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Improving public safety: The role of real-time communication and IoT technology

Enabling information sharing in real time minimizes response times – keeping citizens and officers safer


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By Kinana Hussain

Law enforcement and public safety professionals understand the importance and value of sharing information in real-time to improve situational awareness and community safety. It can be the difference between life and death.

Consider the growing and dangerous “sideshow takeovers” plaguing cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, California. Originating in the Bay Area, sideshows – now occurring across the country – are vehicle-related events where drivers shut down busy public intersections and perform risky stunts for crowds of spectators. In addition to crashes injuring drivers or bystanders, these sideshows are known for violence, with shootings and killings becoming more common. In Oakland, for instance, separate shootings at a massive sideshow resulted in one death and two injuries.

Thanks to new tactics involving real-time communication between law enforcement in the air and police officers on the ground, some progress is being made to disrupt sideshows before people get hurt. Take a recent incident in San Jose. Police in the air communicating with officers on the ground were able to stop a sideshow by boxing in cars from all directions. The joint effort resulted in more than 700 issued citations and 19 vehicles impounded.

While real-time collaboration and situational awareness are critical for law enforcement, barriers to technologies that enable this still exist. In a recent RAVE Mobile Safety national survey of 300 emergency responders, 44% say they lack the technology to enable real-time collaboration. Furthermore, almost all respondents (94%) say their agency or department needs to improve its capacity to collaborate in real-time with other agencies.

Now, new technologies are playing an essential role in improving situational awareness for officers by streamlining data sharing between key devices such as automated license plate readers, facial recognition detectors, mobile data computers, and body-worn and vehicle dash cameras. This is critical for officers who must make quick, tactical decisions under stress and in dangerous and unpredictable environments. Data flow is particularly important when it comes to communicating between public-safety vehicles (air and land), dispatchers and command staff. This requires reliable, secure and always-on connectivity.

Emergency services organizations of all sizes and budgets are discovering cost-efficient, all-in-one connectivity solutions that enable optimum situational awareness. These solutions, which represent the latest innovations in IoT (Internet of Things) technology, have key features/capabilities to improve situational awareness, including:

  • 5G support. Virtually every public wireless carrier, as well as AT&T FirstNet, has upgraded much of their networks to 5G. Although 4G will remain important for ensuring connectivity in areas that haven’t been upgraded yet, deploying a 5G solution with 4G fallback now ensures that the routers won’t have to be replaced for at least the next decade. Also, make sure that the 5G/4G solution can automatically and seamlessly switch between the two technologies. This ensures a constant connection and frees users from having to switch manually.
  • Carrier certification. The solution should be pre-certified by all wireless carriers, including those that offer dedicated networks for public safety agencies and first responders, such as AT&T FirstNet, Verizon Frontline and T-Mobile Connecting Heroes. Also, look for support for dual SIMs, which enables the router to switch carriers. That maximizes reliability by providing access to a fallback carrier if the primary one has an outage in the area, such as a natural disaster that wipes out several of its towers.
  • Durability. IP64-rated hardened enclosures rated for -34 degrees C to 70 degrees C ensure that routers are protected against dust, water and temperature extremes. They also incorporate serial USB.
  • Remote access. The routers should include software that allows IT teams to remotely monitor, manage and update devices in the field. This also facilitates the rapid configuration and deployment of cellular routers and ensures they always have critical security and firmware updates.
  • Location awareness. The routers should support GNSS dead reckoning, which provides more accurate location information than standard GPS. Also known as “untethered dead reckoning” (UDR), this capability can pinpoint a public safety vehicle’s location even when it’s in an area where GPS signals are blocked, such as tunnels, urban canyons and beneath overpasses.
  • Ample security features and certifications. For example, the routers should have Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 (FIPS 140-2) certification, which covers physical security, authentication, ports and interfaces, operational environment and more. The solution also should include support for a virtual private network (VPN) that complies with the standards set by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) division. One example is Radio IP, a VPN provider that specializes in meeting public safety’s unique, demanding requirements. In addition to ensuring security and privacy, a VPN helps maintain constant connectivity, so first responders always have access to voice, video and data.

Situational awareness is crucial when it comes to keeping communities and those who serve to protect the general public safe. When public safety and law enforcement professionals are equipped with the right tools and technology, information sharing and, therefore, situational awareness improves.

About the author

Kinana Hussain is vice president of product management for Digi International. He prides himself on delivering solid results in product management and development, utilizing his extensive experience in strategic development, roadmap creation, and the management of relationships with internal and external stakeholders. He’s driven by an ability to build strategies that maximize the impact of product launches while continually meeting the business needs of the organization.

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