When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation one year ago, healthcare professionals scrambled to control the influx of patients and struggled to offer safe, socially distant, and widely available testing. Harris County, the third-largest county in the nation, was no different and needed to act quickly.
Harris County Universal Services (HCUS) began to tackle COVID-19 with the help of FirstNet, a nationwide broadband network specially designed for first responders. Before the pandemic, HCUS had been using FirstNet in a variety of ways to enhance communications for local first responders. One of these approaches included FirstNet-enabled “Go-Kits”— pelican-coated, waterproof kits with Long Term Evolution (LTE) broadband modems — to reconnect first responders when land mobile radio systems lost connection. It was the COVID-19 pandemic that exposed the true capabilities of this technology for our first responders, healthcare workers, and larger community.
When Harris County needed to set up two large COVID-19 testing centers to respond to the pandemic in Houston, an opportunity arose to use the “Go-Kits.” Testing staff used the “Go-Kits” to connect to the Internet quickly without any interruption or delay. Ultimately, the kits provided the technology that enabled hundreds of people to be tested every day.
In combination with the “Go-Kits,” HCUS added outdoor Wi-Fi access points to the mobile testing sites using FirstNet technology. By providing uninterrupted internet, healthcare workers can quickly test patients and access testing data and medical information.
Harris County eventually set up six testing site locations. After seeing how well these testing sites were performing, more organizations began using this “Go-Kit” technology to create their own mobile testing centers in the Greater Harris County area, further assisting frontline healthcare workers. Some of these organizations now even subscribe to FirstNet.
Today, HCUS has built more than 100 “Go-Kits” to meet the demand for improved connectivity across Houston. We are now using them to support COVID-19 vaccine distribution centers and we continue to partner with FirstNet on improving this deployable technology. HCUS is also working with other public safety organizations in the surrounding area to expand their mission critical capabilities so medical professionals and first responders can continue to reach more people.