RapidDeploy sees its cloud-native 911 solutions gain acceptance during COVID-19 pandemic
Cloud-native 911 solution developer RapidDeploy has experienced some hiccups during the past few months, but the realities surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated interest and acceptance of its cloud-based CAD, mapping and analytics offerings, according to a company executive.
Historically, 911 systems have been built with premise-based technologies that require telecommunicators to be physically present in designated 911 centers to accept emergency calls from the public and dispatch public-safety resources to the scene of an incident. But RapidDeploy’s cloud-native solutions let telecommunicators work from remote locations—important functionality during a time when social distancing, quarantines and protests can prevent or limit the number of telecommunicators working inside 911 centers.
“It’s been a fairly busy time for us,” RapidDeploy COO Reinhard Ekl said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We’ve had a lot of very important and relevant conversations with our existing customers about what this crisis means for them, as well as a lot of other prospects that—all of a sudden—have realized that having equipment in the back room of the dispatch center and having all of this heavy-handed infrastructure tied to a physical location isn’t necessarily the best way forward.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of 911 centers across the country who are very concerned about continuity of operations and staffing issues. What you have to send half of your staff home to quarantine? How can you maintain your operations? It’s been an interesting time for us, with lots of good conversations and lots of progress.”
RapidDeploy’s most recent sign of progress came with the deployment of the company’s Nimbus CAD (computer-aided dispatch) solution in the Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC) in Arizona. Replacing a 15-year-old premise-based CAD system, Nimbus CAD provides several key functionalities, according to Carl Fortner, communications manager at VECC.
“For VECC, portability means that telecommunicators can access the dispatch, mapping and analytics systems while in the field, which is invaluable at this critical moment in time,” Fortner said in a prepared statement.
“VECC chose to work with RapidDeploy because we needed to re-think the way we do business. The Nimbus CAD’s data integration was integral to that goal. The integration with our records-management system allows critical incident information to flow seamlessly from Nimbus CAD, which is a big plus. The integrations with Waze, TomTom, and what3words are also key. With those integrations, we can use analytics to look for patterns of behavior to improve performance.”
RapidDeploy’s Ekl said the company’s recent integrations also include COVID-19-specific mapping data.
“There have certainly been cases of people realizing the power of our solutions because of COVID,” Ekl said. “When COVID just started to arrive in the United States, we integrated real-time mapping data from John Hopkins University, so that any jurisdiction could see real-time numbers of confirmed COVID cases per county, per city, per zip code and all of that situational-awareness information.
“That certainly was a conversation starter for a lot of agencies that said, ‘Wow, this map has real-time data. It’s no longer just a static product that just sits there for five years. It actually changes every minute, every day.’ We’ve had a lot of conversations, and certainly the engagement across the board has increased greatly once people started to see these examples and use cases.”
RapidDeploy was awarded the VECC contract last year, Ekl said. Despite the challenges associated with COVID-19, the company was able to deploy the Nimbus CAD solution as planned, thanks largely to the fact that it is a cloud-native solution.
“We’ve had several new PSAPs go live in the middle of COVID,” Ekl said. “If you think about it, what does a go-live [process] really mean in the cloud? It’s really more about change management. It’s about training. It’s about getting people to recognize what capabilities they have. But there’s not much infrastructure that you need on site—everything can be done virtually.
“You don’t need a big presence on site. You don’t need an army of technicians who make forklift upgrade in the back room. It’s a fairly lean process, and we’ve had many customers go live with mapping.”
Citing VECC as an example, Ekl noted that replacing a CAD system requires significant operational coordination at many levels. As a result, CAD deployments typically take a little longer, and RapidDeploy had some personnel visit the 911 center in person, although it tried to do “as much as possible without being on site,” he said.
In contrast, implementing the RapidDeploy Radius and Radius Plus mapping and analytics packages—as well as disaster-recovery solutions—can be completed very quickly and with very little need for in-person interactions, Ekl said.
“There were other customers where the procurement, use-acceptance testing and everything was done during the COVID crisis,” Ekl said. “This is especially relevant for customers who are looking for a disaster-recovery solution—not necessarily looking to replace their CAD on the fly, but looking for the ability to provide interoperability and kind of a backup disaster-recovery solution.
“This is something that we see a lot of regional and state actors try to do, just to provide it as a part of their NG911 services. So, if a PSAP were to go down because of staffing issues because of a COVID spike, then the state or a region can step in and distribute the load by having other dispatch centers dispatch for them, without having to be on the physical premises.”
RapidDeploy’s ability to implement a CAD solution quickly was particularly attractive to the Metropolitan Emergency Service Board in Minnesota, which selected RapidDeploy’s solution as a short-term backup-CAD solution this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic caused many 911 centers to consider alternative plans, according to Jill Rohret, executive director of the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board.
“We did reach out to two other CAD vendors.” Rohret said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications this spring. “One said, ‘We can’t do that, particularly in the timeframe that you’re looking at.’ Another said they would like to do it, but the concern was whether they would be able to meet our quick timeline–they didn’t have everything developed yet.
“RapidDeploy obviously is already developed and usable, so that kind of answered that question for us.”
Ekl said that the existence of first-responder connectivity offerings like FirstNet that provide priority and preemption to public safety has played a key role in accelerating the acceptance of RapidDeploy’s cloud-native solutions.
“I think that’s one of the key questions that a lot of customers ask us: ‘If the solution’s in the cloud, how do we securely connect to it? How do we know that this is reliable? If we send somebody to work from home, how do we make sure that that person is able to operate reliably and safely?’” Ekl said. “Solutions like FirstNet play a big role in that.
“You can put a Cradlepoint [router] with a FirstNet SIM card really anywhere and have enough bandwidth to operate a CAD system without any issues. Actually, a lot of our small edge devices that are deployed in the back room of a PSAP to feed us information from the 911 system, a lot of them are operating on FirstNet connections, because it’s just a lot faster and more nimble to deploy them than if you wanted to go with a traditional, terrestrial IT solution.”
Ekl noted that the VECC deployment was done in collaboration with AT&T, the nationwide contractor for FirstNet. RapidDeploy also is collaborating with AT&T on statewide initiatives in Kansas, California and Arizona (separate from the VECC contract).
“We’re working very closely together, and it’s great to have a partner who has that vast experience in the connectivity solutions, as well as the field service and maintenance,” Ekl said. “It’s a great partnership for all of us.”
Jonathan Holland, AT&T Public Safety’s West Region director, echoed this sentiment.
“911 centers are a critical component of emergency communications, and they face unique challenges when planning for and responding to crises like a pandemic,” Holland said in a prepared statement about the VECC deployment. “Working with AT&T and RapidDeploy, VECC is taking advantage of new infrastructure that will help bring enhanced efficiency and resiliency of 911 operations to help serve the public better now and in the future.”