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Navigating the changes in police communications technology

By Mike Falcone
Motorola Solutions, Inc.
PoliceOne Guest Contributor

Somewhere in America, right now, a police officer is pursuing a potentially violent suspect into a dark alley. Somewhere else, a firefighter is running into a burning building looking for a child. These people trained extensively for exactly these scenarios. But, when those moments actually happen, the sense of isolation can be overwhelming to those making life and death decisions.

New tools are coming to the street to aid first responders. Joining the traditional radio, mobile handheld digital devices are providing first responders with new information, new views of the tactical situation, and new ways to communicate with support personnel.

These devices and the networks behind them go well beyond the consumer tools they resemble. 4G networks enable tremendous bandwidth to be deployed by state, regional and local agencies. Connected to IP-enabled devices in the hands of first responders, these networks present the latest enabling technology for public safety.

4G Networks Help the Helpers
To maximize their utility, government CIOs and IT administrators must address the added complexity that comes with managing high-bandwidth digital networks, the devices connected to them and the usage models that are most effective under extreme conditions. Experience with traditional radio networks does not necessarily prepare IT administrators for this challenge and new options must be explored.

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. From natural disasters to forest fires and local isolated crimes, an effective communication network is imperative to the success of our front line defenders. Terrorism has increased the need for a global communication effort, in which sharing real-time critical information can save thousands of lives.

The ability to address these situations as a collaborative team, while accessing key information is driving technology solutions to meet the need.

The 21st century brings new challenges to local, regional and state governments. Yet, this new technology brings potential solutions that might have seemed like science fiction to administrators just a few years ago. Matching what is possible to what is needed is the real challenge today. Effectively utilizing and managing these solutions has added a new layer of complexity.

High-speed, high-bandwidth networks place a wireless communications web wherever it is needed. First responders no longer rush into dark alleys or burning buildings alone.

With 4G LTE, they now have voice and data access to others on the scene, can communicate with support and coordination personnel at central command centers, and can also receive a wealth of tactical visual information and background on structures and people directly involved. Advances in communication infrastructures provide users, such as law enforcement personnel and first responders with access to resilient and persistent networks even after a disaster strikes. The benefits of these 21st century solutions can be measured in lives saved and regional economies preserved.

In a public safety environment, the capabilities of these new technologies raise issues that government IT administrators might not have addressed in the past. Managing 4G LTE networks, a portfolio of IP-enabled devices and applications, including procurement and development, are parts of a much larger whole than maintaining the radio networks of the past.

New device solutions are coming faster than ever.

The benefits are immense, but they also come with new questions regarding how the network should evolve over time as new technology becomes available or a region grows and changes. Some of these questions include:

How to effectively manage and support your new portfolio of IP-enabled, high availability mobile devices?
How to integrate new applications and update new functionality?
How to support mobile devices?
How to secure the devices and ensure data integrity?

It is crucial in any public safety environment to have a plan to address the situation at hand, in order to maximize, utilize and manage the tools and solutions that these responders carry. But how can one manage the changing nature of what’s possible and what’s needed?

The Lifecycle Approach
Digital technology advances rapidly and that progress brings real benefits to communities and regions. All aspects of this digital infrastructure have a life cycle extending from planning to initial deployment to upgrades to retirement as new technology takes its place.

What’s more, the life cycles of the various elements advance at different rates. Administrators need a strategy that is more comprehensive and flexible than past approaches, and below are a few different approaches worth considering.

Go it Alone: This approach can be appealing in certain circumstances and can drive accountability throughout the many pieces of deployment. Local government IT administrators have a strong understanding of the particular needs of a region as well as a lot at stake in getting things right.

Even though a “do-it yourself” approach is typically attractive from a financial standpoint, organizations adopting that approach might have a steep learning curve that can turn potentially costly in many different ways, as the expertise and technology know-how might be limited.

This might lead to potential mistakes that can cost time, money, and in the area of public safety, potentially lives.

Hire a Consultant: Public safety technology consultants exist and bring many advantages. They can be particularly useful in designing a new system and have access to and experience with new technologies as they become available.

They tend to be oriented toward projects — such as initial deployments and critical upgrades — and are not necessarily geared toward ongoing management and service of the overall system.

Because they are not deeply involved in the changes in the underlying environment — such as growth in population or local economic base — they tend to work in static snapshots of the local situation rather than the organic evolution of a community or region.

Because this tends to be a hybrid approach between inside and outside resources, lines of accountability can blur between the consultant and internal personnel.

Outsource to a Service Provider: The biggest advantage of outsourcing management of the network-device-application infrastructure is the mission clarity that can be achieved, as well as the ability to have a single point of control and accountability. Technology is a means to achieve an objective, however, the technology and task-at-hand are always changing.

By offloading IT management, government officials can focus on outcomes such as public safety, human staffing, command and control and other clearly governmental functions. A service provider’s expertise with industry solutions and everyday issues, such as SIM card provisioning, video integration and the latest security innovations, can address an organization’s initiatives and ensure a quick implementation. And their level of engagement can grow and change to meet the organization’s and community needs. And while every community is unique, best practices from one site can be cross-pollinated to similar locations.

The 21st century brings new challenges for local, regional, state and federal governments. But, technology brings a host of possibilities for addressing those challenges. Comprehensive strategies are needed to manage device, networks and applications in a rapidly-changing environment.


About the Author
Mike Falcone is responsible for identifying, developing and delivering Managed Device Services (MDS) on a global scale for Motorola Solutions. For more information, please visit motorolasolutions.com.

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