From the proliferation of body cameras and video to predictive analytics and the emerging potential of FirstNet and 5G, public safety organizations are on the cusp of a technology revolution.

“Public safety organizations are in transition,” says Gary Buonacorsi, chief technology officer for state and local government at Dell EMC. “Their challenge is how to manage, deploy and secure these technologies.”

Public Safety Technology Trends

Most public safety organizations are either implementing or planning to adopt one or more new technologies in the next two years, according to a March 2019 CDG survey of 125 state and local government officials involved with public safety.

  • Next Generation 911. Internet-based digital 911 systems integrate voice calls with data, including location information, video footage, images and texts. According to CDG’s 2018 Digital States Survey, Next Generation 911 is the highest priority for city and county government public safety agencies.
  • Integrated video and edge computing. Video surveillance — either from closed-circuit or in-car cameras — is evolving. Video cameras and sensors such as gunshot detection technology are being integrated with imaging and analytics software. These edge computing models, where devices collect and analyze data in the field, are used to track traffic flows, incidents and places where people gather to deliver better real-time information and insights to local public safety organizations. “They can generate some very meaningful data which allows cities to respond more rapidly and accurately,” says Rob Silverberg, Dell EMC’s chief technology officer for digital communities.
  • Predictive analytics. Often augmented by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, analytics are the key to tapping all the data collected by public safety organizations — information from the cameras and sensors described above, along with digital record and case management systems, other public records, drones and third-party data sources. These technologies can improve both real-time situational awareness in emergency situations and help organizations with long-term planning and resource allocation.
  • Virtual and augmented reality. By providing immersive, 360-degree environments, virtual reality can help train public safety officials to respond to a range of scenarios that are otherwise difficult or costly to replicate, from mass casualty and hostage incidents to recovery and search-and-rescue operations. Augmented reality technology, such as special glasses which project real-time information to first responders, have been tested by emergency medical technicians connected to emergency room physicians to diagnose complex cases and provide lifesaving information.

A Roadmap For a Digital Transformation

For public safety organizations, digital transformation will drive the need to collect, stream, store and analyze ever-growing amounts of data — particularly bandwidth-intensive video. The underlying IT infrastructure needs represent a challenge. In fact, some departments have scaled back or suspended plans to deploy body cameras and other technology because of these back-end challenges.

Following are some strategies public safety leaders can use to manage this potentially disruptive issue:

  • Recognize IT needs. Technology may not be part of the culture of all public safety organizations, but they can no longer afford to ignore it.
  • Develop an evidence management strategy. As the amount of video and other data collected by public safety organizations continues to grow, department leaders need to develop policies to ensure its integrity.
  • Secure complex IT environments. As digital transformation progresses, public safety organizations will manage a complex collection of on- and off-premises solutions, including cloud solutions from multiple providers. Assuring the integrity of digital evidence and other sensitive information will require assessing the security of not just on- and off-premises systems, but also how information is transmitted between them.
  • Start small. To develop the capacity to leverage data analytics, consider a “walk before you run” strategy. Identify a few use cases for existing data to gain experience. For instance, pinpoint intersections with high numbers of accidents involving bicycles and apply simple interventions such as increased patrols or signage.
  • Address public concerns about privacy. Privacy has become a more significant public — and public policy — concern in recent years, with real impacts on technology adoption. For example, a Virginia judge recently ordered the Fairfax County Police Department to stop using a location-tagged database of vehicle license plates collected using automated plate readers on patrol cars. At least 16 states have laws limiting either how long public safety agencies can retain this and other data or how it can be used or shared with other organizations. Besides complying with state legislation and local regulations, public safety organizations must be mindful of who owns sensitive data when working with third-party technology providers.

Digital transformation will be critical for public safety organizations in the years to come, but it is only a means to an end. By providing essential information to officers when and where they need it and empowering them to do more, technology will help improve officer effectiveness and increase situational awareness — key components of public safety.

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Preparing for Digital Transformation in Public Safety