When it comes to communications, public safety agencies have typically preferred a one-size-fits-all approach rather than a mix of operating systems, due to their need for highly resilient, task-specific communications.
Because technology relied on has largely been built for specific mission-critical use, the emergency services sector has been characteristically – and understandably – risk-adverse and technology refresh has tended to occur every ten years or so.
But as the pace of technology innovation continues to increase, we are likely to see significant changes in how emergency services communicate over the next few years.
New classes of technology such as wearables and drivables are already changing the consumer landscape, and public safety agencies are starting to pilot these concepts.
From the wearable camera that streams video back to command base to sensors that can monitor a police officer’s heart rate, technology is now being connected back to command headquarters and seamlessly to nearby police vehicles which serve as virtual partners or computers on four wheels.
From gun holster sensors for police officers that detect when a gun is drawn, to glasses that can show a map of a given area when an officer needs it, these applications and categories of technology are becoming popular in emergency services because they can be designed to be task-specific.
But while wearables and drivables are being piloted, the real disruption to communications – disruptive being good in this case – will come as emergency service organisations begin to incorporate the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trend into the mix.
The benefits of BYOD are clear: employees know how to use their own smart device, they feel comfortable with it, and use of the device has become second nature.
The same holds true for employees in the emergency services sector. While officers know the benefits of enterprise grade devices – task-specific, encrypted communications, mission-specific applications and rugged form factors – they want the flexibility to use their own smart devices for day-to-day use.
As public safety officers continue to push for flexibility, agencies are beginning to contemplate how to connect consumer devices to their private area networks, as well as how to integrate these devices with their vehicles and command centres – all while maintaining the high level of security required to enable our officers to work as safely as possible.
They are looking at how an officer might be able to stream high-resolution video from a smart device to an in-vehicle computer, or to send pursuit footage from the video camera on a vehicle to the tablet of nearby officers – all with the assurance that the network is available 99.999 per cent of the time.
It seems like an unenviable task, integrating numerous applications and operating systems into the one common interface. But emergency service agencies are genuinely excited at the prospect and thankfully, technology has evolved to enable a future that officers on the front line are looking for.
Within the next few years we will this sector undergo pace of disruption we haven’t seen in the history of public safety communications – and our responders will be ready to handle it.
By Steve Crutchfield,
Motorola Solutions Australia and New Zealand