I just came back from The SMILE Conference in Dallas where I spoke on the debate surrounding the creation of a nationwide high-speed public safety network. For those who were unable to attend the conference, here’s my take on what the future could hold for public safety.
When it comes to public safety technology, one factor we can be assured of is that change is certain. Moore’s law says that technology grows exponentially – and it’s expected to continue to do so until 2015 or 2020 at the earliest. At the same time, P25 trunked implementations and LTE trials mean that the technology you use right now will need to be replaced. While we might like to hang on to those analog radio handsets because they’re familiar, public safety has no choice but to keep up with the times.
With technology blazing ahead, first responders see the rapid evolution of new electronic devices in their everyday lives – and want the same in the field. Businesses increasingly find that customers are demanding product evolution instead of end-of-life replacements. This requires multi-vendor interoperability, which means essentially ensuring that equipment from various vendors can work together seamlessly. To do this, open interfaces are required. This multi-vendor interoperability is key to a cost-effective solution for public safety because increased competition between product companies will result in a lower price for the customer – something that’s important for every agency working under today’s tight budget constraints.
Recent discussions in Congress have focused on whether public safety should be given the D Block or whether that spectrum should be auctioned off to commercial users who in turn let public safety agencies use it during times of crisis. Both the House and Senate have proposed their own versions on how to build such a network. While the frameworks differ significantly, sustained pressure on lawmakers to move forward on public safety can hopefully resolve the current stalemate.
Some could argue that the perceived need for a dedicated public safety wireless network is overblown. They could point to the fact that response activities were largely unaffected during both Hurricane Irene and last month’s earthquake in Virginia. But the fact that communications towers handled the influx of cellular calls without major outages doesn’t mean that everything’s fine. If anything, there is acute strain on communications systems, as underscored by the fact that FEMA had to urge people to stay off the phone because networks wouldn’t be able to handle the rush of calls to family and friends, as well as emergency response communications.
So what could the future hold for public safety? I urge you to think big. Without question, the tools you use to communicate with your family and friends – from tablets to smartphones – must be made available to law enforcement so officers can download data, check updates and ID suspects. But beyond that, the ability to talk seamlessly to other public safety personnel in real time is more than just communication. It could save lives.
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