What a Nationwide AT&T Outage Meant for Our First Responders

How Did Yesterday’s Massive AT&T Service Outage Impact First Responders – and What Can We Learn?
DRONELIFE is pleased to present this guest post by Matt Sloane, the Founder and CEO of Skyfire Consulting. In this piece, Matt talks about the results of his informal survey of first responders: did yesterday’s massive AT&T outage impact their programs?  DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.  All images courtesy Skyfire.
By Matt Sloane

While tens of thousands of American AT&T customers complained about not being able to order their Starbucks ahead of time, or losing their daily login streak on Candy Crush, there was a far more concerning issue yesterday in my mind — what does the loss of cell service do to our public safety drone operators’ ability to fly and respond to calls?
911 centers across the country reported extra high call volume, mostly due to people calling in to “make sure 911 worked,” but in large part, public safety agencies using AT&T services were operating on “FirstNet” circuits, rather than the public AT&T circuits.
FirstNet is a separate cellular network built specifically for public safety and emergency response providers; so that in a case where public cell circuits are overloaded or down, first responders can still communicate.

Yesterday may have been the biggest test yet for FirstNet, which also happens to be run by AT&T; and according to the anecdotes I received from many of our clients and friends, it worked just fine!
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that any civilian among the 70,000+ AT&T subscribers affected by yesterday’s outage would have had no way to call or text 911 if they weren’t near WiFi.
So what affect did this have on the nation’s public safety drone operators? Apparently not much.
In my unofficial survey, most agencies reported that while their civilian AT&T cell phones were having problems, their FirstNet devices – both phones and hotspots used in drone response – seemed to be operating normally.
Even more helpful were the suggestions I got back from a few of these folks about how to prevent an outage like this from affecting operations.
Many talked of using hotspots with SIM cards from multiple operators – 1 AT&T, 1 Verizon, 1 T-Mobile, just in case one of the three went down – and a few have also invested in Starlink’s satellite internet service in case a disaster here on earth took out multiple networks.
Overall, word on the street seems to be that the system worked as designed, and the outages were merely an inconvenience for many people; but it proved to be a good exercise for our nation’s public safety agencies to see in a real-world scenario how their training and preparation stands up under adverse conditions.
Matt Sloane is the CEO and founder of Skyfire Consulting and its parent company, Atlanta Drone Group. Before he founded Atlanta Drone Group in 2014, Matt spent 14 years in various roles at CNN in Atlanta, Matt has also worked as a certified Emergency Medical Technician for Emory EMS, working his way up to Chief of Resources and Planning for the department.Matt is an inaugural member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) technical committee on drones, a technical advisor to the International Association of Fire Chiefs technology council, and an FAA-certified pilot.
Read more from Matt Sloane:

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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