Officials for the Brazos County Sheriff Office yesterday announced that it is the first public-safety agency in Texas to subscribe to FirstNet services provided by AT&T, joining a handful of early adopters already using the much-anticipated nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk said his agency was positioned well to be among the first users of FirstNet after utilizing the 700 MHz Band 14 public-safety LTE site located on the Texas A&M University campus—an extension of the Harris County early-builder LTE network that was the nation’s first public-safety system of its kind—during the past two years.

“We were using Band Class 14 through the test node for about two years,” Kirk said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Now, AT&T is our provider, and today we announced that we’re the first [FirstNet] subscriber in Texas—something we’re very proud of. We’ve switched over, and all of our units now are working with priority and preemption across the AT&T bandwidth.”

In addition to using the Harris County LTE site at Texas A&M—a site that provided coverage to “about 60%” of the county—the 61 units within the Brazos County Sheriff Office also subscribed to a commercial carrier “that wasn’t AT&T” to get LTE coverage in the rest of the county, Kirk said. Services through the Harris County network were free to Brazos County, while the county paid for the carrier service.

With the switch to FirstNet provided by AT&T, the Brazos County “budget covers it well—we’re paying less,” Kirk said. Meanwhile, the early indications on network coverage and performance have been very good, particularly with the preemption capability that AT&T enabled for FirstNet subscribers in Decembers, he said.

Brazos County already has used real-time video to provide enhanced situational awareness to command staff during a flooding incident and a standoff with an armed suspect, Kirk said.

“The actual live streaming video was a great capability,” he said. “And our county has 860 IP security cameras in our courtrooms and other buildings … Being able to pull those up from any one of our patrol cars or from the command center and live streaming [from those cameras] are incredible capabilities.”

While video is a powerful tool, the ubiquitous connectivity has had an even greater impact on day-to-operations by allowing officers to remain in the field more than ever, Kirk said.

“If you were going to talk to the deputies, they would say that the capability of being able to sit in their car and do their job without having to come into the office to use their desktop or telephone to call dispatchers to run something for them,” Kirk said. “They can run [queries on criminal databases] as they sit in the car; they can pull up records at their own fingertips.

“It’s incredible the efficiencies that’s allowed us to have. The deputies don’t have to drive back to the office to do those things; they can sit in the car and do it. That means they can actually stay in their patrol zones—they don’t have to come [to] the office, they just do their jobs.”