency communications. And there’s reason to hope that as it’s built out, it will lead to greater connectivity in parts of the state that currently lack even reliable cellular service.
Muni Fiber in Idaho Helps 911 Dispatch and First Responders - Community Broadband Bits Episode 173
Call to Action: Support Stronger Rules for Mobile 911
An increasing number of Americans are abandoning their landlines for the convenience and economy of mobile devices. Unfortunately, doing so also makes it more difficult to locate the caller in an emergency. In order to correct the problem, the FCC has proposed a stronger set of rules that will increase location accuracy for 911 calls.
As can be expected, 911 Dispatchers and First Responders support the proposed rules. Public Knowledge recently wrote about the changes that could save an additional 10,000 lives per year.
Currently, wireless companies are not required to use specific cell tower information to lead emergency medical personnel to an apartment or the floor from which a call originates. They need only to supply specific information if the call is made from outdoors. As more and more people depend on mobile devices, both indoors and out of doors, our rules need updating.
Public Knowledge has posted a call to action to support stronger rules and ensure more successful rescues:
As a result of consumers’ growing reliance on wireless and reported failures in locating callers on time, the FCC has proposed rules that require carriers to give 911 dispatchers callers’ locations within 100 meters after their first connection with a cell phone tower, and 50 meters after the dispatchers search using location accuracy, such as GPS. They have also included a requirement for vertical location, or the ability to find what floor and building callers are located in.
We encourage you to read and sign the petition drafted by Public Knowledge and to let the FCC know that policy needs to keep pace with technology.
County and State Partner For Local Connectivity in Iowa
In 2010, the Iowa Communications Network received a $16.2 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The project will connect all 99 counties in the state by upgrading an existing 3,000 mile network (PDF of the project summary). The state plans to bring 10 Gbps capacity points of presence to each county and to provide 1 Gbps service to about 1,000 anchor institutions. The project will be managed by the state's Department of Transportation, which will be using fiber primarily for traffic management.
A recent Ames Tribune article reports that the local community will be partnering with the state to capitalize on the existence of the fiber for connectivity. Story County, located in the very center of the state, will soon be using several strands in the Ames area to create a loop between city and county offices. The 20-year arrangement will cost the county $15,000 and provides ample capacity to support the county's work and support future uses. From the article:
“For us this is a huge windfall,” [Story County Information Technology Director Barbara Steinback] said. “If we were to go on to a project like this on our own, it would cost between $250,000 and $300,000.”
The opportunity comes at a good time for Story County. The sheriff’s office recently began using new mobile laptops that Steinback said have been putting a strain on the network and, along with some other projects, has been resulting in some slowness issues.
“So we do need to take advantage of this opportunity,” she said.
Fiber Optic ConnectArlington Moving Forward in Virginia
Arlington County, Virginia is taking advantage of a series of planned projects to create their own fiber optic network, ConnectArlington. The County is moving into phase II of its three part plan to improve connectivity with a publicly owned fiber network.
Some creative thinking and inter-agency collaboration seem to be the keys to success in Arlington. Both the County and the Arlington Public Schools will own the new asset. Additionally, the network will improve the County Public Safety network. Back in March, Tanya Roscola reported on the planing and benefits of the ConnectArlington in Government Technology.
Arlington County's cable franchise agreement with Comcast is up for renewal in 2013. As part of that agreement, the schools and county facilities have been connected to each other at no cost to the County. Even though there are still active negotiations, the ConnectArlington website notes that the outcome is uncertain. The County does not know if the new agreement will include the same arrangement. Local leaders are not waiting to find out, citing need in the community and recent opportunities that reduce installation costs.
Other communities, from Palo Alto in California to Martin County in Florida, have found Comcast pushing unreasonable prices for services in franchise negotiations. Smart communities have invested in their own networks rather than continue depending on Comcast.
Like schools all around the country, Arlington increasingly relies on high-capacity networks for day-to-day functions both in and out of the classroom. Digital textbooks, tablets, and online testing enhance the educational adventure, but require more and more bandwidth and connectivity. From the article:
Through ConnectArlington, Arlington Public Schools will be able to take advantage of Internet2 for distance learning. At no cost, students will be able to communicate with teachers and access electronic textbooks and online courses from wireless hot spots.