State joins program aimed at improving emergency communications

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is taking steps to transform the way emergency responders communicate with each other.

Hawaii is the latest state to join FirstNet, a public-private partnership between the federal government and AT&T aimed at building a secure wireless communications network for first responders and public safety teams.

"It's not easy for them to exchange information or get data. So FirstNet's goal is to put everyone on one secure network," said state chief information officer Todd Nacapuy.

Nacapuy said the new technology will save lives, improve response times, and expand the state's connectivity to better protect rural communities.

"It enables the network to cover 100 percent of the state. Right now, we have pockets where we don't have coverage. Certain points around different coastlines, especially on the Big Island and parts of Kauai," he said.

The technology will also allow emergency crews to do things like share information, download research or important documents, and use GPS.

"We're able to send information through FirstNet on a data network now instead of just a handheld radio. If we are in building, FirstNet enables us to geo-locate a person within the building," said Nacapuy.

Hawaii's adjutant general said the technology is long overdue.

"After the 9-11 incident in New York City, police, fire, and EMS were not talking to each other. So they all rushed to the scene. People were not aware of where each other was," said Maj. Gen. Joe Logan.

Logan said FirstNet will not only help emergency teams with their day-to-day operations, but also help ensure that Hawaii is ready for the next big disaster.

"This is a way to get interoperable so that all of our first responders are on the same frequencies and have the ability to talk to each other," he said.

Hawaii joins 15 other states and territories in the FirstNet program.

State officials say the network should be up and running in about 20 months.

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