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Illinois’ new partnership will help first responders do lifesaving work

A new partnership between Illinois and FirstNet was announced this week that will ensure that the lifesaving advantages of enhanced wireless broadband technology are available to public safety personnel statewide.

Illinois is joining dozens of states who have opted in to the national First Responder Network, a communications network that is being built, operated and maintained at no cost to participating states through a public-private partnership between FirstNet and AT&T.

Participating in FirstNet’s dedicated network will allow the state’s first responders to always have an open line of communication when responding to an emergency, a move that could make the difference between life and death in some situations.

Benefits of the FirstNet system include:

  • First responders are given prioritized network access;
  • Subscribing first responders have access to critical information needed in a highly secure manner, whether for day-to-day operations or large-scale emergencies;
  • An efficient communications experience is expanded to public safety personnel in jurisdictions across the state when responding to natural disasters;
  • Network coverage is enhanced across the state’s diverse landscape, particularly benefitting residents in rural areas;
  • Infrastructure investments and job creation will take place across Illinois; and,
  • New lifesaving tools will be offered to first responders, including apps, specialized devices and technologies, with the potential for future integration with NextGen 911 networks and Smart Cities’ infrastructure.

“Communication is a life or death proposition in emergencies. Opting in to FirstNet’s dedicated network means first responders — fire, EMS, police — always have an open channel when it comes to doing their lifesaving work,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said.

Joe Galvin, statewide interoperability coordinator for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said today’s opt-in letter signing culminates a years-long effort to ensure broad-based participation.

"Illinois has assembled a 100-member multidiscipline, multijurisdictional stakeholder group that has provided input on what emergency responders will require in a broadband network,” Galvin said. “All the information gathered has been provided to the First Responder Network Authority and has been incorporated in to the offering provided to Illinois.”

“FirstNet is a major step forward for law enforcement — and for all first responders,” added Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz. “Whether we’re heading toward the aftermath of a tornado or an incident involving an active shooter, public-safety workers need their communications devices to work, oftentimes in adverse conditions. This will give them the best possible chance to save lives and provide aid to the injured.”

FirstNet, short for First Responder Network Authority, is an independent authority established within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It grew from a key 9/11 Commission finding that clogged communication lines made it impossible to warn firefighters that the Twin Towers were collapsing, and generally hindered effective response.

“The ability to exchange data between public safety agencies and various other disciplines will be greatly enhanced with the development of the FirstNet network,” said Chief Jeff Macko, president of the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System. “Voice communications on FirstNet will be a significant supportive adjunct to the current land mobile radio systems.”

Alsip Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Ricker agreed that FirstNet will be a blessing.

“This will provide enhanced communication capabilities for first responders from all levels of government, whether operating at a small local event or a larger regional disaster,” he said. “With FirstNet, we will have additional tools at our disposal to help with decision-making.”

Joseph Klinger, acting director for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, also welcomed today’s announcement.

“This decision is a culmination of a four-and-a-half-year effort leveraging input from first responders across all of Illinois,” he said. “It is essential for lifesaving activities that public safety has the ability to make cellular phone calls, access critical information and transmit video during an incident.”

And Kirk Lonbom, the acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), said the action demonstrates the governor’s vision to modernize state government.

“The decision to opt in to FirstNet will enable DoIT to provide enhanced services and innovative solutions in support of public safety and emergency management,” he said.

“Governor Rauner's decision to join FirstNet demonstrates his strong support and dedication to public safety throughout the state,” added First Responder Network Authority CEO Mike Poth. “We are honored to serve Illinois’ first responders and deliver to them a reliable, broadband communications network that will help them save lives and protect communities.”   

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