FirstNet Works to Foster Innovation in Public Safety Apps

By Jeff Posner, FirstNet Senior Applications Architect

If you know FirstNet, then you know we are focused on putting broadband technology into the hands of public safety personnel nationwide. What you may not know is that FirstNet also is leading the way on a host of public safety-focused technologies, not the least of which is in bringing to market the best possible software applications for public safety to use in emergencies and day to day scenarios.

“The excitement surrounding FirstNet not only is in its broadband capabilities, which will be a game-changer, but also in the competition for public safety apps that we expect it to spark,” FirstNet Chief Technology Officer Jeff Bratcher said. “If FirstNet can help foster that kind of technical innovation, we will open up a new world in which first responders are more prepared, safer, and in better position to serve the public, from the apps they will be able to access.”

When speaking about the technology FirstNet will enable at the APCO Emerging Technology Forum in Seattle recently, Jeff Johnson, Vice Chairman of the FirstNet Board said, “That device will change every aspect of life and work for public safety.”

Preceding the Technology Forum, APCO International hosted its third technology workshop; this session’s topic was App Interoperability. The APCO workshop brought together members of FirstNet’s applications team, based in Boulder, Colorado, with representatives from public safety, government agencies, telecommunications and app designers.

In this workshop, participants called for the creation of a tool for developers to use for testing their apps for interoperability and cybersecurity on FirstNet’s network. Open, transparent, and objectives based self-test tools are critical to innovating quickly within the applications ecosystem for several reasons. Transparent tools enhance confidence in the reliability, stability, and security of applications. Such tools enhance the productivity of application developers in validating their efforts prior to further, typically costlier, testing procedures. Finally, online tools are a very cost effective way for demonstrating the functionality of an underlying solution.

Efforts like APCO’s AppComm website and collaborations with FirstNet have helped to increasingly involve public safety in the dizzying pace of app development. Law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and others have been quick to tell FirstNet the kind of apps that would vastly improve public safety.

Some of those include:

  • Distributing images of suspects, lost children, or evidence reliably and in real-time
  • Viewing 3D floorplans of structure fires with all critical infrastructure such as firehose connections, real-time images of hot-spots, locations of panic alarms including all three dimensions of location
  • Real-time 12-lead ECG under mission critical, congested conditions
  • Access to a virtually unlimited collection of critical data from the field whether it be health information, law enforcement records, or licensing data

There is virtually no limit to the variety of applications and information that can be built once a mission critical, broadband data network is constructed to demanding needs of public safety. Even now, participants in FirstNet’s Early Builder program have deployed and are actively using mobile broadband solutions including situational awareness, collaboration, and push-to-talk (PTT) to support and enhance their operational posture.

Captain Chris Lombard, a Seattle firefighter, is among many who are excited about the prospects FirstNet holds. “We can’t even begin to imagine the opportunities that are going to be available for public safety. Who would have thought, even five years ago, that we would have been able to exchange the types of information or the amount of information that we are able to exchange today?

“What excites me is that there is some firefighter, EMT, patrol officer out there that right now has an idea and they’re just looking for the mechanism to be able to get that idea in motion,” Lombard added. “Whether it is passing or sharing information, whether it’s finding out what would make their jobs easier, better, orhelpful to other people. I think those are the things that excite me about the potential or the opportunities that FirstNet is going to enable for us.”

FirstNet continues to search for new and innovative ways to exploit the intersection of public safety needs, mobile broadband, and the revolutionary change in software development created by mobile devices.  By opening the doors to more developers, providing them with the tools and support commonly afforded open development environments, and promoting our vision of a fully integrated development ecosystem, public safety personnel will have access to more focused apps and more timely data than ever before possible.