Government Technology

Boston Bombings Highlight Need for Public Safety Broadband Network

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April 29, 2013 By

As law enforcement desperately hunted the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the city’s reliance on commercial cellular wireless carriers became an escalating problem. Just like runners who had trouble reconnecting with their families, the city experienced major crashes in the aftermath of the deadly bombing.

"I called Comcast and asked them to open up the Xfinity Wi-Fi in Watertown," Boston Chief Information Officer Donald Denning said in an interview with Stateline.

The massive investigation demonstrated how first responders need to be able to securely share high volumes of data with partners in other law enforcement agencies. Denning said the city’s reliance on the capacity of commercial carriers reinforced the need for a dedicated national public safety broadband network that is now in its planning stage.

In comments that proved to be tragically prescient, the City of Boston offered advice to the builders of this national public safety broadband network in late 2012. “Time is of the essence,” it told FirstNet, the independent authority that will design, build and operate the network.

After the marathon bombings that killed three and injured more than 200, every layer of law enforcement scrambled to coordinate. Upgrades to communications technology in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks allowed for reliable voice contact among first responders. But problems emerged when they tried to quickly share data—including the videos that ultimately led to the apprehension of the Tsarnaev brothers.


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