Looking back on the most compelling stories of 2012
This is the time of year when most of us reflect on what transpired during the past 12 months, as we look forward to what will unfold in the next year. With that in mind, we thought we'd share with our readers our choices for the most compelling stories of 2012.
Without question, the biggest story of the year was the federal legislation signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 21 that paved the way for the nationwide broadband communications network that public safety long has coveted. The law reallocated the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to first responders and also authorized $7 billion in federal funding for the network buildout.
In June, a powerful derecho storm tore through the eastern half of the U.S., cutting an 800-mile-long swath that extended from Illinois to Virginia. Winds that reached speeds as high as 92 mph wreaked havoc on carrier networks and public-safety answering points (PSAPs), resulting in more than a million Americans were unable to access the 911 system in the immediate aftermath of the storm, prompting a federal investigation into the preparedness and reliability of the nation's emergency calling system.
Texting emergency information to PSAPs via the 911 system is no longer a hypothetical venture, as solutions have been proven in multiple pilot deployments. All four nationwide wireless carriers in the U.S. agreed to support text to 911 by May 2015, and the FCC has initiated a proceeding to get all other providers to do the same. How to get PSAPs ready to accept 911 texts remains a financial dilemma, but federal officials hope that introducing this functionality will jumpstart the migration to next-generation 911.
When firefighters enter a burning structure, they encounter acrid smoke that is so black, and so thick, that they literally cannot see their hands in front of their faces. As a result, it is easy for a firefighter to become disoriented in such an environment. It also is extremely difficult to find a downed firefighter in such an environment. This is a terrifying scenario not only for the firefighter, but also for incident commanders who might only have minutes to save the firefighter's life. To the rescue comes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has developed a firefighter-location technology that can pinpoint firefighters not only along the X and Y axis, but also along the Z (vertical) axis.
The DHS also stepped forward in 2012 with a thin-battery material that can be integrated into a first-responder's clothing, opening up all sorts of possibilities in terms of the gear that police, fire and EMS personnel are able to take with them into the field.
As broadband extends beyond urban centers into rural communities, it has sparked a concept known as community paramedicine, which promises to dramatically improve healthcare that is available to those who live in America's small towns and villages. It will do so largely by enabling paramedics to teleconference with medical professionals from the around the world in real-time, at the scene or en route to an emergency medical facility that may be hundreds of miles away.