Prioritizing fire & rescue team communications under pressure
Fire and rescue teams like yours are trained to respond to a variety of emergency situations. No matter what the call, success demands that everyone coordinate their efforts to perform at their highest levels — while under extreme pressure. So you depend on the equipment and solutions you use in the station and on the scene to support you and keep you connected. And when there’s zero margin for error, those trusted solutions have to be as reliable as they are powerful.
But reliable and powerful aren’t enough. Because your needs are so unique, you also need solutions designed for first responders. After all, your other gear is designed to fit your needs — from turnout gear to Halligan bars. Your communication solutions should be too. So how do you find what you’re looking for?
You can start by thinking about what you need during some of the most common types of responses. What challenges do you face, where are you likely to be needed, and how will you coordinate your best response? Then, evaluate data and communication solutions no differently than you evaluate any of your other resources. So you’re always prepared — no matter what.
Firefighters responded to 35 million calls in 2016.1
Response 1: Fire
Fire responses pose unique challenges when considering communications technology. During an emergency, you expect that your network will work and that the data and bandwidth will be there when you need them. In the moment, there’s no time to think about how rural or remote settings, increased data traffic or data overages might threaten a successful response. And if you plan ahead, you won’t have to.
Challenge: Dangerous missions require reliable communication
A fire emergency can break out anytime, anywhere. Flames, smoke, heat, debris and other hazards already compromise your situational awareness, making your job as a first responder difficult and dangerous.
Solution: Network connectivity where your response takes you
A carrier that offers service in both urban and rural areas should be at the top of your list. From mapping the quickest route to the scene to downloading blueprints to find the best entry and exit points, network connectivity should enhance your situational awareness in all the places your responses take you.
Challenge: High volumes of network traffic
During a fire emergency, communication between all functions of a response need to be coordinated to achieve the best outcome. However, during a large-scale incident, your data is competing against social media posts, texts and videos sent by bystanders.
Solution: Data priority keeps you connected
Communications technology can help you stay connected. Data Priority for First Responders puts first responder data first in line, and can even preempt public traffic temporarily. Wireless Priority Service (WPS) prioritizes your voice communication ahead of public calls. Solutions like these give you the ability to stay connected with a reliable and high-quality service.
Challenge: Emergencies require more data usage
As is the case with many emergencies, data usage during a fire increases. Tablets and Smartphones are working overtime to support communication between your teams, which can translate to data overage charges that create billing and budget headaches.
Solution: Unlimited data lets your team focus on the response
An unlimited data plan offers your team access to data when they need it so they can complete the job. With data already accounted for in a budgeted plan, your time can be spent preventing and addressing fire emergencies.
Response 2: Medical
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 65% of fire department responses are initiated to provide medical aid.2 As a first responder, the tools you rely on vary from Smartphones and Tablets to cameras and sensors. But one thing they all have in common is the need for a secure and reliable network connection that allows you to get information where it needs to go in real time. With a communications plan in place to help ensure connectivity and security, challenges such as remote locations and cyber threats won’t get in the way of successful outcomes.
Challenge: Specialized conditions create unique requirements
Just like fires, medical emergencies can happen anywhere — roadside in the midst of busy traffic or in a rural farm setting. As the first responder in a medical emergency, you rely on the network connection and the devices that support you in the field to save lives. To save lives, you need to stay connected.
Solution: Network connectivity with options
A reliable network connects cameras, sensors, smart devices and more so you can quickly relay patient details. This connectivity can be supported by the use of a vehicle area network (VAN). A VAN provides untethered mobile, secure Wi-Fi connectivity to support all of your wireless equipment so your team in the field gets the same connectivity they get at the station.
Challenge: Cyberattacks threaten data security
As a first responder for a medical response, your team is entrusted with sensitive public safety information that may include government building plans, private response protocols and health records.
Solution: Private, dedicated networks protect sensitive information
A dedicated private core network with private IP addresses offers protection for your data by isolating it from open internet contact that can leave your data vulnerable. So you can be confident that critical public safety information and sensitive health records are secured.
Response 3: Natural Disaster
Aside from the dangers posed by responding to natural disasters, there are also unique communication challenges for your team. Downed network resources, as well as people trying to get in touch with loved ones, can overload an already limited network, making it difficult for emergency professionals to do their jobs. A proactive plan can mitigate the devastation natural disasters create, helping your team deliver restoration and positive outcomes for your community.
Challenge: Limited bandwidth threatens communications
During Hurricane Harvey, 2 million tweets were sent in a single day.3 Increased public data usage like this, as well as texts made to loved ones or videos of the events of the disaster, can slow down networks.
Solution: Data priority sustains critical operations
When increased traffic threatens to disrupt regular service, Data Priority for First Responders helps ensure reliable communication by prioritizing your data over public traffic. So there’s no delay as you make the required plans to fight pop-up fires, respond to a medical event or deliver drinking water to affected areas.
Challenge: Devastation impacts network resources
With raging winds, record rainfall or devastating aftershocks, network resources can take a hit — resulting in downed towers or knocked-out power. Without a backup plan, you may be faced with the inability to communicate at all.
Solution: Re-establish communications
Temporary solutions can help fill the connectivity gaps disasters can create. Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs) provide on-the-spot cellular service when regular towers are damaged. Network-powered mobile command centers act as central communications hubs so you can work with your team and other agencies, no matter the conditions.
Conclusion: Making a communications plan is mission-critical
Accounting for your communication needs is just as critical as accounting for the gear and tactical skills you need to successfully combat fires, address medical emergencies and respond to natural disasters. Partnering with a provider that considers your unique needs as a first responder is also critical.
Not only will the right provider help you select the communication technology for today, they’ll also prepare you for tomorrow. With 5G on the horizon, faster speeds, greater levels of connectivity and ultra-low latency will power new advancements for firefighters. Helmets with integrated AR technology will help you see through smoke and darkness to find your way. Artificial intelligence will make it possible to predict the growth and behavior of fires to aid decision-making. And sensors will help monitor everything from oxygen tanks to firefighter health.
When you’re under pressure, your communication technology supports your life-saving efforts — improving connectivity, enhancing situational awareness and safeguarding sensitive information. Ultimately giving you the ability to deliver more successful responses.
U.S. Cellular’s local public safety solution experts can help you customize a solution that helps you deliver your best response. We offer trusted wireless solutions backed by personalized support and a powerful network that is there for you in the city and beyond. And we’re already building your next-generation 5G network.
Ready to learn more about public safety technology that can help you deliver
your best response under pressure? Call 866-616-5587 or visit
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- “Fire department calls.” National Fire Protection Association, 2018. https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Data-research-and-tools/Emergency-Responders/Fire-department-calls
- Alam, Firoj et al. “A Twitter Tale of Three Hurricanes: Harvey, Irma, and Maria.” ISCRAM, 2018. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1805.05144.pdf