GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Communication for first responders during crisis events can be the difference between life and death, and a federal program is working to improve those communications across the country.
Gulfport’s Mayor has a front row seat in the process. Billy Hewes is one of 15 leaders from across the country selected to serve on the Board for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), a system designed to make communication easier.
Hewes witnessed firsthand how communication breakdowns during Hurricane Katrina effected emergency response, and he believes with a uniform communication system, those breakdowns are less likely.
“Our first responders are able to communicate with each other, not just in their local jurisdictions, but across lines to send out messages like here are our needs, here’s what we have to get through first, set priorities and how we respond,” Hewes said.
According to Fire Chief Michael Beyerstedt, Gulfport is in the process of implementing FirstNet.
"The reliability of FirstNet is going to be a huge step forward for first responders," Beyerstedt said.
The U.S. Department of Commerce and Homeland Security is working in partnership with AT&T to make the FirstNet Communication system possible.
“There is going to be a band dedicated to this service that first responders will have exclusive use of for responding and communicating in time of calamity,” Hewes said.
The system is focused on implementing a broadband communications system.
“It incorporates some specific technology on a new band that provides better coverage than some of the other frequencies that cell and data is currently transmitted over,” Beyerstedt said. When the next disaster strikes, Beyerstedt said his department will be in a better position to help.
“Communications are the root of any successful or unsuccessful incident and if we can have more reliable and faster communications we’re going to be able to do our jobs better,” Beyerstedt said. “That’s the best result for the taxpayer that we’re out there to serve.”
Congress approved the establishment of FirstNet in 2012 and 3,600 communities across the nation are signed on to use the program.