Kansas joins FirstNet emergency communication system

By Steve Larson
Public Affairs Office

When a disaster strikes anywhere in the state, quick and effective communication is key to emergency response efforts. In today’s electronic age, that means reliable, uninterrupted voice and data transfer between fire departments, law enforcement, emergency medical services and other first response agencies of all sizes.

To better achieve that goal, Gov. Sam Brownback announced that Kansas has opted to participate in a nationwide system designed to enhance public safety communication and interoperability.

At an Aug. 15 news conference in the Kansas Statehouse, Brownback signed a letter opting the state into FirstNet, a wireless broadband network dedicated to emergency communications. This will make Kansas the 14th state or territory opt in to FirstNet.“This initiative positions Kansas to provide state of the art emergency communication services to the benefit of our residents, businesses and visitors,” said Brownback. “Our first responders need to quickly and securely coordinate efforts during an emergency, and FirstNet will help ensure that they have the tools they need to safeguard our state. This effort will also bring welcome broadband service enhancements to many rural parts of our state, including tribal lands and those areas most recently affected by wildfires this spring.”

Brownback said the FirstNet system has been under consideration even when he was in the U.S. Senate and was prompted by communication problems following the 9-11 attack in New York. Federal legislation authorizing the system was signed in 2012 creating the First Responder Network Authority, known as FirstNet, as independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce. AT&T, in a public-private partnership with FirstNet, will build, operate and maintain a highly secure, wireless broadband communications network for Kansas’ public safety community at no cost to the state.

“FirstNet really is a game changer for the Kansas public safety community,” said Mike Scott, president of AT&T Kansas. “It’s what they clamored for, it’s what they need and it’s something they will put into very good and effective use.”

Scott said that AT&T will be investing approximately $40 billion nationwide on the FirstNet system, including the construction of approximately 26 new communication sites in Kansas that will add to AT&T’s existing coverage.

“Working with an established telecommunication leader such as AT&T allows Kansas to take advantage of the experience, the expertise and existence of core infrastructure they will be bring to bear on this service,” said Brownback.

The decision to join the FirstNet system was met with great approval in the first response community.

“The governor’s decision to opt in to FirstNet will ensure that first responders in Kansas will have a state of the art, interoperable broadband network dedicated to them at all times,” said Dick Heitschmidt, Hutchinson chief of police, and chairman of the Kansas 9-1-1 Coordinating Council. “Kansas first responders already have a remarkable 800 megahertz system statewide, and many of the 9-1-1 centers in the state of Kansas are converting from the old legacy system to the state’s new next-generation 9-1-1 system. By the governor opting in to FirstNet, that means that Kansas will be one of the very first states in the country to have all three of these critical communication tools available to the first responders.”

“I talked to a Lawrence fireman just yesterday and he told me to pass on his thanks to the governor and all the people responsible for helping create this network,” said Scott. “(He said) ‘It makes my job as a first responder safer.’”

“What this will provide for us is mission-critical voice at high speed, along with data and video,” said Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. Tafanelli said the FirstNet system will give the state the “ability to coordinate and synchronize resources and efforts much more effectively and efficiently.”

“They’ll get data when they need it, how they need it, uninterrupted,” said Mike Poth, chief executive officer of FirstNet. “The decision today by the governor will help save lives, including those of first responders in the communities they serve each and every day.”

Poth said FirstNet and AT&T will begin right away to offer services and features that first responders need.

“This is truly a network built for public safety by public safety.”