First responders in Virginia will get priority cell service during crisis

WASHINGTON — The problem became apparent on Sept. 11, 2001 — first responders from different jurisdictions have a hard time communicating with each other.

Virginia will be the first state in the country to use the new FirstNet cell network that will give priority to police, fire and other emergency workers during a crisis.

Until now, first responders have used more than 10,000 networks for voice communications, according to AT&T. During emergencies, first responders have competed with consumers trying to access the cellular network.

With FirstNet, first responder subscribers will have special SIM cards in their cellphones, which will put them at the head of the line in connecting and staying connected.

Additionally, the system will provide interoperability that has been missing, enabling the agencies to share video, data and secure voice calls.

According to a news release, FirstNet and AT&T will build, operate and maintain the network for Virginia’s public safety agencies at no cost to the state for the next 25 years,

Since 2013, FirstNet met with Virginia and public safety officials more than 90 times to consider and integrate needs ranging from maritime coverage to better communications in rural areas.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe will hold a ceremonial letter signing Tuesday afternoon at AT&T’s FirstNet headquarters, in Reston.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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