If you build it, they will come. During the past couple of years Raytheon built it, and came we did today to Downey (Calif.) for an event at which the company unveiled a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility dedicated to research, development, testing, and training new technologies for public safety. Well north of 200 police, fire, and EMS professionals, local political leaders, technology gurus, and ‘the press’ were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the gleaming, new Raytheon Regional Technology Center (RTC).
I flew down to the Los Angeles area specifically for this event, and I am delighted I did, because seeing is believing — and I believe this place could potentially have a tremendously positive effect on the safety and efficiency of all first responders.
Sounds a wee bit hyperbolic, doesn’t it? Hyperbolic, perhaps... but also true.
Technology Shoot House
Imagine for a moment having the opportunity to take all the command, control, communications, surveillance, and intelligence technologies you have in your department, install it into a laboratory environment — a lab replete with a fully-functioning dispatch and communications center, a network operations center, a 4G LTE wireless network, a P25 system, and other wireless communications infrastructure — and test how to maximize the collective potential of your own system. Imagine testing in a lab how new applications may be added to your current system. Imagine having access to technology experts capable of — and eagerly waiting to — helping you solve existing interoperability problems with your system.
You’re imaging the Raytheon Regional Technology Center.
Okay, most cops I know glaze over at the mere mention of the words “laboratory” and “communications technology” and whatnot, so let’s think about this another way. The square range is great, but to take firearms training to a more real-world level, we need to create near-real-world environments — a shoot house, for example. Think of the Raytheon Regional Technology Center as a technology shoot house. The venue is ready to receive — at least as far as I can perceive — any and all comers, regardless of the technology you run, to put a wide variety of technology solutions to the test.
We could use another analogy to get a sense of what the Raytheon RTC is all about. When I spoke with company president Dan Crowley, he said, “It’s the playground on which the games will be played.” In fact, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Crowley mentioned his childhood memories of playing on an old rocket-ship jungle-gym — Crowley was born and raised in Downey — not far from the new Raytheon facility unveiled this week.
I told Crowley that while I liked the playground analogy, the building reminded me more of the public safety equivalent of a modern professional football stadium. Although I’ve never been to Lucas Oil Field, merely from watching the New York Football Giants defeat the New England Patriots (woo-hoo!) in the Super Bowl a couple weeks ago, I can be reasonably certain that it’s is a really nice building. It’s got the modern technologies and the contemporary amenities we’ve all come to expect for the high-cost of a game-day ticket. But the building — and the ticket — would be basically worthless without the teams on the field.
Same with the new Raytheon facility. Don’t get me wrong, the sprawling, 27,000-square-foot facility is beautiful. But it is also an innocuous, semi-industrial looking structure on an ordinary stretch of surface streets about 20 miles due east of Los Angeles International Airport.
That’s where public safety professionals come into play. While the Raytheon Regional Technology Center is a nice building, without the human input from visiting public safety professionals — and the 75-plus employee roster — that’s all it is ...a nice building.
Now that the facility is open for business, I asked Crowley who he anticipates being among the first to “play” on his new playground.
Mr. Crowley’s Playground
“The leaders of police, fire, and EMS who are dispatching responders today, they know what technology they’ve got — they know what works — and they have a good handle for the consoles that the dispatchers use. So they’re going to come in and see the state of the art and the state of the possible and they’ll give us the feedback that can allow us to come back with ideas and solutions — to work on research and development on tomorrow’s solutions,” Crowley said.
In the simplest of terms, the Downey facility is a venue for testing and training on current and future public safety technology. To get a little deeper into the weeds, I also visited today with two super-geeks from Raytheon. T.J. Kennedy is an ex-cop who is now Director of Public Safety, and J.C. Chirravuri is Chief Technologist, Northeast Region for the company. In a conference room 100 meters from the massive stack of servers in the data center, they expounded on Crowley’s vision.
“This is how the user is going to interact with our system,” Chirravuri began. “If you bring in a new device or a new application, it will probably be installed someplace in a different environment, but this would be the place where you would come in and understand your business processes. For example, a particular agency does its job a certain way for special events planning, and we can take that workflow — the activities they perform and the roles that they play — and map it and show it how they are going to actually use it in real life.”
“What C.J. is getting at,” Kennedy chimed in, “is that every police and fire department has a business process for how they respond to incidents in their city or their county. They can actually come here with those people, or a representative sample, and work through how they would use a new technology. Let’s say they’re going to introduce One Force Tracker (OFT) as a new application, or they’re using different kinds of radio systems. They can actually bring in those old legacy systems like an old high-band VHF system and a UHF radio system and a VHF trunked radio system and we can actually plug them all in — sometimes in as short as 15 minutes — and show them that hey, [these things] can work together.”
Kennedy continued, “A lot of times, without the right technology — the kind of stuff that Raytheon has a great history of bringing into this market of interoperability — we can plug it all in together and make it work. That’s critical for public safety. You’re going to have new systems, but people aren’t going to throw away old systems. They’re going to keep them as long as it makes sense to keep them.”
Toward the end of our visit together today down in Downey, Crowley concluded that he believes once that the core group of public safety professionals have come and done its work in early testing, the next round of visitors will be the city managers and decision-makers. “They’ll come in and we can say, ‘This is what your ...first responders need, and these are the solutions we’re working on’.”
Bottom Line: See for Yourself
I freely admit that I’m a geek. I happen to actually really like this technology stuff. I freely admit also that I like the folks at Raytheon. Their stated mission objectives — and the work they diligently do to achieve those goals — strike a resonant chord for me.
“This Technology Center is dedicated to the men and women of public safety who unselfishly serve their communities,” stated one piece of literature in the press kit of materials today. I can get behind that concept, since it’s pretty darned close to the one I’ve said for years now about my own role here on PoliceOne.
I’m glad I took the time to see the new Downey facility for myself. I’m absolutely certain I never would have “got” the entirety of the thing from a simple phone interview.
So, with that in mind... Do you have fantasies about putting into place a truly tier-one comms package for all your first (and second) responders? Book a flight to LAX to see what’s on the cutting edge. On the other side of that coin, do you have a Frankenstein comms system that gives you fits? Pack it into a box, fly it to California, and fix the problem. You’ll be glad you did.