Choice: The Force Multiplier for Public Safety

By Geoff Peck, Technology and Solution Architect, Tait Communications.

There’s a line in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, where 007’s tech support guy, Q, says:

“I can get more done in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey, working on my laptop, than you can do in the field in a year.”

Daniel Craig’s character may be fictional, but the situation he finds himself in is a stark reality. Today, policing is just as much about cops being “connected” as it is about cops on the street.

Technology—friend or foe?

Technology is the key weapon against organized crime, anti-social behavior, foreign and domestic terrorism, and of course cybercrime—all of which demand new policing strategies and tactics. Tech-savvy, highly mobile criminals operating internationally and across borders are causing a seismic shift in public safety priorities.

While there will never be a move away from the universal “protect and serve” ethos, today’s policing priority is prevention, which is why technology is being used more and more as a weapon for the good guys, too. Agencies across the world have begun early-stage adoption of smart devices to gain field intelligence, and mobile efficiency, keeping police focused on fighting crime, instead of paperwork headaches.

New Zealand Police is currently rolling out more than 6,000 smartphones to frontline staff throughout the country. By mid-2014, 6,500 staff will be equipped with the new devices. Of these frontline response, investigation and community police officers, 3,900 officers will also receive a tablet PC. The larger tablet device is for staff who need to do more complex data entry as part of their job. The devices will mean frontline staff gain 30 minutes productivity per shift, which equates to approximately 520,000 hours each year—the equivalent of about 345 frontline officers.

Mobility challenges

With limited budgets and limited manpower, making the right choices for technology to fight crime has become a more pressurized decision-making process than ever before.

Over the past decade, the technology we use at home has advanced beyond that which has typically been provided in the workplace. Organizations have resisted providing an information-rich mobile communications environment because of the demands it places on support. But it’s a trend that’s become impossible to ignore. And now more and more organizations are embracing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as a strategy, as they realize the capital savings they can make, not to mention the user satisfaction that comes with it.

The mythical uber-device or single network that does everything for Public Safety personnel is the kind of unbelievable gadget you’d see in a Bond movie. A more pragmatic, evolutionary approach is to develop fit-for-purpose solutions that bring together mobile LMR narrowband and broadband LTE networks. These solutions will support and work across any end-user mobile and portable device, intelligently and automatically synchronizing to provide secure information for crime prevention and command.

In March 2013, Australia’s New South Wales police announced it is trialing Apple, Microsoft and Blackberry mobile devices as it moves to support a mix of police-owned and BYO devices for 200 First Responders. The trials will inform NSW Police’s first formal mobility strategy which is being rolled out in parallel with the development of back-end web services to support mobile interaction. It will likely take the best part of a year.

Mission-critical and business-critical — do I need both?

Public Safety communications must be ultra-resilient, reliable and secure. Networks and services must have assured availability, particularly at times of crisis or in a major incident. Recent events around the world, including the US East Coast hurricanes, New Zealand earthquakes and Boston Marathon bombing, are stark reminders. Data services over broadband bearers, such as LTE, must be able to provide a quality of service equivalent to today’s existing narrowband voice technologies, such as TETRA and P25.

The right mix and choices of technology creates a “force multiplier”, increasing efficiency, effectiveness and safety.

With broadband data being streamed to the front line, in addition to information from smartphones, tablet PCs—and the mass of other technologies crammed onto utility belts and bolted into vehicles—means First Responders are literally weighed down by data and devices.

Just generating a greater volume of dumb data that leads to “info-besity”, or “informed bewilderment”, is a real and present issue.

The right choices call for an evolutionary approach to maximize the collective effectiveness of the various communication technologies being deployed. That means getting more intelligent information out of existing communication technologies working seamlessly together.

On April 15, 2013, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council in the US issued a briefing entitled, “Why Can’t Public Safety Just Use Cell Phones and Smart Phones for Their Mission-Critical Voice Communications?”.

This briefing to Local, Tribal, State and Federal Officials states: “Although public safety regularly use cell phones, smart phones, and other commercial wireless devices and services as a secondary form of communications, these devices and systems are currently not sufficiently suited for Public Safety mission critical voice communications during critical incidents.”—Source: http://www.npstc.org

Choice: the only option for Public Safety

Consumer-oriented technology is all around us, and the functionality that’s now commonplace in our homes, offices and vehicles has led to demand for similarly smart professional-grade technology. What’s more, those solutions that combine a mix of intelligently connected, eclectic elements can better provide communications for business-as-usual, as well as performing their mission-critical purpose.

Critical communications solutions that don’t allow choice aren’t solutions, they’re constraints. As organizations and their communications requirements change, choice should remain, so that the solution—or specific elements of it—can change too.

Choice is driving this demand because we’re all familiar with what technology can do for us personally. Why should critical communications be any different?

Tait Connection MagazineThis article is taken from Connection Magazine, Edition 3. Connection is a collection of educational and thought-leading articles focusing on critical communications, wireless and radio technology.

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