FirstNet improves communication for first responders in Whiteville

Published: Jun. 25, 2018 at 4:47 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 26, 2018 at 8:40 AM EDT
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WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) - The City of Whiteville has implemented a new communications platform dedicated to first responders - FirstNet.

The technology upgrade gives the city's communications capabilities a major boost, providing a reliable and highly secure connection.

"We're proud to be leading in technology, so we can better serve the people of Whiteville," said Whiteville Director of Emergency Services Hal Lowder. "With our law enforcement, firefighters and emergency services now on FirstNet, we're in a position to provide an efficient, coordinated response for all kinds of emergencies."

FirstNet will allow first responders to stay connected during everyday situations, big events or emergencies with push-to-talk capabilities.

Lowder said FirstNet lets first responders look up and send information, and talk to each other without worrying about losing connection. He said that's not always something they could say in the past.

Just last week, the city's radio system went down twice, meaning first responders couldn't talk to each other or the emergency services center. They've tested out FirstNet, and so far, so good.

"We haven't found any dead spots. Historically, we have had problems with data communications in this area again this is not perfect but it's the best thing we have found with purposes so far," Lowder said.

Now, if the network is congested, FirstNet will give first responders priority, so they'll always have a connection.

According to Lowder, city leaders decided to sign on to FirstNet when all of their radio and cell systems died during Hurricane Matthew and they couldn't talk to state leaders. Instead, they had to communicate with each other through pen and paper.

"When Hurricane Matthew hammered our state a number of years ago, our communications were rendered completely ineffective. In that situation, FirstNet's communications platform and push-to-talk capabilities could've been a huge help," Lowder explained.

"Matthew was the big issue. Here I am putting stuff on sticky notes. That's not cool. So, we began looking for a backup system, a way we could be interoperable again," Lowder said.

"We couldn't talk to anyone in the state of North Carolina. We were on our own, so with this system, this was one of the things I began looking for after Matthew and Matthew really prompted for me to find a better way for me to communicate."

As more agencies join FirstNet, it will drive a greater level of communication across agencies, jurisdictions and even state lines, Lowder explained.

"It's our mission to give first responders cutting-edge tools they can use to help keep themselves and those they serve out of harm's way. And we look forward to helping Whiteville's first responders achieve their life-saving mission," said Vanessa Harrison, president, AT&T – North Carolina.

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