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Fresno County adopts AT&T system to prioritize communications in emergency events


Fresno County will adopt an AT&T-built communications system intended to give fire departments, law enforcement and other first responders communications priority in disaster and emergency situations.

The county will be the first in the state to use FirstNet system, Sheriff Margaret Mims announced at a news conference Friday in Clovis attended by fire and police officials from throughout the county.

The system, which will take about five years to fully implement, would allow the sheriff's office to prioritize and preempt calls to keep cellular systems from overloading in an emergency. According to FirstNet officials, the September 2001 terror attacks on the Twin Towers in New York highlighted communication deficiencies in a major emergencies. That prompted Congress to create the FirstNet system.

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Marc Blakeman of AT&T said the need for the system was also apparent in 2017, when cellular networks were overwhelmed as the spilllway at the Oroville Dam began to collapse, delaying evacuation of homes in the area.

"We need something to make sure we can talk to each other, to make sure we can get through," Mims said.

Officials say the creation of the system will "leverage private sector resources, infrastructure and cost-saving synergies to ... operate the network. "

The system was created by Congress through the sale of communication airwaves, which generated $7 billion in startup funds. AT&T promises to to spend another $40 billion to build and operate the rest of the system.

AT&T officials say the network will allow first responders to share video, text messages, photos and other information during emergencies.

While the public gets better communications in an emergency, AT&T also has a lot to gain through the implementation, according to Wireless Week. It estimates that the corporation acquires 20 megahertz of radio spectrum and that public safety needs will utilize less that 1 megahertz of that, except during emergencies.

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