officer with firstnet tablet (FirstNetGov)

Spreading the word about FirstNet

A new website seeks to help public safety workers better understand FirstNet and advocate for critical communications.

The goal of firstrespondervoice.org, which launched Oct. 18, is to help responders get into the driver’s seat about their communications needs -- an effort that dates to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when networks were jammed and unusable. In March 2017, the First Responder Network Authority tapped AT&T as FirstNet’s provider.

The site was created by the Communications Workers of America, "an active member of the Public Safety Alliance that was instrumental in supporting the creation of FirstNet,” said Bianca Garcia, a researcher at the organization.  CWA has many members who are public-safety professionals as well as many who serve their communities as volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, she said.  "We wanted to make sure our own members were educated about FirstNet as a resource for their own departments and their own communities.”

The site provides a news feed of aggregated articles and videos related to the country’s first dedicated, nationwide wireless broadband public-safety network. Additionally, it offers answers to frequently asked questions about FirstNet, whose network core launched in March; a FirstNet fact sheet; related links; and a FirstNet subscriber directory with phone numbers and some websites for police and fire and EMT departments in 34 states.

Important elements of the site, Garcia said, are the webinars, training sessions and advocacy toolkit -- all intended to empower first responders to ask for what they need to communicate and stay connected. For instance, a webinar in the works will cover the basics of FirstNet, including how to contact AT&T for demonstrations. Currently, the new site does not offer content related to the FirstNet Applications Catalog, which offers apps for the public-safety community to use.

Two FirstNet-related sites already exist. FirstNet.gov is the Commerce Department's online repository on network information and First Responder Network Authority happenings, such as budget and staff updates. FirstNet.com, on the other hand, is AT&T’s site that features information on coverage, rate plans, devices, solutions and applications.

Although CWA’s site links to the others, Garcia said it differentiates itself by focusing on equipping first responders with the tools they need to be successful advocates. “Part of this is helping first responders connect to subscribers in their area so they can get firsthand accounts from responders in their profession,” she said.

Access to the site is free, and users can also sign up to receive a free monthly e-newsletter, First Responder Voice.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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