Transforming safety through technology
Motorola Solutions, in partnership with independent researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, has conducted a global research study that discovers how the pandemic has changed our expectations for safety while fuelling technology adoption and innovation.
The extraordinary conditions of the global health crisis have made two things clear: safety is now seen as a collective responsibility across public safety agencies, industry and society; plus, technology can play a far greater role in keeping us safe.
The Consensus for Change citizen survey found that 88% of citizens globally want to see public safety transformed through the use of advanced technology.
The research also discovers how the pandemic sparked “high-velocity innovation for public safety agencies and businesses, especially in the areas of cloud adoption, video usage and interoperability between disparate organisations and systems, while reconfirming the need for reliable and resilient communications”.
In uncertain times, citizens place higher expectations on their public safety agencies to keep them safe. Prior to the pandemic, many organisations were looking to technology as part of their plans to modernise through digital transformation.
As the research revealed, those plans and the deployment of new technologies have been accelerated by the constantly evolving public health crisis.
Citizen Survey highlights:
- 74% agree using technology increases the productivity and efficiency of emergency services.
- 68% say the pandemic increased the need for safety technology.
- 71% of citizens say advanced technologies, such as video cameras, data analytics, cybersecurity and the cloud, are needed to address challenges of the modern world.
Adapting technology to respond to new threats
Police Scotland has been relying on technology for some time to improve the way they capture and store evidence and have saved many thousands of hours for their officers. It initially deployed smart mobile applications to enable officers to use their mobile devices instead of paper-based methods of filing reports and incident details.
But it was not until the pandemic that they realised the same technology could enable social distancing in the field.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department benefited from a vast and interoperable mobile radio network to communicate with other agencies before the pandemic. As the health crisis unfolded, public safety agencies across the county were able to stay informed and work more efficiently together by listening to one another’s radio traffic.
Therefore, it is natural to expect our public safety agencies to have access to similar (or better) tools to deliver their services. The reality is that those agencies cannot adopt technology as quickly or as flexibly as citizens can.
Emergency services and government agencies need to think more fundamentally about how to acquire, adopt and implement technology and the consequences of change. For them, the transition needs to be weighed against sizable risks, including the need to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system and protect citizens’ personal data.
Despite this, the research found many examples where the global pandemic actually spurred long planned technology deployments into action.
Increase in use of cloud security options
Norway’s emergency health service’s operating organisation for Nødnett HF, Helsetjenestens Driftsorganisasjon for Nødnett HF (HDO), provides control room management and emergency communications between citizens and health services. When the pandemic hit and emergency calls spiked, it decided to upgrade its control room with a cloud-based software in its own data centres to support virtual control rooms.
HDO’s new solution will unify data, streamline incident management workflows and enable better communication and emergency response across the nation. By centralising its control room operations onto one technology platform, HDO will increase collaboration between medical centres, regional health authorities and emergency communication centres, making vital information easily accessible for broader emergency and healthcare organisations.
A common challenge described by many public safety agencies interviewed is having a lack of interoperable technology — in other words, technology that does not allow them to communicate with other agencies, as well as disparate and incompatible systems within their organisations which do not communicate with each other.
Agencies want more interoperable solutions and greater integration across their technology systems to streamline their workflows and data, increase their situational awareness as emergencies unfold and to deliver better safety outcomes overall.
Although solutions are available to increase interoperability for both mission-critical communication and software systems, a number of agencies say they continue to face hurdles. Authorities cite technical, economic and governance challenges that need to be resolved before more interoperable solutions can be extended across the wider public safety community. Public safety agencies also need to act judiciously on interoperability, weighing the benefits and risks of sharing more communications and data with others.
Once again, the global pandemic created unique conditions that caused many emergency services to re-evaluate their interoperability strategies. Norway’s HDO said having interoperable technology enabled it to cope better with the major spike in emergency calls caused by the pandemic. Its integrated communications system enables paramedics, doctors on duty and hospitals to exchange essential updates and maintain high levels of communication and situational awareness as crises unfold.
Continuing reliance on resilient communications
In interviews, the researchers discovered how emergency services and enterprises globally are continuing to depend on mission-critical voice communication as the foundation for their operation-wide collaboration and resilience. Unlike cellular networks, these networks feature hardened infrastructure for increased reliability. Organisations have control of their networks and can scale them to provide additional capacity for secure, uninterrupted team-based communication.
At the same time, communication systems are evolving through integration with other technologies including mobile broadband.
Growing need for interoperability
Boston Police Department extended the reach of its land mobile radio system within 72 hours of the first COVID-19 lockdown by integrating broadband push-to-talk services. This enabled secure voice and data communication for its distributed and remote workforce, connecting radio users on the frontline with employees using smartphones and other devices within their homes.
To comply with government COVID-19 work safety regulations, New Zealand City Forests adapted its new digital radio communications to replace the need for drivers to exchange paper job dockets with a digital docketing system.
Radio communication technology has been adapted to meet pandemic conditions in other ways too. For example, radio accessories have enabled touch-free operation and social distancing in high-risk settings such as hospitals.
The global pandemic is a shared experience that has caused seismic changes to public health and new expectations and responsibilities for safety. It has accelerated changes in our personal perspectives and catalysed the adoption of new technologies.
A major global movement is now underway that supports making safety a shared responsibility among service providers, industry and society. Its success depends on citizens, public safety agencies and commercial organisations all being able to trust each other and to share more information to further improve the way public safety services are delivered.
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