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Connecting sensors, citizens, and cops

Powerful 4G LTE networks are the conduit of the future for life-saving data

With a few notable — and fortunate — examples, public safety agencies in recent years have principally relied on what is commonly referred to as 3G (third generation) wireless technology for mobile data communications. Those 3G mobile platforms have been fine for simple data transfer, but are inadequate for transmission the types of information that will be key to law enforcement in the 21st Century.

To address this coming need, a variety of public safety communications organizations — including APCO (Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials), NENA (National Emergency Number Association), and NPSTC (National Public-Safety Telecommunications Council) — announced their support for LTE as the preferred technological standard to be used in the development of a nationwide interoperable broadband network in the 700 MHz band assigned to public safety. There are several reasons for this widespread support, but first and foremost is the fact that 4G systems are expected to provide lightning-fast download rates of up to 100 Megabits per second — exponentially faster than current 3G capabilities.

Speeds like this are vital for the transmission of the types of data upon which public safety will rely upon in the future. Principally we’re talking here about real-time video and high-quality, high-definition images, but we must also take into account the usefulness of stationary sensors which feed a vast array of data into a wide variety of public safety computer systems. These data files will primarily come to law enforcement from two basic sources — sensors and citizens — so let’s look briefly at each.

There are entire sections of large cities—from Seattle, to San Diego, to Miami, to New York—around the country in which it is impossible to walk the sidewalk unseen by video cameras. There are stationary cameras seemingly everywhere, but not many of them are connected “real time” to a law enforcement entity. In the future, and with the help of 4G LTE, that will change for the better. With LTE, a government could deploy a fixed camera to a location with a lot of criminal activity and have that video feed fed to the police station or transmitted to a 911 call center where it would be monitored by call-takers as they receive calls. You could theoretically add similar feeds from private security cameras in the case where the owners—corner stores, banks, hotels, and other frequently-targeted locations—would want the police to have real-time visibility into what’s happening on the premises.

Furthermore, if connected to an LTE network, video from “dash cams” installed in police vehicles or “body-worn” cameras attached to a cop’s uniform could be instrumental in knowing whether or not an officer is in trouble without them ever making a radio call. That footage could be transmitted to other police officers responding to that scene.

The possibilities with real-time video intelligence are limited only by our imaginations and our judicial system, both of which can be cultivated toward the benefit of public safety.

While video is well-known, police agencies are also using many other sensors today that can leverage an LTE network to enhance results and increase public safety. Briefly, let’s consider just a handful of the possibilities:

1.) The ShotSpotter gunshot location system uses a network of acoustic sensors to detect and locate gunfire and explosive incidents — while this information is almost exclusively transmitted to police agencies via 3G networks or Municipal WiFi networks at present, leveraging LTE would enable the installation of more such sensors on the same network without sacrificing speed.
2.) Increasingly common on city streets are both mobile and stationary License Plate Readers (LPRs) from companies like ELSAG North America, Federal Signal, L-3 Mobile Vision, Motorola, and others — that quickly scan and catalog countless numbers of license plates, and have been credited with solving crimes from murder to missing persons and everything in between.
3.) Last year, ICx Technologies was chosen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop the next generation handheld detectors to counter radiological and nuclear threats — the Human Portable Radiation Detection Systems (HPRDS) program is expected to produce handheld- and backpack-sized radiological detectors which would then connect wirelessly via 4G LTE networks for real-time threat analysis by myriad law enforcement agencies from the local cops to the FBI and NEST.
4.) Also in the realm of the DHS is the deployment of motion sensors in sensors to detect intruders into border areas or other federally-owned land considered by our government to be restricted to civilian intrusion — the United States border with Mexico has famously had hundreds of sensors set up, but places like Vandenberg Air Force Base also have a web of motion-detecting devices connected with wireless networks.
5.) Real-time DNA analysis will almost certainly one day outpace fingerprints as a means of suspect identification in the field — while fingerprints don’t take up much data, DNA does, and that will require a migration from 3G networks to the much speedier 4G LTE public safety networks.

Now that we’ve looked at sensors, let’s consider their carbon-based counterparts — America’s citizens.

Finding an American citizen between the ages of 13 and 73 who does not own a cell phone is becoming an impossible task. Furthermore, these devices are not just ubiquitous, but incredibly powerful. Most of the cell phones in these people’s possession are so-called “Smartphones” that have more computing power than most desktop computers produced only ten years ago — but only when connected to a network that can handle the data they’d pushing into and pulling from the ether.

For the context of this conversation, let’s just focus on two things (although many more could fall under this area of inquiry) that a citizen might come to expect to use their cell phones for.

First and foremost, citizens in the Untied States will (many already do) expect to be able to send images and video of crimes being committed directly to a 911 call center. Most call centers today aren’t even set up to received text messages (although that problem is being addressed in e911 systems being deployed in some places), but without a rock-solid wireless network connection, the intake of cell-phone video and images will become a near-impossible task.

Citizens are increasingly using their Smartphones to get news, traffic updates, and other information they need in real time. Where are the outbound communications from law enforcement? Well, they’re coming, but most citizens would say police agencies “aren’t there yet” when it comes to using cellular technology to advise them about what’s happening out on the streets.

In order to get data-heavy multimedia files such as video, images, and DNA from Pont A to Point B to Point C, there must be a robust conduit, and in overwhelming numbers the citizenry at large is choosing LTE as that conduit. As LTE networks are rolled out for consumer purposes, public safety now has the opportunity to be as technologically advanced as the citizens they serve. In fact, it’s something of an imperative.

Law enforcement organizations that choose to evolve toward LTE simultaneously with its citizens will ultimately not only be more effective at sending and receiving data-heavy multimedia information (and responding appropriately), but will almost surely be held in higher esteem by those citizens. High-speed 4G LTE mobile networks are the platform on which unknown new public safety advancements will undoubtedly be realized. Although it may take a while to fully flesh out how public safety will use of LTE networks in years to come, there are some great examples already happening today that give us some insight into the path unfolding before us.

Where do you see it all going? Add your voice to the discussion in the comments area below or send me an email.

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