From the Chief’s Corner: Breaking Down Mental Fences: Innovating In-Building Communications for Emergency Responders

Chief Alan PerdueBy Chief Alan Perdue (ret.), SBC Executive Director

Posted on May 23, 2024

Driving through Wyoming the other day I saw a sign that said, "Open Range Livestock on Highway." Meaning: There were no fences and livestock could roam freely. That got me thinking about the future of in-building communications for emergency responders. Often, when we get comfortable with a specific technology, it's hard to think of anything else or going in another direction. You could say that we put fences up in our minds. Much like those used to keep livestock under control. 

In the realm of emergency response, the stakes are incredibly high. Reliable communication can mean the difference between life and death. Traditionally, many responders have relied on radio systems that have served well for decades. However, these systems have limitations, especially within complex building structures where signals can be weak or obstructed. Despite these challenges, the comfort and familiarity of these established technologies can create a sort of mental fence, preventing us from exploring new and potentially more effective solutions.

LivestockJust as the open ranges of Wyoming require flexibility and adaptation from both livestock and ranchers, the dynamic environments emergency responders face demand innovative approaches. Emerging technologies, such as FirstNet, the nationwide public safety broadband network, and others offer enhanced capabilities. FirstNet provides priority access to a high-speed LTE network, ensuring that responders can communicate even when traditional networks are overloaded.

In-building solutions are also evolving with advancements like Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cell technology, which enhance signal strength and coverage within large structures. These systems ensure that every corner of a building, from the deepest basement to the highest floor, has reliable communication capabilities. Additionally, the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and smart building technologies can provide real-time data to responders, offering critical information such as building layouts, occupancy levels, and environmental conditions.

The challenge lies in breaking down the mental fences that keep us tethered to older technologies. This requires a shift in mindset from the familiar to the innovative, much like the open range requires a different approach than fenced pastures. Embracing new technologies involves risks and learning curves, but the potential benefits for safety and efficiency make it a worthy endeavor.

Training and education play a crucial role in this transition. That’s why it is important to attend events like the SBC Tech & Policy Summit on June 6th in Washington, DC.

Our minds must be like a river, open and constantly flowing with new ideas that drive innovation. Emergency responders must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to utilize new technologies effectively. This means ongoing training programs, simulations, and real-world practice to ensure that responders can confidently rely on these systems when it matters most.

NatureCollaboration is another key component. Stakeholders, including government agencies, technology providers, and emergency response teams, must work together to develop and implement these new systems. Open communication and shared goals will help drive the adoption of innovative solutions that enhance safety and efficiency.

As we drive through the metaphorical landscape of technological advancements, let’s remove the mental fences that limit our thinking. For emergency responders, this means adopting and adapting to new in-building communication technologies that ensure they are always connected, informed, and ready to respond.

The future of in-building communications is an open range of opportunity. It’s time to embrace it and move beyond the confines of our comfort zones, for the sake of all stakeholders who depend on efficient, effective, and reliable communications every day. See you in DC on June 6th, and for more information on the event visit:




Have a comment about this article? Send us your feedback or question...