The Anchorage Police Department is using new phone technology from the First Responder Network Authority, a national communications platform that allows first responders to communicate even when regular cell phone networks are overwhelmed.
FirstNet is an independent authority inside the U.S. Department of Commerce. It was created by Congress in 2012 to develop, build, and operate a nationwide, dedicated broadband network exclusively for first responders.
APD had already planned to join FirstNet before the Nov. 30 earthquake in Southcentral Alaska, but the Police Chief Justin Doll said the earthquake highlighted the need, even though officers never lost communications during the earthquake or after.
“When the shaking stopped, one of the first things I started doing was using my FirstNet phone to call members of our APD team to begin our response to the disaster,” Doll said. “While some residents experienced busy communication networks, I had immediate 100 percent connectivity with other FirstNet public safety users.”
The system has its roots in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. In New York City and other areas, first responders were not able to communicate across agencies. Landlines and mobile connections were overwhelmed by the high volume of calls, making them a poor option for public safety personnel responding to emergencies.
The State of Alaska is also part of the FirstNet build out, which has now been accepted by all 50 states.