Lehigh Valley FirstNet Launches

Building upon previous interoperability work performed by TuWay Communications as well as our strength in designing, constructing and maintaining critical 911 systems, TuWay was awarded a contract to design and construct the first phase of the Lehigh Valley's Next Generation 911 (NG911) system. Christened Lehigh Valley FirstNet (LV FirstNet), the name re-enforces the region's commitment to implement standards compliant, value based solutions and to allow for seamless integration and interoperability with other Commonwealth initiatives as well as the federal government's FirstNet.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the lessons learned, efforts have been underway to improve voice and data interoperability amongst first responders. With the advent of the federal government's Public Safety FIRST responder broadband NETwork (FirstNet) initiative, the first responder community is entering an era of significant opportunity to re-define and revolutionize the way that 911 and Public Safety services are delivered to the public. At the core of the FirstNet strategy is the use of standard compliant IP data and digital voice (cellular and radio) technologies which will enable a quantum leap in the ability of first responders to gather and disseminate critical voice and data information in situations where confusion can easily reign and literally seconds matter. There are several benefits to utilizing standards compliant applications and networks, most notably:

  • Systems and networks can be constructed regionally as needs and budgets dictate, then inter-connected in the future
  • As voice and data can travel over various back haul infrastructures (cellular, fiber, microwave, satellite, etc.), greater deployment and redundancy options exist
  • Public Safety entities can work together based on dynamic operational needs, not based on rigid artificial groupings or geographical proximity
  • Sharing of system elements (servers, routers, software, network backhaul) and the use of non-proprietary devices and applications will result in substantial total cost of ownership savings.

These benefits, combined with the Commonwealth's escalating budget issues, prompted the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) to allocate funding to assist with this initiative.

Solution Overview
The 911 entities that comprise the Lehigh Valley region are: Northampton County Emergency Management Services, City of Allentown Bureau of Communications, City of Bethlehem 911, and Lehigh County Emergency Services. Several applications were evaluated for regional sharing: 911 call termination and distribution, text messaging, radio and call logging and recording, video, land mobile radio, and a variety of newer NG911 applications beginning to emerge. Solutions were evaluated using a variety of "metrics" including the true value provided, public and political perceptions, existing equipment life cycles, available funding, maturity of the technology, and user support & training required.

911 call termination/ distribution, and text messaging were selected as the initial applications to deploy. Radio communications were eliminated early from the planning process primarily due to the following considerations:

  • Existing adequate interoperable voice communications
  • Current radio system life cycles
  • Uncertainties surrounding the future of the Commonwealth's Statewide Radio Network (StarNet)
  • Poor cost to value ratio

Network connectivity utilizes diverse path redundant Layer 2 Ethernet fiber, with licensed microwave to be added for resiliency as the network scales. As of this writing, the initial network has been deployed, and the clients and geo-diverse system elements are operational in the Northampton and Allentown 911 centers. Project completion is scheduled for mid-2016. Anticipated combined five year savings are approximately $800,000 while simultaneously expanding Text-to-911 capability throughout the entire Lehigh Valley region. Savings as future applications are added will be even more significant through leveraging previously constructed network assets.