Cloud computing can provide public safety with a flexible, resilient and cost-effective method to store and share information, but first-responder agencies must be mindful about legal and security issues, according to an official with CDW Government (CDW-G).

“Cloud computing to support law enforcement or public safety, in general, is a complicated endeavor,” said Houston Thomas, business development manager for CDW-G Public Safety. “They’re participation in cloud computing is slower and more cautious than their counterparts in other government agencies that aren’t dealing so much with life-and-death matters and information about citizens that really can’t be put out into the public arena.

“But make no mistake about it, we are having that conversation in that area with us as the cloud provider.”

Of course, security is a major concern for all public-safety entities, particularly in light of recent reports about cyber warfare and government data breaches, Thomas said. As one of the largest cloud-computing providers that count Wall Street firms among its enterprise clients, CDW-G’s hosting facilities are secured at a level exceeded only by the U.S. Department of Defense and customers are able to choose from myriad redundancy and resiliency options, he said.

Given this, Thomas said that public-safety entities should be comfortable putting data associated with public-facing websites in the cloud, which also is an ideal place to host applications that can mirror dispatch capabilities from remote locations, in case the normal dispatch center is unavailable for some reason, such as a natural disaster.

However, not all public-safety information is appropriate for hosting within the cloud, Thomas said. One of the most notable examples is digital evidence that will be used in prosecution. If such evidence were stored in a commercial cloud computing environment, some defense attorneys may cite chain-of-custody laws in an effort to get the digital evidence dismissed from court proceedings.

Currently, public-safety adoption of cloud computing has occurred only at a “slow trickle,” but Thomas said he believe that will change in the future and that CDW-G is seeing a lot of cloud-computing interest, particularly from Tier 2 public-safety agencies.

“We think, when adoption starts kicking off eventually, we’re going to see a freight train, and we’re going to see a lot of benefit from it,” Thomas said. “The benefits are going to be that we’re going to be more disaster resilient in public-safety technology, we’re going to be able to improve information sharing at a better speed than we are doing it now, we’re going to be able to make some non-verbal communications interoperable that we haven’t been able to do yet.

“And we’re going to be able to do this with less capital expenditure on the backs of the taxpayers."