As public safety budgets are slashed, training programs cut back, and in some cases fire and police agencies being shut down entirely, many municipalities are approaching a breaking point. The good news in this scenario is that strategic application of attention and resources toward deploying mission-critical public safety mobile broadband can enable solutions that address those issues for many years to come.
Chris Moore is Chief of Police for the San Jose (Calif.) Police Department. Moore explains, “You can make cops more efficient, but you can’t replace them. If you don’t have the technology in place, it becomes more and more difficult for the cops you do have on hand to do their jobs.”
“We’re going to be able to catch perpetrators before they reoffend. We’re going to be able to better supervise people out on parole. Nowadays in California, if you have a parolee and you don’t have adequate state funds to supervise them, you have an ankle bracelet on them. Well, that is something we’d be able to track over a public safety broadband network. All of a sudden, if you have a sexual assault in the community you can bring up the ankle bracelets in that area, and you can determine with GPS coordinates if any of those devices were there in the area of the crime at the time.”
Interoperability is Crucial
Chief Jack Parow is President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Parow says, “Here we are, ten years out from 9/11 and we still haven’t really solved the interoperability problem. I think it would be fair to say that we’ve already spent billions of dollars trying to make a patchwork of connections by various means — trying to make some bridges to achieve something similar to interoperable communications that will allow us to communicate with each other.”
Parow says also that in today’s economic climate, it has become imperative that all the public safety disciplines work efficiently together. To do otherwise can not only cost money, it can cost lives.
“Today, the fire service is not just about fire,” says Parow. “We usually have a shared command post and we have police, fire, department of public works, emergency management people, and others who come to any sort of large-scale call you have right now. To be able to have all public safety talk with each other on one radio instead of the six radios that I have in my command vehicle right now, it just so much more efficient.”
“You’re not just talking about public safety communications — you’re talking about the way we do business, the way we live,” says Chief Moore.
More Capability Equals Time and Money Saved
Public safety employees who have smartphones for personal use also find ways to make use of the devices in the workplace. Chief Parow was at the scene of a large fire when he sent a deputy to the other side of the building for a report of conditions there.
“Cell phones aren’t considered mission-critical equipment, but the next thing I know after I sent him around back, my phone is making a funny noise in my pocket — telling me I have a text message. I look at it and it was from my deputy. He had taken a picture of the back of the building and he said, ‘Here’s what you have.’ There’s no reason he couldn’t have sent me video—he just chose to send me a picture — but that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about the future of this stuff. We’re talking about communicating with somebody in a remote command post nearby. I’m talking about when you have a HAZMAT team responding on scene and sending real-time, live streaming video to someone across the country at EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in Washington DC. The head of operations can just send streaming video back to show them exactly what’s going on. That’s where we’re headed. If you look at the technology in the private sector, a lot of it is already there.”
Chief Moore argues that with the right communications technology in place you can do things quickly that otherwise would be incredibly time consuming. Moore offers the example of a traffic stop in which the driver possesses no identification documents, and appears to be providing a false name. The driver says he has a license, but there’s no record of it under the name he’s provided. Each time he’s asked his date of birth, he gives a different answer. He’s trying to conceal his identity, and the officer doesn’t know why.
“The only way you’re going to find out why they’re lying to you is to take them down to the station—that’s a three-hour proposition for a traffic citation but you don’t know what you don’t know. You can associate a cost with that.
“Now, with mobile identification and broadband,” Moore continues, “you take a thumbprint or a thumb-plus-one, and within a matter of 45 seconds you’ve identified this person, run them to determine if they have warrants, and you’re done. Now, think about the countless number of times this scenario happens. You take that three-hour period of time you just saved and multiply that by the number of actual incidents like it, and you’re talking tens of millions of dollars saved.”
The Time is Now
Chief Harlin McEwen (ret.) of the Ithaca (N.Y.) Police Department now serves as Chairman of the Communications & Technology Committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. McEwen adds, “I think there is clearly increasing cooperation between the public safety disciplines — police, fire, and EMS, and I think that’s encouraging. Having an interoperable communications system ultimately saves money, and but also it can be easily justified in operational terms. All you have to do is listen in on the day-to-day communications taking place on an interoperable system and you can hear agencies working together and being more effective.”
Chief Moore says, “The time is now. If public safety doesn’t jump on board, the cost factor is going to be two or three times higher. If we’re able to get devices manufactured that have the same chipsets, the cost-per-device goes down significantly. If we wait it’s only going to cost us more. It’s inevitable that we’ll have this technology.”