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Super-sizing safety communications for the Big Game

By Margaret Harding McGill, NTIA Senior Advisor for Public Affairs & Michael Varney, FirstNet Authority Director of Stakeholder Collaboration

Before the grass was even fully grown for the Big Game this weekend in Las Vegas, the First Responder Network Authority — or FirstNet Authority — team had scoured the Raiders’ stadium for dead zones to help ensure first responders would win big with the nation’s public safety communications network. 

The FirstNet Authority is an independent authority within NTIA that is charged with ensuring the deployment of FirstNet®, the nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety. 

Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson, NTIA and FirstNet Authority staff visit the Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas
Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson and NTIA and FirstNet Authority staff visit the Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas to learn more about the team’s preparations for the Big Game.

Events like the Big Game are major tests for FirstNet, and the FirstNet Authority team has put in long hours with our network partner, AT&T, to ensure that FirstNet passes with flying colors. 

The FirstNet Authority team joined staff from NTIA and AT&T to spend an unusually cold January afternoon combing Allegiant Stadium from top to bottom, checking signal strength. From the holding cells for rowdy fans deep within the bowels of the stadium to the cushy club seats, everything was covered. 

But the work will continue. Ahead of the big game, the team will participate in “RF Wars,” which will simulate intense radio frequency usage within the stadium. The exercise ensures there is no interference among the RF systems in the stadium so that first responders can communicate without issues on game day. 

The FirstNet Authority was created in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the emergency communications challenges that occurred that day. The agency was charged with creating a single nationwide broadband network for public safety communications. FirstNet was built via a public-private partnership with AT&T and provides vital connectivity and communications services for about 27,500 public safety agencies and organizations across the nation. Last year, first responders utilized FirstNet to respond to everyday emergencies and major natural disasters, including the Maui wildfires. 

But the FirstNet Authority’s work is not just about responding to disasters — it also works to prevent them. The organization has prepared for five previous Big Games. The pre-planning support helps public safety determine what broadband capabilities they plan to use during the event and what types of technologies they will need at and around the event. This work involves numerous meetings and extensive testing and evaluation. 

The team is already looking ahead to next year’s Big Game and other international sporting events that will take place in the United States in the next few years. Behind the excitement and fun of the festivities, there will be FirstNet and the FirstNet Authority — making sure the lines of communication are open so first responders can answer the call.

FirstNet and the FirstNet logo are registered trademarks and service marks of the First Responder Network Authority. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.