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The Safety of Our Communities Depends on Data

What do victims of disaster, crooks fleeing capture, and burning buildings have in common? If you replied, “FirstNet,” you already know how big a shake up this federal initiative is about to cause.

The lives of responders—like cops, firefighters, paramedics—is about to change…dramatically. That’s because a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) is coming…quickly. There is still time, however, to have an impact on this government program that will impact all tribes. The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, is a first-of-its-kind cellular data network, with an expansive and inclusive stakeholder outreach program designed to create opportunities for public safety to provide input and feedback on the network. Public safety stakeholders have until Wednesday, 30 September 2015 to weigh in on key buildout-related issues affecting all of us, such as crime statistics, locations where responders are dispatched, and current communications devices used.

As a sworn officer of my tribe, the Blackfeet Indian Nation, and its director of homeland security, as well as a delegate from the Northwest Tribal Emergency Management Council (NWTEMC) to the FirstNet Tribal Working Group (TWG). I am writing to share with you the groundbreaking partnership that FirstNet is undertaking with private industry to deploy the NPSBN. The NPSBN will be a wireless carrier network built exclusively for public safety personnel, aided by $7 billion of start-up capital and 20 megahertz of dedicated bandwidth. (Equivalent to the capacity commercial carrier’s currently access to serve all their subscribers across the country!) The eyes of the world are upon us.

The FirstNet network will improve citizen safety and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response through cutting edge broadband communications. It will offer prioritized, public safety-grade ruggedness and nationwide coverage so that those of us who risk our lives protecting others can rely on the network when we need it most. It will employ secure, specialized apps that access data to better inform responders through integrated communications and improved situational awareness.

As those of us who serve Indian Country know, coverage and the need for access to mobile data cannot be understated. Limited access to telecommunications infrastructure in Indian Country poses enormous challenges. We know the difficulties of trying to help keep the peace but hindered by insufficient information, lack of connectivity, or differing radios amongst responders.

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Here’s where you come in. Right now, FirstNet is in the midst of an information collection effort and they need to hear from you. The data being collected from public safety professionals across the nation will provide the background needed to write the Request for Proposals (RFP) to which private industry will respond to when bidding to become partners in this sweeping venture.

Further, Congress directed FirstNet to collect these details through single points of contact (SPOCs) in each of the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia. These 56 people have an enormous job. If your tribal nation has not yet been contacted by one of these SPOCs, please reach out to them. Contact information can be found here, under the Consultation tab. There is also an informative two-minute video posted on FirstNet’s YouTube channel and here.

We must educate those who live outside of our villages or off our reservations about our requirements for this network. It is important that these priorities be factored into FirstNet’s plans, and that FirstNet is informed by your data and mine, while being guided by our active participation in the planning process. Only then can the SPOCs in the 34 states with federally recognized tribes effectively work with FirstNet. Everyone’s aim is to design the best possible network for each state-sized parcel, which will then be stitched together into a 4G LTE quilt that blankets our country with seamless, interoperable communications.

We have a special moment in time to make our voices heard and urge that our needs be met. For those of you who are not in public safety, talk to your elected and community leaders about the benefits of joining the state SPOCs in providing FirstNet with the information it needs to better serve Indian Country. For those who are public safety officials, you know firsthand that a coordinated response to any emergency relies on coordinated communications.

When it comes to the wellbeing of our families, safety of our communities, and protection of the lives of those who protect us, we all have a role to play. FirstNet will transform public safety; we have an opportunity to direct that transformation. Please promptly contact your state SPOC to participate in the current call for information before the September 30 deadline and ask about ways to remain engaged.

Robert DesRosier is employed at the Blackfeet Tribal Nation in Browning, Montana as the Director of Homeland Security and Disaster and Emergency Services, a position that he has held for the past 10 years. Robert has served the public with 15 years in Law Enforcement, 30 years as a fireman and eight years as an EMT. Robert is the Chairman of the Montana Indian Nations Working Group, an organization of all seven Indian Nations emergency managers and Tribal Homeland Security personnel. He also serves on the executive board for FEMA region 8 RISC (Regional Interagency Steering Committee) and the Executive Board of the National Tribal Emergency Management Council.