by Angie Helminiak of AT&T

Pitch night, Indiana IoT Lab

24 hours.

First responders are well aware of just how many things can happen in 24 hours.  A tornado or blizzard, a mass casualty event, a parade or concert requiring increased security.

For 24 hours in April, first responders in Indiana also got a chance to experience what “hacking for good” can achieve, and how we can make FirstNet even stronger.

If you’re not familiar with FirstNet, it is the country’s first nationwide public safety communications platform dedicated to public safety.  And it’s being built by AT&T, in public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority.

More than 600 developers, engineers, entrepreneurs, students and first responders gathered April 20-21 at Launch Fishers and the new Indiana IoT Lab for the AT&T #IoTCivicHack. Their goal: to work together on solutions addressing the challenges that public safety faces every day.

The “hackathon” began with technical workshops on Friday, April 20, as well as a gathering of law enforcement, fire and EMS officials who heard former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis tell them, “It’s unbelievable what can come out of these kinds of things.”

Team hacking overnight, Launch Fishers

Also on Friday, a public safety “equipment rodeo” rolled into the parking lot between Launch Fishers and the IoT Lab. Organized by the Indiana Integrated Public Safety Commission, around 40 vehicles and pieces of equipment were lined up for participants, to get their ideas flowing. Dive teams, search and rescue dogs, disaster recovery crews, drones, cameras, incident response vehicles and fire trucks were on site.

An emergency helicopter ushered in Friday evening’s events, which included remarks from Congresswoman Susan Brooks, the Indianapolis Fire Department, the City of Fishers, the City of Indianapolis, Indiana State Police and technology leaders. Senior Vice President AT&T-FirstNet* Chris Sambar summed up the event well, saying: “Let’s make something great for these first responders!”

The innovating began in earnest Friday night, with 30 teams forming to develop their ideas. More than 60 public safety mentors were available to teams, both in person and virtually through a Slack channel.

Some teams worked through the night…some went home and came back in the morning…but by the time Saturday evening rolled around, they were ready to make their initial pitches.

Hackathon judges, which included civic leaders, representatives of public safety and data analysts, selected 10 teams as finalists. Those teams then pitched their ideas on stage.

In just 24 hours, #IoTCivicHack winners (full list here) came up with some amazing technology prototypes, as well as fully-produced apps. Here’s a quick look at examples of their winning solutions:

  • An app to help better engage and deploy civilian volunteers.
  • A web-based app that would allow a 911 dispatcher to take control of a caller’s smartphone so they could see and hear what is happening at the emergency location.
  • A lighting system that would alert the deaf community to tornado warnings.

Award presentations, Indiana IoT Lab

Clearly, lots of “good” can happen over the course of a day.

In addition to the great ideas that were generated by technologists and coders, AT&T and the FirstNet Authority were able to bring two very different worlds together. But we all shared the same mindset:  what can we do to help public safety?  How can we improve their connectivity? For 24 hours, we were all on the same team, and we are all better for it.

* To learn more about FirstNet, please contact Angie Helminiak at or 317-294-0363.