Kansas has joined 13 other states in a growing interstate first-responder communications network that allows officials across jurisdictions to communicate in times of emergency, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback announced Tuesday.
At a press conference, Brownback opted into a partnership between the First Responder Network Authority — FirstNet — and AT&T, which will build out the statewide broadband network shared by public safety agencies. Brownback said FirstNet’s formation was slow but was created in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to ensure first responders are from different jurisdictions can communicate when working together.
“As first responders heroically charged into the falling buildings and rubble, they could not all communicate with one another,” Brownback said.
Brownback said the capability could help in other emergency situations, like wildfires that burned through several Kansas counties earlier this year. He said firefighters from across the state came to address the wildfires but struggled to communicate. He said it would also help in other natural disasters, like tornadoes and ice storms.
“We bring a lot of jurisdictions into any of the elements we have, and it’s very effective,” Brownback said. “It’s an efficient way to do it. It’s the right way to do it, but you’ve got to be able to talk.”
The plan will create a wireless broadband network for the public safety organizations that takes priority over regular wireless use.
AT&T Kansas President Mike Scott said the company had committed $40 billion to the project nationally. He said it would build another 26 towers across the state and add capacity to its existing network towers.
FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said the federal government would contribute $7 billion. He said AT&T has guarantee priority service for public safety officials and will be able to sell the excess signal service.
Brownback said opting into the program allows the state to have the network without incurring any of the costs. Phil Wittmer, Brownback’s chief information technology officer, said officials had not yet determined if a position of office would have to be created in the administration to coordinate the program.
FirstNet was created in 2012 and is an independent authority in the U.S. Department of Commerce.