As people living in areas plagued by hurricanes deal with increasingly difficult storms this time of year, policy advocates consider the impact of broadband on public safety. In this article shared with us by NC Broadband Matters, author Fiona Morgan reports on connectivity as critical for first responders. She delves into the ways FirstNet and other tools are affecting the conversation and she talks to people who work in emergency situations and understand communication needs during natural disasters.
Fiona's article originally ran on February 21st, 2019, on NC Hearts Gigabit's Our Stories.
Surviving the Storm: Why Broadband Matters for Public Safety
by Fiona Morgan
The water rose faster and higher than anyone had anticipated. Hal Lowder, Jr., recalled watching Hurricane Florence’s impact arrive in Whiteville, where he is the city’s emergency services director. “It was all swamp on Madison Street,” he said. In low-lying areas that might flood two feet in a big storm, water was more than 12 feet high. Even downtown, on Main Street, some areas had eight feet of water. “It was over my head. It was just bizarre.”
The coastal plain of North Carolina was hit hard by the hurricane. The 911 call center was down, and the police and firefighter radio system was inoperable. But there was no loss of life in Whiteville, thanks to the dedication of emergency responders and to the communications systems they had in place.
One of the reforms that came out of the 9-11 Commission was an effort by the federal government to bridge gaps in emergency responder communications. FirstNet is a nationwide public safety broadband network, a service of the federal government provided under exclusive contract with AT&T. Whiteville, seat of Columbus County, was the first city in North Carolina to sign up for FirstNet.
While it’s not yet available everywhere, FirstNet has become part of the critical information infrastructure of emergency communications. And there’s reason to hope that as it’s built out, it will lead to greater connectivity in parts of the state that currently lack even reliable cellular service.
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