First responders in the Midlands says new cellular network could save more lives

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A new cellular network could save lives, according to the first responders who will use the broader bandwidth FirstNet provides for them exclusively, while on emergency calls.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster announced on Thursday that South Carolina is opting into the federal network provided by AT&T, called FirstNet.

FirstNet gives consistent, continuous cell signal so that first responders can have access to phone calls and data even in the event of natural disaster, when the general public may not have service.

"Just about everyone has smartphone technology. And a lot of incidents that we have, we need data. We need uninterrupted data," Lugoff Fire Chief Dennis Ray said.

Several first responders on hand at McMaster's announcement event could recall incidents when better, faster cell use could have been useful.

"We had a CSX cargo train derail, and was carrying hazardous materials," Ray said.

"When we had the flood, and we were concerned about some of the structural integrity of some of the bridges and should we close them," Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said. "We've never had seamless communications, and of course cellphone communications is much better than most law enforcement radio systems," he said.

The private cell network is part of a federal law that was passed after the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York.

"You remember way back, we had carrier pigeons and smoke signals all kind of ways to communicate. Well, we are way beyond that now," McMaster said, "And you'll also remember the biblical story of the Tower of Babel which was being constructed but then the people were all speaking different languages, and that was the end of the Tower of Babel. Well, we have been trying to communicate in a communicative Tower of Babel for many years."

Ray says it's going to be a crucial resource, especially in rural places.

"That's a big deal. We have to protect ourselves, and if we don't protect ourselves from the danger, we're not going to be much help for anyone else," he said.

The governor says FirstNet will be paid for by money set aside in the federal budget, not from any state taxpayer dollars.

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