The most critical key to public safety effectiveness is information
Editor’s Note: This article was created in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent for inclusion on their blog “LifeTalk.” We present it here for PoliceOne members in our ongoing effort to ensure that public safety professionals have access to online resources which enable informed decisions on matters related to interoperable communications. Watch for further updates on this topic in coming months, and be sure to send us an email if you have questions or ideas for future topics.
While Americans have gained a widespread appreciation for the type of devastation inflicted by terrorists since 9/11/2001, the threat of terrorism has been top of mind for public safety professionals throughout Europe for a hundred years or more. Although dormant (until quite recently) for a number of years, the Provisional Irish Republican Army has been blowing things up in the United Kingdom for the past half century — from the 1982 Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings to the Omagh Bombing in 1998. More recently, the UK has been the target of homegrown terror groups linked to al Qaeda, notably with the horrific 7/7 attacks in 2005.
European terrorism concerns cross countries’ borders — the Basque Separatists’ movement, for just one example, affects both French and Spanish first responders — so having the ability to quickly and securely share a wide variety of data is imperative. Having a universally-adopted, globally-accepted LTE mobile broadband infrastructure will enable the next generation of terrorism prevention and response. For example, ad-hoc, situation-specific, real-time video surveillance feeds made available to otherwise unrelated law enforcement agencies may one day help to prevent a multiple-location terrorist attack.
One could reasonably argue that terrorism in Europe was born with the Gunpowder Treason Plot way back in 1605, and continues to haunt that continent today. By being proactive with the use of real-time video — whether it is from mobile cameras located in public safety vehicles, fixed-point locations maintained by public safety agencies, or all manner of private enterprise video surveillance — European police agencies will be able to have visibility into what’s happening at countless locations at which their human assets are not immediately present. This will enable much higher levels of protection against terrorism, as well as faster and more forceful response to incidents should they occur.
Remember, with only certain specific exceptions, most police officers in the UK do not carry sidearms — their primary weapon in the fight against terrorists is information. The English, like the rest of Europe, therefore needs a truly robust communications infrastructure for the conveyance of critical counterterrorism information.
Meanwhile, in America, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDRN) is looking at many other types of information exchange that can enable better levels of service to its citizens.
Looking to the Future of Situational Awareness
The Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network in Maryland is run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDRN) Police. MDRN Police are responsible for public safety operations in more than 17,000 square miles, which includes 6,000 square miles of waterways including the Chesapeake Bay — the maritime entry-point to the United States Capital and myriad water-borne economic assets of the mid-Atlantic region. To say that this area is of significant strategic importance is an understatement.
MDRN officers, like others who enforce the law in remote areas, face a special hazard. People they encounter are often armed, often intoxicated, and know the officer doesn’t have assistance readily available. Poachers, people fishing in protected waters or gathering fish above approved limits, and those dumping waste illegally are more likely to resist an officer working alone and without backup.
That Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network run by MDRN uses fixed and mobile camera information, along with radar tracking data, AIS information, and a variety of other sensor data, and shares it with multiple agencies — from federal agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard to local agencies like Baltimore City to various other state agencies. In turn, those participating agencies are sharing video from fixed cameras with MDRN.
The central element of the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network is the distribution to all law enforcement and public safety agencies of high-quality, high-definition video, as well as still images and rich sensor data such as real-time radar tracking. Unlike providing this information via traditional means as one might find in an urban — or even suburban — jurisdiction, the areas of responsibility for MDRN are often sparsely populated, remote, and inaccessible to anything other than a small watercraft. Having the ability to share such information increases the safety of the public these professionals serve — not having it jeopardizes not only that citizenry, but also those public safety personnel.
George Ed Ryan, Director of Communications for the Department of Natural Resources for the State of Maryland says, “We’re really looking for the ability to monitor remote areas, and to be able to get fixed video camera information and radar information out to officers who are responding. We want to get video from our vessels which have video cameras on them back to the command staff and then out again to other responding officers. What we’re lacking is the mobile solution — being able to get that video and information out to the responding officers. With the mobile solutions we’ve already looked at, there is just not enough range to cover the areas that we need to cover. That’s one of the reasons why we’re looking at 700 MHz LTE broadband to provide that wide area coverage.”
The Department of Natural Resources is the primary marine law enforcement agency in the state and is also the primary marine homeland security agency for the state as well. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police has some 250 sworn officers, more than 200 maritime vessels, and about 1,000 land vehicles to patrol eight zones in the state, including Chesapeake Bay. The agency used to field three aircraft, but due to recent budget cuts had to decommission those assets. Instead of doing their own air patrol, Maryland DNR is relying on the airborne support of the Maryland State Police. Ryan laments, “That compounds our communications problem. Now we have to bring another agency in and have them run video applications and take video information that they may otherwise not be accustomed to having.”
With a truly interoperable mobile broadband communications platform used by multiple cooperating public safety agencies, that predicament would be ameliorated. “I think that you’re really going to find that we will have a lot more situational awareness,” says Ryan. “There are a lot of cameras that are deployed in vehicles and vessels and aircraft — there are a lot of other kinds of sensors out there that monitor the Chesapeake Bay for statistical reasons but could also be used for law enforcement or homeland security missions as well. You could have license plate readers feeding into the system.”
Getting Ahead of the Response Curve
ShotSpotter uses a network of acoustic sensors to detect and locate gunfire and explosive incidents. When an event is detected by three or more sensors, data is transmitted to ShotSpotter’s location software, which identifies the event as gunfire, fireworks, explosion, or a non-threatening sound. Other sensors used for public safety purposes can detect things like the presence of chemicals in the air as well as an array of other potential hazards. The trouble becomes — how do you use all this information in real time? If you don’t have the interoperable mobile communications system in place to handle the traffic, you’re back to having civilians “call it in” to 911/112 centers.
Think about a ‘shots fired’ call. You can automatically set any ShotSpotter gunshot location resources connected to the interoperable communications network so that it sends information to the GPS-enabled patrol resources nearest to the incident.
Consider the issue of DNA analysis in the field. Where fingerprint identification in the field is real right now, we’re rapidly approaching an era of DNA in the field. Fingerprints don’t take up that much data, but DNA will, and that will require bandwidth and speed that simply is not available to public safety at present.
There are so many things that we haven’t even thought of yet — and that’s really the beauty of it. We simply haven’t even figured out all of the ways we can use this kind of network. Think of all the current ‘apps’ that are being used and developed today — all the things we could never do only a few years ago. We’re going to see that same type of an explosion of applications for public safety as soon as we get the network capability to deliver them.