In the first of a four part series, we examine how public safety agencies globally are investing in new technologies to access essential information in a more mobile way – a concept often referred to as “mobility”.
Being able to access critical information while on the move is an important way of helping public safety agencies manage their daily workflows while helping to increase productivity and safety.
As technologies shift to broadband-based solutions, public safety agencies are looking for more effective ways to share intelligence between first responders working either in the field or vehicles with their colleagues in command and control room environments.
In response to this need, Motorola Solutions has launched its vision for smart public safety, Next Generation Mobile Intelligence (NGMI), which is designed to help public safety agencies reach their goals for greater safety and operational efficiency. This can be achieved by placing the right information into the hands of first responders using a choice of devices, the best available networks and purpose-built, public safety grade applications.
We have identified the combination of four key principles which help define how public safety agencies can achieve their goals for better performance through smart technology. These four principles – mobility, connections, intelligence and partnerships – are central to NGMI.
In this story we look at mobility.
A choice of devices
In the context of public safety, mobility solutions enable agencies to integrate a choice of devices and applications to deliver information in a format that suits technology users according to their roles.
Across Australia, public safety agencies are turning to mobility solutions to drive productivity within their operations. When recently announcing a tender to provide 8,500 mobile devices for the State’s police force, Victoria Police Minister, Lisa Neville, said mobile communications devices would save staff half an hour on every eight-hour frontline shift – the equivalent of 500 full time staff each year.1
Being truly mobile in public safety means being able to perform your normal role using a choice of communications devices. As technology consumers, we are accustomed to using different devices depending on the content we’re consuming and where and how we’re consuming it. Perhaps we use a smart phone or tablet at home and switch to a laptop or desktop computer in the office.
Public safety faces unique challenges in adopting new technologies in contrast to other industries. Technological change can potentially have an impact on standard operating procedures within a public safety organisation, and any technology introduced cannot compromise the essential, mission-critical nature of first responders’ daily operations.
The introduction of technology may also highlight cultural change within agency work forces, especially through generational change and younger workers who bring different perspectives and expectations about how technology can be applied.
A key challenge for any public safety agency is ensuring their teams’ ability to communicate and coordinate responses is not compromised by the use of a mixed combination of devices, networks and applications. Consequences of this could include having communications solutions that are incompatible with each other or which fail to operate seamlessly during peak events and emergencies.
The range of devices available which meet the mission-critical needs of public safety will naturally be more limited than those available within consumer or commercial markets. This is because there are generally fewer devices which can meet public safety agencies’ greater requirements for durability, security and reliability. Additionally, these devices may need to access specific systems such as centralised databases and computer aided dispatch systems.
Nevertheless, as with any other work environment, public safety work involves completing range of tasks which could mean using a choice of communication devices including a combination of mission-critical, task-specific or consumer-grade devices. Some responders may need waterproof devices for their role. Others need rugged devices for harsher environments or a larger screen to manage data input tasks.
Having the right device for your role is critical to staying mobile in the public safety environment. This helps free responders from work they might otherwise need to do back at the station by placing the right information at their fingertips, giving them convenience and efficiency in managing their daily workflows.
Improving the management of fundamental daily workflows is the primary objective for public safety agencies investing in mobility strategies today. This involves the use of basic applications to increase productivity and enable tasks such as vehicle registration checks, issuing fines and conducting searches – all of which can help to reduce current manual processes.
This investment also lays the foundation for broader benefits that go beyond improving daily workflows and into increasing communication and collaboration in the field through sharing richer forms of information.
Over time and when these technologies are used at their peak, they also have the potential to help agencies shift from reacting and responding to crimes to predicting and preventing them.
Agencies must have access to task-specific devices and technology solutions to enhance the way users exchange information and collaborate.
Right information to the right person
In public safety it is essential to deliver the right information to the right person in a format that is easy to consume and specific to their role. This need is amplified in peak events and emergencies where every word, image or other form of information is needed to make fast and accurate decisions.
Making information easy to consume enables improved collaboration, enhanced decision-making, more efficient use of constrained resources and better outcomes for both emergency personnel and the wider community.
Imagine a siege situation where an offender has taken people hostage.
When information is provided with the correct principles of mobility in place, officers can more easily collaborate on the best way to manage the incident. This might include using a public safety-grade mapping and whiteboard application so that all responders can gain a real-time view of what is happening at the crime scene.
Tactical collaboration is made easy during such events by sharing and annotating maps, setting up perimeters, locating nearby resources and by sending and receiving video and images.
Using the right software application, responders could access floor plans of the building and indicate the probable location of hostages.
An officer on the scene could use licence plate recognition software from his or her vehicle to identify other vehicles in the vicinity that potentially belong to the suspect.
Meanwhile, operators at the command and control centre can scan footage sent from an officer’s body-worn video camera. The control centre can also monitor social media feeds for vital information. Social media is an information source with growing relevance for public safety, just as we saw with hostages in the Lindt Café siege who updated Facebook during the incident.2
Having this information at hand and being able to filter and analyse it provides “actionable intelligence” for public safety agencies, in other words, critical information that can be acted upon to make rapid and accurate decisions.
With the right intelligence delivered to the right people in a mobile way, dangerous situations can be resolved safely and efficiently.
Placing information into the hands of first responders in a mobile way that recognises their needs for consuming information is essential in public safety.
Mobility is about delivering that information on a device best suited to the task and role of the individual and which doesn’t distract from the task at hand. Enabling first responders to access the right information when on the move is an essential part of building smarter and safer communities.
- Cowan P, ‘Victoria Police goes to market for 8500 smartphones, tablets’, iTnews, 27 Jul 2016
- The hostages used social media to contact family members and friends but also to communicate the demands of the offender. Powell R, ‘Lindt Cafe siege inquest looks at unprecedented role of social media’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Jan 2015