Back in April, I had the pleasure of participating in a webinar, which was sponsored by Motorola, on the evolution of mobile data networks. I was joined by Steve Jennings, the chief information officer for Harris County, Texas — which contains the city of Houston, the nation's fourth-largest metropolis — and Jon Fullinwider, the retired chief information officer for Los Angeles County, Calif. The discussion was wide-ranging, informative and vendor-agnostic — the best kind.

During the webinar, Jennings and Fullinwider touched upon the myriad applications that are made possible by today's broadband networks. All of them are designed to make first responders more effective in the field, and many of them serve the dual function of making first responders safer.

One of the applications they spoke about concerned e-citations, which eliminate legibility problems that often get traffic violations thrown out of court. The application also improves officer safety by letting officers run the driver's license through various databases to determine whether any wants or warrants exist, all while keeping their eyes on the person behind the wheel.

Another application of note concerned the use of video to enhance command and control. "With two-way video … your commanders can almost be on site, because they can visualize [what's happening] through video," Jennings said.

For example, fire departments are outfitting personnel with video cameras they wear on their person. "You can have audio communication and video communication back to a command function where critical decisions can be made for the safety of the first responder, and for a better management function," Jennings said.

Of course, this merely scratches the surface of what's currently available to first responders, not to mention what the future will bring. On Thursday we will be conducting a second webinar that will go into much greater depth concerning mobile data devices and applications for first responders. I will be joined once again by Jennings, who will be paired with Bill Schrier, chief technology officer for the city of Seattle. (Fullinwider has been called for jury duty this week; he will join the panel if he is not selected to serve on a jury.)

We conducted the rehearsal for this webinar last week and I have every confidence that this session will be every bit as informative as the first. The webinar is free, so all you'll be investing is your time. I am certain you will decide afterwards that it was time well spent.

Mea culpa: Last week, I wrote about the abduction, rape and murder last year of a 21-year-old Florida woman, Denise Amber Lee, and reported that 911 call-takers and dispatchers allegedly made mistakes that hampered the search effort. However, the 911 call made by the victim was handled "very professionally," according to Peggy Lee, Denise Lee's mother-in-law, who serves as the director of community relations for the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, which is lobbying for 911 communications sector reform, including a national certification program for 911 telecommunicators. (Read Peggy Lee's blog.)

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