Coordinating Emergency Communications

Coordinating Emergency Communications

How IoT can drive efficiency and response

One of the many lessons learned from the Smart Cities movement is that you can achieve significant improvement in community safety and resilience when you use network technologies to facilitate communications and data sharing. Information gets to responders more quickly and comprehensively which leads to more streamlined processes and better decision making in the field.

When walking through a modern Real Time Crime Center (RTCC), it is easy to become fixated on the huge video walls, workstations with elaborate dashboards, and images streaming into the center from cameras across the city. But the real value of these centers is not the eye-catching displays, it is the aggregation and efficient sharing of data with multiple stakeholders.

The data sources collected into the RTCC are not limited to cameras. You will also find information streaming in from other devices like license plate readers alerting when a registered stolen vehicle is detected, radar triggering notification of illegal trash dumping, and audio sensors detecting the discharge from a firearm.

All these data sources help operators in the center focus on areas where conditions indicate a likely negative outcome for the community. There are dynamic mapping applications assisting operators in geolocating events, technology assets and personnel in the field. The center might even be using analytics based on artificial intelligence to help compile raw data and quickly push critical information to responders.

The goal is to gather the most complete picture possible of what is happening on the streets of the city, so responders can work smarter – planning strategies on the way to a scene so they can perform more effectively once they arrive.

“Aggregating all this technology into one system is an exceptional force multiplier. We’ve learned that the more situational awareness we can get to our responders the better for everyone,” said George Brown, IT/COMMS manager for the New Orleans Real Time Crime Center.

REDUCING REDUNDANCY WITH STREAMLINED WORKFLOW PROCESSES

This new operating model is a sharp contrast to how 911 calls were managed in the past. Previously, when a 911 call came into the Public Safety Access Point (PSAP), the operator would pass the call on to a dispatcher who would send an appropriate responder – police, fire or medical – to the caller’s location. The information that reached the responder seldom contained more detail than the basic nature of the call. The inability to move data consistently throughout each step created knowledge gaps, requiring responders to recollect data that was previously provided, but not transferred. With an RTCC solution, much of this redundant activity is eliminated.

Smart city solutions are built on scalable, open-standards platforms which allows them to accept data directly from other open standards sources. With all data streaming into a single information repository, these solutions reduce redundant data collection and entry. Authorized users do not need to log in and out of multiple systems to input and access critical information.

They can pull up camera views, map overlays, analytics, and other applications all on a unified screen -- a significant time saver. Equally important, they can push critical situational information and visuals to responders’ mobile devices before they arrive on the scene and provide ongoing details as more information streams into the command center.

By leveraging all their technologies to create a logical and consistent workflow for emergency response, smart cities can maximize the value of data, drive departmental efficiencies and allow cross-departmental collaboration which ultimately leads to a safer community.

With a large repository of data and analytic tools at their fingertips, agencies can also accelerate the detection of patterns that previously might have gone unnoticed.

When asked about the Hartford Capital City Command Center (C4), Johnmichael O’Hare, a former member of the Hartford Police Department, said, “While we initially focused on solving crime, we’re also finding that our smart city solution can help us recognize areas of the city that might benefit from reengineering.” Some of those discoveries have ultimately led to footbridges being constructed over busy roads and new lanes designated for bicycles along certain corridors.

SAVING LIVES WITH NATURAL DISASTER WARNINGS

This comprehensive approach to collecting and optimizing data is especially valuable when it comes to community resilience in the face of natural disasters. In those situations, timely alerts and rapid reaction often translate into lives saved.

That is why cities prone to flooding, hazardous road conditions, earthquakes and other catastrophic phenomena often integrate environmental sensors into their smart city solutions as part of their emergency preparedness program. With the addition of modern communication assets such as dynamic message boards and mass notification systems, these early warning tools help cities be more proactive in initiating emergency public safety protocols.

Anticipating flood evacuations. In lowlands and coastal regions prone to tropical storms, water level sensors linked to network video cameras monitor rising ground water and send alerts about potential flooding, allowing the city to initiate pre-planned evacuation procedures before routes become impassable.

Responding to hazardous road conditions. Intelligent cameras with onboard analytics can function as Environmental Sensor Stations to detect weather activity – such as torrential rain, snow, sleet, or ice – that will likely lead to hazardous roadway conditions. With early detection, agencies have time to divert traffic to less risky routes, close specific roadways, or issue shelter-inplace advisories for affected areas.

Alerting public to impending earthquakes. In areas prone to earthquakes, underground sensors can provide early detection of seismic activity. They are generally tied into mass notification systems that use IP speakers in public spaces to broadcast warnings for the community to seek safe shelter before the quake hits.

WHY IP-BASED EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS SOLUTIONS ARE SO EFFECTIVE

An emergency communications solution based on IP technologies makes it possible to integrate multiple agency sub-systems into a unified user experience. It allows a city to drive a more efficient and comprehensive flow of information to those who need it, when they need it. These solutions are elastic in nature, easily scaling up or down to fit the needs of a specific situation.

They can be set up to regularly selfmonitor and automatically notify administrators of failures and outages as they happen. This ensures that problems are discovered and corrected before an event response when reliance on complete system operability is critical.

Describing his experience with his own city’s real-time command center, Maj. Neil Klotzer of the Atlanta Police Department said the comprehensive solution “demonstrates that working together, we can build a safer, more security city for everyone. And we can do it while respecting the right to individual privacy.”

With ever-increasing challenges faced by public safety and emergency preparedness officials, creating a cohesive emergency communications network that fosters interagency support and sharing of resources is both a valid, and a valuable, path forward.

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Security Today.

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