PRATT — A statewide dedicated communication system for first-responders will provide valuable information in time of a disaster in Kansas.

Chris Stratmann, AT&T applications sales executive, shared information for FirstNet with members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee during a recent meeting in Pratt on May 16.

FirstNet is a nationwide cellular network dedicated to public safety. AT&T received a 25-year contract with the national government to operate this network that will have 99 percent coverage in the U.S, Stratmann said.

This meant that AT&T had to commit all their existing network plus extra to reach the 99 percent coverage. AT&T must put up more towers to reach areas not currently covered, and they will be charged with operating and maintaining the applications store for the system.

A public safety advisory board will maintain the network that is also available to the public, but in the event of an emergency and disaster, locals would be blocked.

“The system gives priority to first-responder devices,” Stratmann said.

The FirstNet system is always on 24/7 and first-responders are the primary users. In the event of a disaster or emergency, more entities can be added during crisis time. Hospitals, public works and schools are examples of entities that could be added to the system.

A five-year build time schedule is in place and FirstNet is about 53 percent complete. It’s about a year and a half into the build time to get the system complete, Stratmann said.

One of the challenges of this system is that it has to work indoors and some buildings have issues receiving a signal. But this is a vital part of the system and these problems need to be solved.

“Signal penetration is not good sometimes. You have to have coverage indoors or what’s the point,” Stratmann said.

Along with the FirstNet presentation, Jeff Hutton, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Dodge City, provided information at the Pratt meeting about the challenges of providing accurate weather predictions and how information from weather apps does not come from the NWS because they don’t have an app.

Weather systems never follow an exact path, Hutton said.

"Systems can gain energy from oceans and speed up and slow down. Systems interact with mountains and other geographic factors. That is part of the reason why its hard to get accurate forecasts from long range forecast models," Hutton said. "The Rocky Mountains make weather in Kansas hard to predict."

There are GPS apps that will give better localized predictions, but the apps that use computer models tend to be inaccurate, Hutton said.

The national weather service uses data gathered daily using weather balloons, and while they have to deal with all the variables, they tend to be right most of the time, Hutton said.