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How mobile broadband technology will revolutionize emergency response

The ability to initiate a video stream at the push of a button allows onsite responders to immediately share what they are seeing with the command center


By Thorsten Robrecht, Nokia

As communications technology becomes ever more advanced, public safety organizations stand to benefit from the capabilities that mobile broadband networks have to offer.

Legacy narrowband networks (such as P25 here in the U.S., for example) were designed specifically to support voice services and offer very little in the way of data.

Legacy narrowband networks (such as P25 here in the U.S., for example) were designed specifically to support voice services and offer very little in the way of data. (Photo/Nokia)
Legacy narrowband networks (such as P25 here in the U.S., for example) were designed specifically to support voice services and offer very little in the way of data. (Photo/Nokia)

Though they’ve been relied on for decades, these networks cannot support the newer, high-bandwidth applications – such as real-time, two-way, high-definition video – that can be invaluable in a variety of emergency scenarios.

The technology of choice for mobile broadband is 4G LTE, which is already used worldwide in commercial mobile networks.

Mobile broadband enabling push-to-video

The availability of true mobile broadband through the introduction of LTE is changing the role that video can play in mobile services of all kinds.

Nowhere is this capability more valuable than in networks and services for first responders, and substantial efforts have been made toward the standardization of mission-critical features for LTE.

As a result, the industry is already beginning to see deployments of this technology specifically for public safety applications around the world; notably in South Korea, parts of the Middle East and in the United States.

When lives are at stake, police and other emergency personnel must be able to communicate with one another without fail in order to effectively coordinate response efforts. LTE enables first responders, dispatchers and command center personnel to see one another and, more important, access live video streams from incident sites.

Among the services now becoming available to first responders are push-to-video features. The ability to initiate a video stream at the push of a button allows onsite responders to immediately share what they are seeing with the command center or other nearby emergency personnel.

Push-to-video can also be coupled with more traditional services including push-to-talk and alert messaging, which together can dramatically improve situational awareness. Think of this as push-to-talk on steroids.

Naturally, this can offer huge benefits as it enables real-time visual assessment of the incident scene – be it a fire, explosion, riot scene or armed standoff – by the command center.

This in turn enables commanders to determine what additional resources may be needed, and whether additional support teams of police officers, SWAT, EMTs or firefighters may need to be dispatched to the scene.

Equally as important is that these audio and video streams can all be recorded for post-event analysis.

Accessing additional video sources

Of course, there is an increasing amount of video becoming available from incident scenes of all kinds, especially in urban environments, from sources like police dash and body cams, bystanders’ cell phone videos and video surveillance systems. However, these video feeds typically only become available after an incident has already taken place, so none of them offer the immediacy and coordination capabilities of push-to-video streams directly from first responders, which can be delivered and analyzed in real-time.

There is no doubt that providing both real-time and recorded video to personnel in command and control centers is incredibly valuable. However, what if these networks could also help emergency personnel look into the future? What if existing video streams – from cameras deployed for traffic monitoring or video surveillance of metro stations, stadiums and other public spaces – could be continually analyzed at or near a specific location in question to detect anomalies (such as a crowd gathering quickly at an unusual time or place – also known as a “flash mob”) and alert police or other emergency services about the potential for an incident?

The emergence of Multi-access Edge Computing

An emerging technology called Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) is starting to make that possible, at least in part.

MEC involves the deployment of computing power at the very edge of the network (at or near individual radio base stations, for instance) and enables information to be processed extremely quickly. Coupled with video analytics technology, this can offer clues to public safety organizations about events that might be developing at a given location.

These technologies can be coupled with ruggedized devices that are suitable for use in the field and include built-in cybersecurity capabilities that can help to ensure the security, reliability and integrity of the related networks and data that they carry.

Ultimately, the advanced communications networks becoming available today can be an important tool for law enforcement, emergency response and disaster recovery and support their missions to enhance public safety.


About the author
Thorsten Robrecht is head of Vertical Network Slices, Mobile Networks, Nokia.

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