Denver-area public-safety agencies utilized Adams County's leased Band 14 spectrum from FirstNet and deployable LTE communications to gain unprecedented access to network databases during a recent concert by the band Phish, even when commercial-carrier systems in the area were saturated by social-media traffic from attendees.

Phish conducted the three-day concert on Aug. 29-31 at Dicks Sporting Goods Park home of the Colorado Rapids MLS soccer team in Commerce City, Colo., which is near Denver and part of Adams County.

In past years, public-safety officials at the scene were not able to access databases for warrants or criminal records of concert attendees, because they depended solely on commercial carrier systems that would become overwhelmed with data traffic from concert goers, despite the fact that carriers deployed cells on wheels (COWs) to increase capacity in the area.

By utilizing a Band 14 COW with two eNodeB LTE base stations from General Dynamics C4 Systems and Intrados massive THOR Shield mobile emergency-communications vehicle, first responders were able to communicate with a team of dispatchers on site that had full network access to key databases, according to Mike Brunswig, assistant director of administration for ADCOM911 in Adams County.

Typically [in the past], they would have a phone or modem device in their vehicles, and the carrier networks obviously get saturated during those types of events, Brunswig said during an interview with IWCEs Urgent Communications. [With access to the dedicated Band 14 LTE network,] they were essentially able to get unlimited bandwidth to whatever devices they were using in the vehicle, as well as to handheld devices [when they were] outside of their vehicle.

By utilizing the Thor vehicle, we were able to provide a connection back to our ADCOM911 facility, so our dispatcher could have access through the computer system to our CAD system and to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to search for warrants, records and things like that. Essentially, they were able to access everything, as if they were sitting here in our [911] center.

Other applications supported by Band 14 LTE data throughput during the concert event included automated license-plate reading, social-media analytics, and data mining through Intrados Beware system, according to Gary Pulford, director of channels for Intrados government solutions division.

While the 45-60 MB/s speeds realized on the Band 14 network could have supported many more applications, utilization of dedicated public-safety LTE network was limited by the shortage of Band 14 LTE devices available on the market today, Pulford said. As a result, most LTE connectivity was to a first-responder vehicle, which supported a Wi-Fi hot spot or bubble that enabled officers to gain high-speed access to network resources.

However, these Wi-Fi coverage areas did not blanket the entire concert area, so public-safety personnel would have to revert back to a commercial carrier network when outside the range of a Wi-Fi bubble, Pulford said. When this occurred, the resulting drop in performance was significant, particularly for personnel running the Blue Force Tracking application, he said.

The commercial LTE network became so congested in Commerce City that we couldn't get location information about the officers for Blue Force Tracking the updates, or the refresh rates, on their location just became really slow and latent, Pulford said during an interview with IWCEs Urgent Communications. In a pure Band 14 world, that wouldn't have been a problem at all.

GD's Deployable Cell on Wheels in Adams County, CO
GD’s Deployable Cell on Wheels in Adams County, CO

So, when we were within coverage [of the Band 14-connected Wi-Fi coverage bubbles], it was great. But, when we weren't, it was a problem. And this was all an issue of end devices. If we would have had 200 Band 14-enabled devices, it would not have been an issue.

ADCOM911 conducted a ceremony in June to announce the launch of its LTE network, but construction of the fixed system is not complete in the area around Dicks Sporting Goods Park, so Adams County opted to use the deployable unit from General Dynamics C4 Systems to provide Band 14 LTE coverage in the concert area, Brunswig said.

Having relevant applications to use and the requisite bandwidth to support them is a powerful combination for first responders, according to Chris Wergin, Intrados director of business programs for the company's government solutions division.

Having a private LTE network that can push a lot of bandwidth is great, but with no applications or a facility to operate from, you don't have a lot, Wergin said during an interview with IWCEs Urgent Communications. If you have a great network but no way to get on the [communications] highway, it doesn't provide you a lot. And the same could be said about having a platform like Thor, with a bunch of applications; if we can't access radio networks, phone networks or the Internet, were kind of dead in the water, as well. There are still some things we can do locally we can do, but that broader communications is tremendously valuable.

When you put those two things togethera network and applications, as well as end-user devices it becomes an example where the whole is worth a lot more than the sum of the parts individually. We saw that [during the Phish concert].

Intrado will prepare an after-action report that can offer operational efficiencies for future events, as well the potential use of applications like video and facial-recognition technologies, Wergin said. Indeed, the company that operates Dicks Sporting Goods Park has a video-surveillance system that could be helpful to public-safety officials, and other potential collaborations could be mutually beneficial, he said.

In the future, what that might look like is a tighter bond between the public and private sectors, as well as integrating all of the tools, so that Blue Force Tracking is not just left to the first-responder community but also include private security, Wergin said. Then you start to get a broader picture.

From an incident-command perspective, what you always want is to broaden your situational awareness. You want your common operating picture to become as broad and as comprehensive as you can, because the more information you have, the better decisions that you make.

Pulford said he is confident that the private Band 14 system will support the desired video feeds referenced by Wergin and expressed optimism that future operations at such events will run even better as the Band 14 device market matures.

Once more devices get out there, we're excited to have the opportunity to run these kinds of events purely on the Band 14 side, he said.

Source: Donny Jackson, “Denver-area public safety realizes benefits of Adams County Band 14 LTE during local concert,” Urgent Communications, 9/26/2014