FirstNet technology tested in Brazos County to expand statewide

Published: Sep. 20, 2017 at 6:12 PM CDT
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After Hurricane Harvey, Governor Greg Abbott wanted Texas first responders to have the best communication technology possible.

On Tuesday, he announced the state would partner with FirstNet, a wireless broadband network that the Brazos County Sheriff's Office has been testing for the past two years.

Texas now joins 22 other states on the nationwide network.

"The safety and security of Texas communities is my number one priority, and I want to provide our first responders with the best technology possible," said Governor Abbott in a press release. "As we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, our first responders are often the last and only hope for safety in rapidly-changing and life-threatening situations, but this partnership with FirstNet and AT&T, allows Texas's fire, police, EMS and other public safety personnel to be better equipped when responding in these emergencies."

The Brazos County Sheriff's Office is the first in the nation to have the specialized communications system.

"Having that LTE connection allows us to stream data back and forth from our cars, and now we can push live streaming data from the cars to our control center," said Sheriff Chris Kirk.

First Responder Network Authority also known as FirstNet, provides a designated data network for first responders to ensure other cell phone users don't interfere.

Thomas Randall with the Texas Department of Public Safety said Brazos County played a major part in proving the technology is needed for the rest of the state.

"What Brazos County was able to do was show proof of concept that mission critical data could be used on a day-to-day basis on a dedicated network. There's many other agencies across the state of Texas that want to replicate that," said Randall.

Earlier this year FirstNet signed a multi-billion dollar contract with AT&T.

Sheriff Chris Kirk said that deal will further improve the systems they've tested.

"Some of the areas of the county we weren't able to reach with this system and now we should be able to. Now AT&T is our provider and we are about to move all our band class, 14 modems, into the AT&T spectrum. It'll give us a great deal of connectivity that we haven't had before," said Sheriff Kirk.

Kirk hopes the rest of the state will see the same success his department has.

"It's really a great thing for us. Now we're going to be able to build out this system and rely on it to cover the whole county," said Kirk.

The modems installed in the patrol cars were purchased by Harris County with grant funds and were given to Brazos County. The Brazos County Sheriff's Office only had to pay to install them.

They allow for deputies to use their patrol cars as their office.