Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Voices of First Responders - Examining Public Safety Communication from the Rural Perspective



Kristen K. Greene, Shanee Dawkins, Mary Theofanos, Michelle P. Steves, Susanne M. Furman, Yee-Yin Choong, Sandra S. Prettyman


With the newly created Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), the public safety community has a unique opportunity to review and improve communication technology for first responders, in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Understanding the problems and challenges currently experienced by first responders provides the basis for addressing and developing solutions to improve public safety communication. The National Institute of Standards and Technology Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) usability team conducted in-depth interviews with approximately 200 first responders representing 13 states in eight Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions across the United States. From this larger dataset, this Volume 3 report focuses on the contexts and challenges specifically faced by rural first responders. This Volume utilizes 48 interviews with 63 rural first responders. A qualitative analysis of the transcribed interview data revealed unique issues posed by rural geography and topography; incident types specific to the rural environment; and resource challenges faced by rural first responder departments and agencies. Resource challenges include financial, personnel, and infrastructure. While there are many similarities between rural first responders and their urban and suburban counterparts, this Volume focuses on the unique nature of rural emergency response and its implications for technology needs and development. Understanding the specific challenges faced by first responders in rural communities can provide insight into the types of technology that might help them best respond to incidents effectively, efficiently, and safely.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) - 8277
Report Number


First responders, Communications technology, Public safety communications research, Qualitative research, Usability, User-centered design, User needs and requirements


Greene, K. , Dawkins, S. , Theofanos, M. , Steves, M. , Furman, S. , Choong, Y. and Prettyman, S. (2019), Voices of First Responders – Examining Public Safety Communication from the Rural Perspective, NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed April 17, 2024)
Created November 24, 2019, Updated October 12, 2021