​​FirstNet's dedicated wireless network proves useful in spring flooding in Beltrami County

July 7, 2022

Picture this: You head up to northern Minnesota to a family cabin. You want to quick look-up the weather conditions to see whether it is safe for an outdoor fire, but you've only got one bar of service and the page won't load.

Or picture this: You're in a crowd of people at the Minnesota State Fair and you need to meet up with your group. You try to call them, but the call won't go through. There are too many other people on the network.

Now imagine that you're an emergency responder in the same place, and people's lives depend on you being able to communicate with other first responders.

Floodwater over a section of road

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Emergency Communication Networks division (DPS-ECN) is just one of many Minnesota agencies that has partnered with FirstNet to prevent communications problems from standing in the way in an emergency.

The program showed its value this spring when Beltrami County welcomed FEMA and state disaster recovery teams to assess flood damage in northern Minnesota.

Connectivity for communicating among the teams and sharing information was severely lacking on the existing commercial network. That's where FirstNet's network stepped in.

Beltrami County emergency management borrowed a device called a MegaGo kit from DPS-ECN that gave them the greater connectivity they needed to communicate effectively and efficiently. The MegaGo kit is basically a network booster on steroids. The device has high powered antennas that maximize the range, reliability and connectivity of FirstNet's network—anywhere up to 6 to 10 times more powerful than a regular commercial network.

The disaster recovery teams used the MegaGo​ kit in a remote area which allowed them to use the FirstNet private broadband network where they'd normally have no wireless network access. In addition, FirstNet's network separates the communications of responding agencies from those of the general public to make sure public safety users' calls, texts and data are first in line.

“FirstNet is the National Public Safety Broadband Network recognized by Governor Dayton in Oct. 2017. The network is there to be used, and provides benefits like priority, pre-emption, and high-powered equipment," said Melinda Miller, DPS-ECN wireless broadband program manager. “The damage assessments happening in Beltrami County are a demonstration of the usefulness of the network."

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that more than 10,000 lives could be saved each year if public safety workers were able to reach callers just 1 minute faster. FirstNet covers more than 99 percent of the U.S., population and continues to expand to cover all public safety and every first responder – career or volunteer; federal, tribal, state or local; urban, suburban or rural. In April, FirstNet announced coverage in nearly all of Minnesota through 800 sites.

As FirstNet continues to build out the network, there should never be an overloaded network for first responders in any emergency. That should give any Minnesotan peace of mind.​​​​