New communications system prioritizes emergency responders' calls during catastrophic emergencies


It can be frustrating having a call drop, or a text that simply won't deliver. For first responders, that's not an option in an emergency situation.

A new communications network called "First Net" was created so public safety officials will never have to deal with that during catastrophic events.

"We get one chance to make it right when it comes to a life or death decision, so when we look at network and look communications packages, we have to be sure that it's going to do the job for us," Captain Matthew Littleton with Easley Fire Department said.

Learning from the deadly 9/11 attacks, a broadband network, First Net was created.

"Whether it's a terrorist attack, hurricane, any kind of natural disaster, everyone's first instinct is to pick up their phone, contact a loved one, try to call for help, all of those calls are flooding a wireless network," Deputy Director for Pickens County Emergency Management Pierce Womack said.

Womack said First Net was created to make sure first responders are not hindered by a bogged down wireless signal when they need it the most.

"When that law enforcement officer, when that firefighters picks up his phone, laptop, tablet, anything like that, he or she is going to get primary service on the AT&T network through First Net," Womack said.

It's like having VIP status over a phone during emergencies that impact a large area or even the entire nation.

"We might have a picture of somebody that we need to get out quickly or we might have a picture of a flooded area, or a tornado to stay away from, that we can have to get that out to the media or to other first responders in a matter of seconds, not a matter of minutes or hours," Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark said.

First Net's goal is to make sure these emergency responders make these life and death calls without interruption, allowing the public safety community to have their own communications network.

Governor Henry McMaster signed off on First Net back in November, but these emergency responders say it will still take time before they're fully on board.

"I think they're still gonna be some time before we're at the point where we can say know whether First Net is what we need or don't need," Capt. Littleton said.

Womack said he anticipates demo devices to be available to Pickens County within the next few weeks. First Net will also be adding cell towers around South Carolina's diverse landscape within the next 18 months.

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