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FirstNet 101 — What is it? And, How Does it Affect Healthcare?

FirstNet 101 — What is it? And, How Does it Affect Healthcare?

digital_devices_all_disciplines_400x265[NOTE: Pulsara recently spent at day at the FirstNet Innovation Lab in Boulder Colorado where Pulsara is now installed. The Lab is a centralized location to showcase the capabilities of FirstNet. Pulsara is collaborating with FirstNet to showcase the importance of real-time team communications that crosses healthcare entities. Thank you @FirstNet for your hospitality. — Shawn Olson & Brandon Means]

It’s unlikely you’ve heard of FirstNet, unless you work in Public Safety.

But for those of us in EMS, Fire and Law Enforcement, FirstNet was a good idea that has been on our radar since 2012. And for many years it was just that  — a good idea. While the vision was solid, the early years were full of arm wrestling politics and big thinkers with a lot of patience.

Things are changing. AND, they’re changing fast.


The problem started long ago. We still use archaic communication technologies when seconds count. Technology like handheld radios and pagers permeate communications. Yet, our kids have access to highly efficient technology right in their pockets — their smartphones.

  • After September 11, 2001, there was a call to action to the federal government. This call highlighted the inability of current networks to handle true crisis situations.
  • In 2012, more than a decade later, Congress created FirstNet as an independent government authority. The mission was to build and deploy a broadband network dedicated to first responders.
  • In March 2017, AT&T was selected by FirstNet to build and manage the first nationwide public safety network dedicated to first responders.

Of course, I’m skipping a lot of history like the high-tech inner workings behind the scene. Those innovations include Priority, Quality of Service, and Preemptive technologies … but that’s another topic for another day.


As it currently stands, studies have shown that first responders in the U.S. use ~ 10,000 different and incompatible land mobile radio networks. This hodgepodge of broken systems effectively blocks the ability of first responders to efficiently communicate with each other during an emergency.

FirstNetInfographicBut FirstNet addresses these problems head on. For me, as a flight paramedic, here are a few real benefits of the Network:

  1. In areas that are crowded (sports stadium, concert, school), first responders can now communicate without concern that citizens are congesting bandwidth that’s already limited. By having a dedicated broadband channel, it’s now possible for first responders to coordinate the care needed during any event without the worry of a congested network.
  2. In rural areas, the expanded network access allows coverage that wasn’t readily available prior.
  3. With dedicated bandwidth, first responders have the option to transmit real data. Imagine high speed telemedicine via video. What about secure streaming of video during an active shooter incident to the incident commander? Imagine sending live photos of the MCI so that the hospital is better prepared.

The list goes on. In fact, FirstNet built this great infographic to explain 10 ways the network helps public safety save lives and secure communities.


First, you should familiarize yourself with FirstNet. In fact, when you have four minutes, take the time to watch this video.

We are in the early adoption phase of FirstNet. So don’t feel like you’re left out. In fact, it was only a few months ago when all 50 states, two U.S. Territories and Washington D.C. all officially opted into the FirstNet network.

From the FirstNet website, Key FirstNet milestones and activities planned for 2018 include:

  • Expanding the Network and Building Out Band 14: The First Responder Network Authority will issue work orders to deploy the Radio Access Networks in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and two opt-in territories in early 2018. This will give AT&T the green light to expand FirstNet’s footprint and deploy Band 14 capacity and coverage throughout the nation, providing first responders with the bandwidth and mission critical connections they need to communicate, share information, and use innovative technologies every day and in every emergency.
  • Driving Public Safety Innovation: FirstNet will also unlock a new technology marketplace for public safety, enabling first responders to benefit from advancements in innovation. The FirstNet App store will be filling up with FirstNet-approved mobile apps that are optimized for public safety use over the first responder network.
  • Securing Emergency Communications: FirstNet’s first-of-its-kind core infrastructure will give first responders the dedicated, highly secure, non-commercial network they deserve.  On schedule to be operational in March, the FirstNet public safety core will provide full encryption of public safety data over FirstNet and provide end-to-end cyber security. FirstNet subscribers will also have access to a dedicated Security Operations Center, offering 24/7/365 support.
  • Engaging with Public Safety: Public safety outreach and advocacy will not stop as the network is further built out.  The First Responder Network Authority will continue to engage with public safety in the states, territories, federal agencies, and tribal nations to ensure the network meets their needs and incorporate their feedback in the design of future FirstNet products and services.

Remember, medical errors are the 3rd largest killer of our population. 80% of those are from miscommunication. FirstNet is another step in the right direction to address this crisis.

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