Image: FirstTech Director Red Grasso and PBS North Carolina Chief Technology Officer Fred Engel accept the 2022 Institute of Electrical and Electric Engineers Broadcast Technology Society best paper award.
Tasked with helping public safety agencies in North Carolina use advanced technology, the N.C. Department of Information Technology’s First Responder Emerging Technologies – or FirstTech – team is marking five years of voluntarily participating in the federal FirstNet broadband network.
The team, led by director Red Grasso within the Division of Broadband and Digital Equity, helps connect public safety agencies to FirstNet. It enables first responders across the nation to maintain contact when other communication systems fail during disasters and other large-scale events.
In 2017, North Carolina opted to be one of the first states to join FirstNet, which was established by Congress based on a recommendation from the federal 9/11 Commission and built in partnership with AT&T.
FirstNet was quickly put to the test in North Carolina when Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach in September 2018 and dumped nearly 3 feet of rain as it slowly traveled across the state. FirstNet provided reliable coverage and connection for public safety agencies to coordinate storm response, including through deploying satellite cell on light truck units.
The FirstNet team also evaluates, tests and adopts modern communications devices, apps, tools and other resources to strengthen public safety and emergency preparedness. The team is leading government, nonprofit and industry partners – including PBS North Carolina, the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina, Device Solutions and Triveni Digital – to research the delivery of emergency dispatch paging information over digital television signals. Compared to analog paging, this method, called datacasting, can more quickly page first responders about emergencies, thus speeding up emergency response.
National and international groups have invited Grasso to speak about this technology at public safety and conferences. He presented in Bilboa, Spain, in June and won an award for best paper at the Broadband Multimedia Systems and Broadcasting Symposium of the Institute of Electrical and Electric Engineers Broadcast Technology Society. It also won a co-award for best paper at the 2022 National Association of Broadcasters Broadcast Engineering and Information Technology Conference.
The datacasting project and its related research were also a finalist for a 2022 National Association of State Chief Information Officers Award for Emerging and Innovative Technologies.