Through FirstNet, VA first responders will have access to dedicated network in crisis situations

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VIRGINIA – The Commonwealth is officially the first state to opt-in with a program that will help first responders communicate during emergency situations.

On Tuesday, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a letter of intent that allows FirstNet, partnered with AT&T, to bring a  highly-secure wireless broadband communications network to Virginia.

It will provide first responders with a system of devices, apps, and tools that will allow them to communicate in situations where service would normally be spotty or nonexistent.

One of the main goals is to avoid what happened during the September 11th terrorist attacks, which many Virginia first responders dealt with.

“We weren’t able to have communication and get to where we needed to get to, not to mention not being able to get in touch with your loved ones,” says Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kinkaid.

According to FirstNet, the network will help police, fire, and EMS in responding to emergencies like the recent shooting in Alexandria, communicate with agencies statewide during national disasters, enhance coverage in rural areas, and even help in situations with large crowds such as major concerts or sporting events.

“It means the world, it’s the first responders’ safety and the safety of our residents too,” says Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers.

Tuesday’s event came after years of talks, which included 90 meetings, according to FirstNet officials.

As a part of the agreement, FirstNet and AT&T will build, operate, and maintain the network for Virginia at no cost to the state for the next 25 years.

First responder subscribers now have access to priority service with the existing nationwide AT&T LTE network.

By the end of this year, FirstNet is expected to have preemption for primary users over the network, which means first responders will have dedicated access to the network when and where they need it.