Aug 21st 2015 | Posted in Mary Scott Nabers' Insights by Mary Scott Nabers

Photo by Ed Schipul is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo by Ed Schipul is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Can’t get a signal on your iPhone or Android?  Exasperating! No one reacts well to that. We all want instant gratification…and good, strong signals for our wireless devices.

We are important customers…but, there are times when others are more important. If emergency workers and first responders can’t get wireless access, it’s more than exasperating.

Broadband overload or incompatible networks can easily result in life-threatening situations. After thousands of individuals had no service after the terrorist attacks on New York on 9/11, the whole world realized that something had to be done to expand broadband in the United States.

Things are changing now, but it has taken a long time. Texas is a recognized leader. Harris County currently operates the nation’s first long-term evolution (LTE) network that provides wireless broadband service exclusively for public safety use. It originated as a pilot project of the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet.

The public safety broadband network grew out of the 9/11 Commission’s finding that it was critical to prioritize communication between governmental agencies across all jurisdictions – local, state and federal. The commission said that a portion of the Federal Communication Commission’s radio spectrum should be set aside for public safety purposes. In other words, first responders should never have to rely on commercial networks.

In 2012, Congress passed a law authorizing FirstNet to claim its own spectrum. Harris County, in conjunction with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), volunteered to be first in testing the public safety broadband network. Other participants include Los Angeles County and the states of New Mexico and New Jersey.

In July, Harris County commissioners authorized $5.8 million to pay for the construction of cell towers that will allow public safety workers – DPS agents, firefighters, sheriffs, SWAT teams, HAZMAT units and paramedics – to send data and streaming video on their own proprietary network. They will no longer have to compete for bandwidth with commercial users.

Harris County is the only public entity in the program to dedicate local funds to the project. It now has 14 operational LTE cell towers and will soon have 19 more. The goal is for the county to eventually ramp up to 90 sites so that emergency responders will have wireless broadband from handheld devices anywhere in the county, indoors or out.  Congratulations to Harris County for leading this important effort.

To find out more about the future of public safety broadband networks and communication, and to see how you can partner with local government on future innovative government projects contact us at

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.