Quick Take: Public safety technology issues and opportunities during a pandemic

Transitioning in-house public safety employees to working remotely while using apps to communicate and track supplies is a challenge for any agency


Technology plays an important role at every public safety agency. Without it, police officers wouldn't be able to pull up information on a suspect, dispatchers couldn't answer 911 calls, communicating inside a burning building would be nearly impossible for firefighters and EMS providers would be unable to provide proper patient care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown every agency for a loop as they continue to update their protocols and procedures, including how to best use technology in a time where social distancing and remote work is being implemented.

Todd Early, assistant chief of infrastructure operations at the Texas Department of Public Safety, joined FirstNet's "Coping with COVID-19: Best practices for law enforcement" webinar to discuss technology issues and opportunities departments may encounter as they continue to respond to the pandemic.

Transitioning in-house public safety employees to working remotely can be challenging and taxing on agencies. (Photo/Pixabay)
Transitioning in-house public safety employees to working remotely can be challenging and taxing on agencies. (Photo/Pixabay)

The webinar, which brought four U.S. police leaders together, offered advice on what COVID-19 practices are working, which ones are not and lessons leaders have identified as they continue to battle the outbreak in their communities.

Memorable quotes on technology and its impact on a remote workforce

Transitioning in-house public safety employees to working remotely can be challenging and taxing on agencies. Employees are used to their specific setups, programs and even work environments. These hurdles, Early said, can be overcome – one step at a time.

Here are three memorable quotes from Early's presentation.

"With this unprecedented response, telecommuting has really had a tremendous impact on agencies. When you start looking at that from a technology perspective, there comes technology challenges."

"You have to make sure your network is able to handle that many VPN connections. You have to ensure you have enough laptops for all the personnel you're going to be sending home to provide them the capability to telecommute and still do their jobs remotely."

"You start looking at this response from not just protecting citizens, but this is an unprecedented event when you're taking care of many of your folks. We realized very quickly that this was going to be an internal challenge."

Top takeaways on implementing technology and overcoming challenges

Nowadays, there's an app for everything.

Need to schedule a team meeting and can't do it face-to-face anymore? No problem. Use a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Skype. If you have an Apple or Android smartphone, you're just a few swipes away from using FaceTime or Google Duo.

During a crisis, leaders must embrace, and oftentimes adopt, new technology.

Here are three key takeaways from Early's presentation.

1. Start using apps to communicate and track supplies

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many public safety agencies, according to Early, have started using situational awareness apps.

"They're using mapping systems, whether it's for their own emergency response or to have dashboards of the locations and information that's coming in for the COVID-19 response to be able to look at how many cases have been confirmed and where the hotspots are," he said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety created a dashboard to keep track of necessary supplies in each of their office locations.

"With an agency as big as we are – 254 counties, over 11,000 employees, a fleet of over 5,000 vehicles and over 4,000 sworn officers – you can imagine, just from a supply standpoint and ensuring you know what's on hand at over 400 offices statewide, how challenging that can be," Early said.

The dashboard's real-time updates, Early said, allow the department to make informed decisions.

2. Establish an internal incident coordination center

The department's internal incident coordination center ensures they're providing the best care for their employees, as well as the citizens they serve.

"We knew that we would start getting information where we would have to triage and make the best medical decisions that we could make," Early said. "We started providing daily situational awareness reports so that we had all the information and distributed it to everyone."

The department can triage incoming information on possible exposures and provide necessary medical response and recommendations to ensure the safety of their personnel.

The remote coordination center, Early said, has assisted the department in its efforts to keep a social distance, while still being able to continue their coordination efforts.

3. If a comp center or location has been exposed, have a backup location in place

Having a backup location, Early said, will ensure that departments will not only be able to reroute personnel, but they'll also be able to reroute radio and CAD traffic.

"This is something that we did in all 22 of our locations," Early said. "There was pre-planning to make sure that we had all of that in place and that we could shift that traffic from one location to the other without it even being known at the other end."

Additionally, Early recommended agencies ensure they have the preventative maintenance they need, specifically on LMR systems.

"Make sure that they're taken care of and that they're serviced in a manner that when they're relied upon – when it comes to this type of response – that you have the radio system that you need," Early said.

Learn more about the importance of technology during a crisis

Departments can – and must – leverage today's advanced technology to make a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about how agencies are tapping into their wide-ranging technology resources, see these PoliceOne articles:

Read the next article in the series: What does social distancing look like for LE street operations?

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