By Dale Stockton
Public safety agencies across the country are benefiting from mobile technologies, most often smartphones and tablets, because they result in connected first responders. In law enforcement, that means officers who can better engage with the community because they’re no longer tethered to a computer mounted in a patrol car. In fire services, going mobile allows for better command and control, and utilization of powerful situational awareness tools. For EMS, mobile technology dramatically improves patient care with quicker access to essential patient information and near-instant transmission of vital signs.
The Launch of Connecting Heroes
In May 2020, Mike Sievert, the CEO of T-Mobile, announced the launch of Connecting Heroes, an ambitious and unparalleled ten-year commitment to support public safety agencies by providing free unlimited talk, text and smartphone data to local, county, state, and tribal agencies that provide police, fire, EMS, or PSAP services. In a special introductory video, Sievert emphasized Connecting Heroes is not a temporary promotion and will remain available to first responder agencies for ten years. Even though agencies provide (or acquire) the mobile devices, the savings have proven to be substantial. There are also plans that are discounted and provide free 5G devices. Sievert estimates the budgetary savings for emergency service agencies that use Connecting Heroes could amount to $7.7 billion over the duration of the program.
The Public Safety Team
Connecting Heroes was designed to help agencies make the most of their technology budgets, acquiring mobile capabilities that serve as true force multipliers. And T-Mobile for Government has brought in a team of veteran public safety leaders as a resource to help departments effectively engage. Craig Martinez, a retired Utah police chief, is the Senior Public Safety Administrator for T-Mobile and coordinates four other public safety veterans, all of whom have more than 30 years of public safety experience. Members of the team include Amy Sinnott, who served in Florida law enforcement; Eric Olsen, who worked for NYPD and New York State University Police; David Brown, a retired Kansas police chief; and Gary Giles, who served with law enforcement agencies in Texas and Utah.
“It’s an honor to work with these professionals,” said Martinez. “The depth and breadth of their experience is incredible and they’re helping agencies to participate in the Connecting Heroes program. It’s a gamechanger for public safety and makes it possible for more departments to leverage mobile technology and become more effective.”
Connecting Heroes Helps Two Agencies Go Mobile
Some of the biggest challenges in delivering public safety services can be found in rural areas where first responders are often challenged with limited cellular coverage. Such was the case with the Hampton Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Department in Tennessee. Frustrated by the limited coverage of their previous carrier, the agency contacted T-Mobile about trying out devices and services after hearing about Connecting Heroes. The coverage was found to be solid, making it possible for nearly 40 firefighters to stay connected to each other and their headquarters in areas they previously considered dead zones. Each firetruck is now equipped with a T-Mobile-powered smartphone that runs ATAK (Android Team Awareness Kit). Operating on the T-Mobile 5G network, ATAK allows firefighters to locate each other easily and have real-time access to critical data like elevation tools, heat maps, and routing options. “The T-Mobile Connecting Heroes program is amazing, knowing that there’s a company out there looking to have your back – that’s huge for us,” said Firefighter Amos Halava.
Like many small agencies, the Bay Minette Police Department in Alabama must carefully manage their budget to ensure the basics get covered. BMPD worked with a non-profit foundation, Spirit of Blue, to acquire smartphones and then used the Connecting Heroes program to obtain free unlimited talk, text, and data on those devices. BMPD Chief Al Tolbert says that the idea of having officers equipped with smartphones was previously unachievable but now officers are using the phones extensively, including managing their body worn cameras. He has been especially pleased with the operational benefit for the school resource officers (SROs). "Four of the phones went to SROs," Tolbert explained. "Previously, we were unable to get cell coverage inside the school buildings due to the type of construction – the signal just wasn't getting through. The smartphones running on T-Mobile's network are working really well within the school properties and buildings and this allows dispatch to contact the officers with ease,” he said.
The Largest 5G Network
A month before the announcement of Connecting Heroes, T-Mobile finalized its merger with Sprint, resulting in an opportunity to combine cellular networks. It’s now America’s largest 5G network, offering robust performance and supporting capabilities like real-time sensor notification, facilitated emergency vehicle response through congested traffic, and the potential for autonomous drone operation. T-Mobile for Government also understands the importance of a network that’s reliable and offers priority access and preemption to any first responder agency that has qualified for the Wireless Priority Service administered by the Department of Homeland Security.
Going mobile dramatically expands capabilities and improves efficiency for public safety agencies. T-Mobile’s commitment to support first responders is clearly demonstrated by the Connecting Heroes program and the personnel dedicated to this effort. You can learn much more about how to enroll in the Connecting Heroes program and discover how other agencies are improving operational effectiveness by visiting the T-Mobile for Government web site.
About the Author
Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, California. He taught criminal justice classes for more than 20 years and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Law Officer Magazine and LawOfficer.com. Stockton is the founder of Below 100, an award-winning officer-safety initiative designed to reduce police line-of-duty deaths and has been involved in the presentation of the program across North America. Stockton is an accomplished technology practitioner and has managed major technology projects for public safety including personnel-locate devices and license plate recognition systems.