View from the Top

The future of public safety: Open minds needed to achieve goals

Public safety can achieve new levels of efficiency and effectiveness by leveraging new technologies, but this can only happen if leaders--elected officials and those within the first-responder community--are willing to embrace innovative ideas.

By Kim Majerus

We are experiencing a new age of technological innovation that can enable law-enforcement agencies and other personnel to exchange information, increase awareness and streamline procedures. We have an opportunity to expand our existing law-enforcement infrastructure to add and integrate new technologies within our current capabilities. However, some agencies are not capitalizing on recent developments because of a lack of training or funding.

In the long run, these technologies will have huge returns. They are investments in making certain that our state and local government leaders do not have to choose one program over another and sacrifice vital public-safety services. Investment in public safety also helps improve the economic development of state and local communities.  

With new virtual measures to train officials in the use of new technology, we can overcome the hurdles associated with ensuring effective, consistent public-safety programs.

We cannot remain naïve about new, emerging threats. Today’s global economy and greater digital penetration have given rise to cyber attacks that require immediate action. It is important to note, however, that these threats have not replaced the old ones, such as natural disasters and catastrophic accidents. They have simply been added to an already depleted and overworked emergency and public-safety infrastructure.

There is an even greater need for real-time communication among government agencies, police forces, fire departments, EMS and other personnel who help ensure the safety of citizens. A delay in communication caused by disparate systems that cannot “talk to each other,” as well as the lack of true situational awareness caused by the inability of most systems to relay real-time video and text updates, can cost lives. 

We have the capacity to work within this budgetary climate (which does not appear to be going away any time soon), but it requires a fundamental shift in the way in which public-safety agencies view and use technology. This means leaders in law-enforcement agencies need to imbue a culture of employing new technology within existing procedures.

By integrating networking and communications technologies across the organization and taking advantage of video-conferencing capabilities, integrated voice communications over IP, and mobile collaboration technologies, agencies can ensure uninterrupted delivery of services and communication, keep more police on the street, and lower overall operational costs.

In addition to enhancing everyday public-safety activities, technology can also protect vital information, establish contingencies that let staff perform functions under extreme conditions, and maintain access to critical resources among agencies and citizens through interoperable communications.

For example, public safety working at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. last summer employed collaboration technology, including video, voice, and instant messaging. This fully integrated system let participants collaborate on their own devices, including smartphones and tablets, more securely. At the same time, law-enforcement officials were able act quickly and share videos instantly for live incident reporting. Apart from major events, these same innovations can greatly improve day-to-day activities for law enforcement across the country.

The list of public-safety success stories involving new technologies continues to grow, but all of them have one aspect in common: the mindset of agency leaders. For these solutions to become a greater part of our public safety programs, our leaders have to be open-minded and embrace new opportunities.

With a shift in our perspectives and in our funding priorities, we can gain exceptional returns, in terms of both cost and effectiveness.

Kim Majerus is the vice president of state and local government education operations for Cisco Systems in the U.S.

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