Additional cell service available at football game in case of emergency

Gracie Awalt

If an emergency happens unexpectedly at the football game against Iowa State this Saturday, first responders will have access to an exclusive broadband network that will help them address the situation more efficiently than ever before.

For the last home football game of the season, the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will have its own broadband network solely for emergency responders. The Satellite Cell on Light Truck, or COLT, will use the nationwide Band 14 broadband network so first responders can communicate more efficiently during emergencies, since thousands of football fans using their phones clogs the normal service.

“Communication is so key with regards to everything we do on game day,” said James Barr, assistant athletics director for game operations. “If there’s slow communication or a signal inefficiency, that’s the difference between life and death in some cases. With this enhancement, it allows us to improve what we’ve got.”

The COLT is a device issued by FirstNet, a government platform dedicated specifically to America’s first responders. First responders with a subscription to the service can request a device for use in areas they believe emergencies may occur, such as high-capacity football games. Part of the AT&T network, FirstNet was established in 2012, according to a press release on the official website in July 2018.

Jimmy Johnson, assistant vice president for campus safety, said the large amount of people in the football stadium sending text messages, pictures and videos can cause communication problems. Johnson said severe inclement weather, fires, explosions or criminal threats would require efficient first responder communication.

“When you have 100,000 people in the stadium and there are 10,000 people around the stadium block tailgating, the demand for cell service is very high,” Johnson said. “Any time that you have a small area with as many users that we do, it is going to cause a problem.”

Johnson said every time the football stadium is upgraded and expanded every year, AT&T is forward-thinking and regularly expands service.

“We can’t write a letter to AT&T or Verizon or T-Mobile and say, ‘Please provide more service’ because it’s a business decision for them,” Johnson said. “It’s something that every year we reevaluate.”

Political communication sophomore Katie Bishop said she goes to most of the home football games with a small group of friends, and she said with thousands of students sitting in a concentrated area, an emergency would cause chaos and would need to be controlled quickly. 

“If it took forever for there to be a response to an emergency, it would make me feel scared and helpless because you can’t easily get out with that many people in the stadium,” Bishop said. “Having a fast response time is definitely important for everyone involved.”