Public safety agencies and the cities and communities they serve are always looking for ways to transform operations – to make the agencies’ jobs more efficient and effective. The staffing crisis faced by many public safety organizations and concerns about funding the future technology of 911 are just two of the ongoing conversations.
In addition to those trends, there are others driving discussion and planning in public safety and 911 today and those include:
1. The move to NG911
One trend that is not new, but evolving rapidly, is Next Generation 911, or NG911. If you have worked in or around the public safety industry over the last two decades, you may be familiar with NG911. In simple terms, NG911 is the replacement of analog 911 infrastructure with IP-based systems. Most legacy 911 systems were built on analog technology, meaning the majority of public safety answering points (PSAPs) across the United States need to be upgraded with digital technology solutions that support NG911 adoption. Beyond the hardware and software is the coordination that must take place between emergency communications, industry associations and technology vendors because, although NG911 is a national program, its deployment and implementation are being handled at the state, regional and even local level.
Technology is constantly evolving, and NG911 will help public safety keep up. The public will be able to reach 911 by voice, text and talk to text, or through automatic notification systems such as in automobiles after a crash. In addition to text, images, videos and location data can be shared. NG911 will enable faster, more resilient service by allowing information to flow seamlessly between the public, PSAPs, first responders and other entities such as hospitals, utility companies and command centers. It will help move toward the long-standing goal of ensuring that every emergency call or event is answered, even in the event of call overload, natural disasters or power outages.
2. Sharing data to improve response times and workflows
Mutual aid has been a long-standing element of fire and EMS operations across the U.S. Increasingly, it is also being utilized by law enforcement, especially for large scale events, such as mass casualty or active shooter events. In many cases, mutual aid requires a phone call and a tedious process to verify availability and response. Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) exchange helps solve the dispatch delay inherent when mutual aid agencies have different CAD systems. Modern public safety technology makes it possible for incident data or calls for service to be shared between CAD systems, so additional dispatchers and responders can help neighboring agencies seamlessly, without adding time and complexity to sharing resources.
3. The introduction of AI and automation
Of course, I can’t talk about public safety technology trends without mentioning AI and machine learning driving advanced real-time analytics and other essential public safety operations. This is swiftly becoming a need, not just a want. The volume of data that flows into a PSAP continues to increase, and many agencies are experiencing shortages in manpower and budgets that are not keeping pace with today’s communications standards. The amount of data from IoT devices and data systems can and likely will be overwhelming for analysts and operators, especially if they are responsible for multiple jurisdictions, departments or organizations. Modern public safety technology with embedded, assistive AI can ease this burden substantially, detecting patterns and anomalies in real time that dispatchers or responders might miss. These tools can be particularly effective in real-time intelligence centers (RTICs), field command posts or mobile units and within regional data-sharing initiatives.
4. Real-time crime centers (RTCCs) and emergency communications centers (ECCs)/emergency operations centers (EOCs)
RTCCs are a trend in themselves. They are not yet in all states or countries, but their prevalence is growing and will increase. RTCCs operate 24/7, can be comprised of one or several agencies and are primarily associated with law enforcement. They have a bird’s-eye view of major incidents and heightened situational awareness when compared with single-agency service providers. They may support the management of major or large-scale incidents or events that may or may not be related to crime incidents, such as natural disasters or large events. RTCCs employ technologies such as analytics or records management systems to gather and share information with first responders and officers during a major incident. The more prevalent EOCs are growing in importance as the number of large-scale natural disasters increases. One very important trend will be to ensure that information is effectively shared between all three of these facility types and that common tools, such as AI and data sharing, are leveraged wherever and whenever possible to ensure the most effective results possible for communities or regions.
5. The move to cloud
Cybersecurity, resiliency and continuity of operations are always top of mind for public safety agencies, making sure their CAD and other systems are physically secure. Understanding the threat of cyberattacks can make agencies better equipped to handle them, and modern technologies are a robust line of defense, particularly those that are operate in the cloud.
Modern cloud solutions are extremely capable of securely storing a public safety agency’s applications and data. Furthermore, reputable cloud providers adhere to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) compliance standards. Cloud adoption is accelerating, boosted by the necessity born out of the pandemic. The public safety industry is historically risk averse, but more and more agencies are realizing that the cloud is even more secure than legacy software and technologies. Cloud solutions also offer agencies the opportunity to operate from alternate sites or easily maintain operations in the face of a natural disaster, up to and including support for personnel dispatching from home. Cloud-hosted solutions offer this while reducing the total cost of ownership for agencies—truly a win-win in the face of all the technical and operational challenges agencies and communities face.
Technology accelerates so quickly that it’s hard for agencies to know when to adopt it. Cities and their agencies need to understand where their pain points are and where they’re not able to keep up with legacy workflows with labor-intensive operations and processes. Understanding current challenges and the possibilities of future capabilities will help decision-makers choose the technology investments needed to transform their public safety operations.
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Christopher Blake Carver is a nearly 30-year public safety veteran who has served in agencies ranging from dispatcher with a one-seat fire/EMS center to director of the nation’s largest and busiest fire department dispatch operation—the FDNY.
After his time in FDNY, Carver served as director of PSAP operations for the National Emergency Number Association, supporting the rollout of NG911 and the development of essential standards to improve the performance of the nation’s 911 centers. Following NENA, Carver transitioned to the vendor side, bringing his extensive experience and industry insights to Hexagon, where he currently serves as director of market development.