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Mobile broadband enhances public safety effectiveness

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.

Today, public safety agencies rely on what is commonly referred to as 3G (third generation) wireless technology for mobile data communications. This is primarily used for non-mission-critical applications. In Europe some agencies with terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) networks were considering to expand the carrying capacity of their channels by implementing TEDS (Tetra Enhanced Data Services). That solution works for the transmission of simple, relatively static information, but is incapable of carrying the types of data which will be central to improving public safety effectiveness and efficiency in the 21st Century. TETRA/TEDS networks can handle the “dash-cam” footage one might see on television news or in courtroom testimony, but it is all but useless in leveraging those video assets to actually interdict criminal activity as it happens. Forward-looking planners and managers are wanting something better.

Philippe Agard is Vice President of Public Safety for Alcatel-Lucent. Agard explains, “In some geographies, first responder forces have to operate with video capabilities that are only offline, not in real time, due to their current mobile technology limitations. For instance, in France police cars have eight cameras, and all of them are now just for offline usage. You’re putting greater assets on the streets but you’re not realizing their full potential or maximizing the usage, and increasing the safety for those officers and firefighters.”

Agard says that with the capabilities promised by the more advanced technology of 4G LTE mobile broadband, there are also opportunities — some of them already known but others not yet even imagined — for improvements to the interaction between the public safety forces and the citizens they serve. A significant portion of that innovation will focus on the interaction between the public and their first responders.

“As we move to Next Generation e112 call centers we will have them connected with citizens through more than just basic SMS and voice,” Agard says. These centers will evolve to support multimedia. So a video or picture that a citizen forwards when reporting an incident, is immediately forwarded to the first responder using LTE to enhance the effectiveness of the response. Think about the difference it makes to arrive at the scene of a robbery with visual information that includes the suspect’s face and color and type of clothing, as well as those of citizens at the scene.”

Agard says that this is not just about one-way, citizen-to-public-safety communications. This has massive potential for communicating with citizens who have been impacted by an event — informing them with real-time updates on the situation.

“We see Early Warning projects being launched in many places to alert citizens about natural disasters and we expect more and more of those projects to happen globally,” he says. “We need to put in place a rich media communication capability for the citizens. It’s a dual direction — not only improving the communication to the first responders, but also improving the way the state or the first responder community interacts with the community.”

Bringing the ‘Second Responders’ Into the Mix
Further innovation that can be anticipated on an advanced 4G LTE network will be in the area of information sharing and interoperable communications for ‘second responders’ — electric utilities, water utilities, as well as transportation and housing authorities. These stakeholders are less obvious, but equally important at critical moments.

Consider local public transportation systems — particularly surface transportation like city buses. Let’s say there is an incident in which police are containing a barricaded suspect at a busy downtown intersection. The inner perimeter is one block in every direction from the incident (two square blocks), the outer perimeter is two blocks in every direction from the scene (four square blocks), the command post and EMS staging area is located at the southeast corner of the outer perimeter and has its own two square blocks of sterile area (no civilian traffic). You are now talking about roughly 18-20 blocks through which public transit can no longer move. Because you’ve got to re-route transportation, integrating that department on an ad-hoc, real-time basis with information from the command post on scene will help keep innocent people safe and keep the transportation flowing.

The most critical piece of the puzzle, however, is the underlying infrastructure of a mobile broadband network that all these agencies can plug into. With such an infrastructure, you have a standardized communications platform on which all these different stakeholders can talk, rapidly share visual information, and better serve the public. Without it, these scenarios are nothing more than good ideas never fully executed.

Public Safety Grade Reliability
The argument that the existing wireless carrier networks — or even those now under development with 4G LTE technology — can fulfill the needs of public safety doesn’t hold up. Even under ideal circumstances, those networks simply are not built with the levels of reliability and uptime that public safety and those ‘second responders’ require. The conditions most likely to cause an interruption in those services are also the conditions when the services will be most critical.

Think about the response to a tornado in a suburban area, such as what we recently saw in Joplin, Missouri in the USA. Police, fire, and EMS will respond along with public utilities and all manner of city services — water, sanitation, parks department, building inspectors, and whatnot. If the wireless network is clogged with the calls and messages of citizens searching for their loved ones, the high-priority traffic of the first responders will not get through.

“It’s clear that public safety still needs its own dedicated network,” says Agard. “I know some people are saying that the forces could use broadband from the service providers but I think that you can imagine events that will require that we shut down the mobile carrier networks. We know that during some counterterrorism tactics you have to cut the public networks to prevent terrorists from triggering bombs with mobile phones. So that really is not a public safety solution for real-time data. The public safety forces will need their own dedicated networks.”

Agard concludes that with innovations built on the 4G LTE mobile broadband network, all the stakeholders in the public safety universe will be linked, increasing situational awareness. “The first key is video.” Agard says, “Video comes up as the initial benefit — you can even say the basic benefit — but you will be able to have video fed into a control room where decisions are made on incident management. Making this a reality becomes a strategic advantage by itself, increasing situational awareness and adding information from other data points. Then you will have video and information coming from the control room out to the field, and vice versa, for decision making.”

The ability to pass real-time video and audio information to decision makers makes a public safety 4G network an information force, just as critical to operations as the traditional first responders to emergencies.

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