For the last 200 years, firefighters have been using inefficient manual methods to track their crews’ movement. Incident commanders need to know the location and status of responders on site.

Technology adds a new element to tracking crews’ movements. Firefighters on scene can now be electronically tracked to ensure they are rotated out of danger before their allotted time expires. The officer in charge – standing outside the scene with the rugged tablet in hand – can monitor how much air is left in each tank, determine if a firefighter is in trouble, and issue an order to evacuate an individual or entire team.

Situational Awareness

The public safety sector has been at the forefront of using real-time data to enhance productivity and shorten response times, says Alex Cooper, Director of Public Sector Strategy and Market Development, Zebra Technologies. The first – and perhaps most important – goal of using real-time data has been to keep law enforcement, EMS, and fire and rescue teams safe while simultaneously protecting the people and interests of the communities they serve.

Intelligence is increasingly driving new capabilities among first responders and in business

Better preparedness and situational awareness are contingent on the availability and proper utilization of real-time data. Real-life emergency response demands real-time data sharing, whether via dispatch communications or jurisdiction-wide records systems, Cooper says. Intelligence is increasingly driving new capabilities among first responders and in business.

Complex Public Demands

Enterprises today are focused on intelligently connecting their assets, data and people in collaborative mobile workflows, leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced networks, machine learning and the cloud. Innovation is exploding at ‘the edge,’ where employees make real-time decisions and interact directly with the people they serve.

When organizations lack visibility into the movement of assets, they risk inefficient utilization of resources, growing safety concerns, and the inability to react to heightened customer demands, says Cooper. “Many of these risks apply directly to the public sector, as agencies deploy advanced technologies to meet increasingly complex public demands for results and behaviors, often in budget-constrained environments,” he adds.

Successful first responder operations require the availability and proper utilization of real-time data
Today’s first responders are more reliant on mobile technologies to increase their situational awareness

Fire And Rescue Agencies

Successful first responder operations require the availability and proper utilization of real-time data during dispatch, incident response, restoration and investigations. Public safety employees can leverage intelligent devices that support an array of mobile workflows. “Today’s first responders – though highly skilled at their jobs – are more reliant on mobile technologies to increase their situational awareness and safety levels,” says Cooper.

Fire and rescue agencies just can’t afford to continue investing in multiple, ‘single-purpose’ technologies for each of their operating locations.” Technology investments must be vetted in the field to ensure there are tangible benefits which can be weighed against the total cost of ownership, adds Cooper. “It can be difficult to measure the benefit of safety in a traditional ROI model, but its value is unquestioned,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s up to agency leadership to determine which investments should be prioritized.”

Lower-Cost Devices

Though there are multiple factors creating obstacles, I believe the biggest one currently is tied to a cost vs. value understanding,” says Cooper. “Many state and local government agencies still utilize a procurement model that favors ‘best price.’ The upfront sticker price does not accurately reflect the total cost of ownership (TCO).” Cooper says another obstacle is seamlessly integrating intelligence into public safety workflows, in a way that is actionable but not disruptive.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the capabilities and cost of purpose-built solutions

This requires the right combination of applications, analytics, connectivity and user equipment,” he says. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the capabilities and cost of purpose-built solutions. Many consumer device manufacturers are marketing their mobile devices as ‘rugged,’ so public sector organizations with tight budgets may presume these lower-cost devices will be sufficient.

First Responder Actions

But, being waterproof or dustproof does not by itself make a device suitable for public safety use. “You have to consider the overall performance, connectivity, security and manageability capabilities of the solution, as this will ultimately be used to capture the raw data that feeds back-end intelligence systems, which will guide first responder actions at the edge,” says Cooper.

Agencies need to be confident that the solutions they invest in will run critical software, interoperate with in-vehicle electronics and provide real-time information for immediate intelligence that enhances situational awareness while strengthening communication and collaboration within and between agencies during emergency response and management operations,” Cooper says. “The best way to accomplish this is to get input and buy-in from procurement and IT decision-makers, as well as end-users and agency leadership including chiefs and commanders. It’s important to take the time to field test solutions to ensure they will be scalable and compatible with future IT architectures.”

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Larry Anderson Editor,, Notting Hill Media

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