We live in an era of easy, convenient, instantaneous communication. If you need to contact anyone, anywhere in the world, for any reason, they’re always just a couple of taps away on your smartphone. Just about everyone on Earth has taken advantage of this capability—except, bizarrely, for the people who may need it most of all. The Washington Post recently reported that America’s police and firefighters have long been without the dedicated wireless network they need to fully protect and serve the public. A new project from AT&T, called FirstNet, is out to change that.

Historically, many police and fire departments in the U.S. have relied on walkie-talkies and land-based dispatch systems for communicating amongst themselves, and this has largely remained true even into the 21st century as mobile technology has rapidly improved. Now, with FirstNet, they have a network that revolutionizes their work. For example, one sheriff’s deputy in Brazos County, Texas was able to resolve a standoff with an armed man by positioning four cars around the building and using live streaming video to surveil him.

“It’s given us some incredible communication that we’ve been able to put to good use,” Brazos County sheriff Chris Kirk told the Post. “It makes us much more efficient.”

FirstNet’s unveiling was a long time coming, as the federal government hatched up the idea shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The idea was that in a major crisis, such as 9/11 or the bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013, responders would be able to communicate quickly and tackle problems together. It wasn’t until March of 2017, when AT&T secured a $40 billion contract to build FirstNet, that the project really came together.

AT&T brings a lot to the table as a wireless provider for the government. With the interconnectivity of the voice, video, data and text capabilities the company has to offer, first responders can monitor situations around the clock in a variety of ways, giving them numerous ways of responding during times of crisis. It should come as no surprise that the governments of all 50 states and the District of Columbia have already opted in to use FirstNet.

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