How to ensure interoperability in public safety
Interoperability—the capacity of distinct and unique systems to communicate with one another effectively—has always been a challenge in public safety. Fire, police, 911, EMS, schools and private organizations often face challenges to share data and communicate effectively across organizational boundaries. In many cases, important information fails to reach all stakeholders involved in emergency response, increasing the risk of serious consequences.
The problem of disjointed responses and missing information is nothing new in the public safety realm. The September 11 attacks in 2001 exposed weaknesses regarding radio interoperability in public safety. While over the past two decades significant progress has been made, challenges still exist in radio interoperability, and new interoperability challenges have now become more apparent in sharing data and multi-media content as those elements have become more critical in the response process.
When systems aren’t interoperable, disjointed response efforts and information gaps persist, both of which can cost time and, in dire circumstances, lives. Without interoperability, key information remains siloed, leaving decision-makers in the dark. Response teams have limited visibility into the status of victims or how others are reacting to emergency events as they unfold.
Where there is no interoperability, there is little operational collaboration. When those entrusted with the safety of others aren’t able to effectively coordinate and communicate, the results are inadvertently duplicated efforts, neglected critical activities and unnecessarily delays in the heat of an emergency. None of these are acceptable in crisis situations.
While there is broad recognition that interoperability in public safety is crucial, there are several challenges slowing much needed progress.
Industry standards need to be updated
Innovation and the tedious process of creating industry standards are often at odds with each other; however, in public safety, standards are critical. Standards enable interoperability but also ensure compliance with security best practices, privacy laws, and can reduce integration costs and risk. If done correctly, well written standards actual foster public-safety grade technology advancements.
Unfortunately, making changes to outdated standards and getting multiple parties—state and local officials, federal regulators, service providers, etc.—to agree on how to move forward is difficult.
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