A recent survey of the public safety industry in the US has revealed interesting insights – as well as similar sentiments and trends to our own emergency services in Australia and New Zealand, particularly the need for real-time data, and the integration of multiple devices and applications in the future.
Australia’s public safety industry has often been on the forefront of communications technology advances, with several authorities and agencies among the world’s first to adopt next-generation technology such as digital radio and in-car computer systems. Now a new study, conducted by Motorola Solutions in the United States, shows a sharp increase in the number of public safety agencies claiming high-speed data access as critical, particularly as they look to incorporate new categories of technology, devices and applications into their operations.
The 2013 edition of the Public Safety Industry Study – an annual survey – confirms that “(high-speed data) enables first responders to make more informed decisions to better serve the public and protect lives”. While the findings of the 2012 survey documented the emerging emphasis on data communications in public safety, the new study is notable for showing how quickly the trend of providing mobile broadband access in the field is escalating.
- Between 2012 and 2013 the number of agencies acknowledging the importance of high-speed data to their future operations grew by more than 30 per cent.
- Almost 58 per cent of respondents indicated that their agencies use video solutions in some combination of fixed, mobile and in-vehicle video applications.
- Although only about seven per cent of respondents indicated they can currently send live video from in-vehicle camera systems, almost 30 per cent said that they would definitely or probably implement streaming video in the next three years.
- 43 per cent of respondents listed interoperable communications and high-speed data access; another 18 per cent would rely on mobile data communications as often as voice communications.
- More than 62 per cent acknowledged – and are preparing for – a future in which delivering real-time voice, data and video access to first responders, wherever they are, is mission critical.
The Australian context
Australia’s public safety industry, while obviously smaller than that of the US, has seen many similarities in the use of communications technology for public safety.
For example, in December 2012, Western Australia hosted the first live demonstration of a working 4G LTE network dedicated to public safety use1 (not unlike the FirstNet national public safety broadband network currently in development in the US).
Australian emergency services have demonstrated an enthusiasm for solutions that capitalise on technology. Victoria Police has invested in “BlueNet” vehicles, with cameras installed for scanning licences as well as in-car video which starts recording as soon as police emergency lights are activated.2 South Australian Police, among other jurisdictions, has trialled wearable technology for its police officers.3 In another similarity, video is fast becoming one of the most effective sources of information for public safety operations. The death of Jill Meagher certainly highlighted the effectiveness of video solution as a method of solving crime, and has prompted government interest in more extensive use of CCTV.4
When considering challenges to achieving their public safety communications vision, almost 70 per cent of survey respondents identified budget as their primary challenge.
The same economic challenges exist in Australia with emergency services being asked to “do more with less”. Despite cuts in several State budgets, police and other emergency services are faced with greater community expectations.
Another challenge presented by broader mobility advances that are extending into public safety is Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD). Of the respondents who reported using mobile devices in their daily work, 47 per cent bring their own personal device into the workplace. Despite this, more than 62 per cent of agencies admitted to having no formal BYOD policy.
Australian public safety agencies are similarly showing a growing desire to enhance mobility across their workforces, and Motorola Solutions is currently working in partnership with agencies globally to deploy long term strategies that will ensure agency choice and flexibility as they leverage these advances.
Ten per cent of respondents noted “consensus of surrounding agencies” as the main challenge to implementing new technology, that is, effective interoperability. Seamless interoperability means multiple agencies – police, fire, ambulance and SES – and neighbouring state-wide networks working together.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (AMCA) echoes this need for Australia: “… agencies have identified a growing need for operational data capabilities to take advantage of digital technologies, which have the capacity to significantly enhance a wide range of operational functions. High speed, mobile data capabilities that can be relied upon in adverse situations and can provide for interoperability between different agencies and jurisdictions are becoming increasingly necessary in the public safety community”.
In Australia, many States have adopted technology solutions that are the most advanced of their kind and Australian agencies have shown a keen interest in adopting and deploying cutting edge technology. It remains to be seen if this trend can continue with continuing budgetary restrictions and the public safety spectrum debate.
- G. Bouwmeister, SmartCom, Oct/Nov/Dec 2012, Motorola Solutions p 6
- “Patrol officer’s life through a lens”, SA Police News, 4 Dec 2012
- SmartCom, Jul/Aug/Sep 2013, Motorola Solutions p 16
- Spectrum for Public Safety Radiocommunications: Current ACMA Initiatives and Decisions, ACMA, Oct 2012