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Mission Critical Technologies


Interview with Lance Valcour, Independent Strategic Advisor. 

Moving from infrastructure and architecture to information management.

Mission critical communications have changed dramatically over the past decade.  While voice communications via land mobile radio continue to be the priority, public safety mobile broadband has consumed the vast majority of our energy around the world.

From the ground breaking efforts by FirstNet in the United States to more nascent efforts in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, governments, responders and industry associations are working collaboratively on issues such as infrastructure and architecture.

However, the important topic of information management strategic planning still needs to be developed in most countries. These plans will help to ensure that the right information gets to the right people at the right time.

Ecosystem vs Individual Technologies and Projects

Public safety agencies around the world are working on a wide range of technology related projects. They include:

  • Public Safety Mobile Broadband
  • Next Generation 9-1-1 (or 000, 112, etc.)
  • Emergency Alerting
  • Land Mobile Radio/Tetra networks
  • Location Based Services
  • Mobility
  • Digital Evidence Management
  • Cloud Computing
  • Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning

Unfortunately, in most jurisdictions, each of these “capabilities” are viewed as entirely separate projects with separate budgets and separate procurement processes.  As a result, we continue to end up with proprietary solutions from various vendors that are neither interoperable nor delivered in the most efficient fashion.

The good news is that some countries, like Canada, are leading the way by creating national level roadmaps like the Canadian Community Safety Information Management Strategy.

Canadian Community Safety Information Management Strategy

In 2011, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police commissioned an independent study into the current state of law enforcement information sharing in Canada.  The research, funded by the Canadian Government’s Centre for Security Science, was completed by Dr. Alison Brooks from IDC Canada and was titled the “National Law Enforcement Information Management Strategy Study.”

The study clearly outlined the lack of interoperability between information management systems and recommended a number of next steps, including the creation of a national information management strategy to help improve information sharing in Canada.

This evidence based research led to the creation of the Canadian Community Safety Information Management Strategy, now being regionalized by various provinces and agencies across the country.  The CCSIMS Strategy is based on a number of principles. A few of them are:

The strategy and Action Plans will be national in Scope

The strategy and action plans will be needs and operationally driven.

Reflects and Respects Legislation, Jurisdictions, Privacy, Security, etc.

Standards Based

Reflects national and international best practices

Futureproof new investment activities

Sustainable and scalable

The Canadian Community Safety Information Management Strategy (CCSIMS) is a strategic document that sets goals and identifies key national priorities to enhance governance, planning, technology, training and exercises to promote information management in Canada.

So What?

Why is having a national (not “Federal”) level plan that is based on open standards and congruent with international best practices so important? 

Well, to understand just think about all the data that is currently managed by disparate agencies and/or government departments in proprietary systems in separate, on premise, data bases.  For example, my personal health care information.  My doctor’s office has certain data. The hospital I go to has other data. My provincial (state) Ministry of Health has additional information.  How much of it do the local paramedics have when responding to my house for a 9-1-1 call have? Zero.

Going forward, and this is REALLY EXCITING, I foresee the day in the near future where the paramedics responding to a call for service at my home have 100% of my health related data BEFORE they arrive. 

Then, when they arrive, my smartphone immediately transfers them the current data from its various sensors to ensure they make the right advanced care paramedicine decisions in a timely fashion.

This will not only help save my life, it will reduce the overall cost to the health care system, helping to fund even further information management improvements.

A “Tidal Wave” of Digital Evidence

Looking at the international policing community, they are facing a “tidal wave” of digital evidence from a myriad of data sources.  These sources, both internal and external, have traditionally been purchased by way of separate tenders and resulted in numerous, non-interoperable, databases. 

In order to share this digital evidence with their partners at the Crown Prosecution Service (or District Attorney in the US), police agencies are continuing to use decades old technology like DVDs or memory sticks.  Hard to believe but true.

However, with the advent cloud based Software as a Service (SaaS), the challenge of managing and sharing digital evidence has become an opportunity for exciting new benefits including:

  • Dramatically reduced costs;
  • Greatly increased security;
  • The ability to scale, almost instantaneously, to increased demands;
  • Huge reductions in deployment times – from months (or years) to days; and,
  • Unparalleled and ever improving access to advanced analytic capabilities such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning.

Public Safety Wearables or the Internet of Public Safety Things

Another example of the importance of information management strategies would be the ability to leverage “wearable” technologies that can capture and share responder biometric data on a real time basis.

Researchers in Australia are currently working with police and paramedics to capture data such as heart rate and core temperature via health sensors in “smart clothing.” While the research is focused on the use of this data for post-traumatic stress disorder related investigation, the potential use cases for real time situational awareness, both by members and their incident commanders are obvious.

By tying these data sets with other available information, say the amount of air left in a firefighter’s air pack and the EXACT location of the responder (X, Y AND Z), incident commanders will be able to gauge far more accurately how long a team should continue fighting a high rise fire. 

If these three separate systems all capture and store their data in separate locations with separate proprietary software then bringing the entire operational landscape together in real time becomes extremely challenging.

If, however, responders, likely through their national Chiefs Associations, can work with their respective governments, academia and industry to agree on common standards, again ideally on an international basis, then this is no longer a technology challenge but one of policy and governance.

This concept, often called the Internet of Things or IoT, has, for the responder community, been called the “Internet of Public Safety Things” by leading US technologist Bill Schrier, who now works for FirstNet.

A great example of how this kind of international collaboration is working out in the real world is that of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project or 3GPP work on Long Term Evolution (LTE) for public safety mobile broadband.  Many years ago, when we first started discussing the need for separate public safety spectrum, first responders had very little influence in the 3GPP world.  Over the following years, led by groups such as the Public Safety Research Program (https://www.nist.gov/communications-technology-laboratory-ctl/pscr) in the United States, the LTE standard has become far more “first responder friendly.”

The Conclusion

As stated at the outset, the challenges of capturing, managing and sharing mission critical information are complex. Not so much from a technological perspective but from issues around governance, policy and planning. 

Most jurisdictions I have researched and/or worked with across Canada, the US, Australasia and Europe have individual projects for every public safety technology they are looking to enable.  There are very few that have even state-wide information management strategies little lone national roadmaps. The good news is that this is changing.  

Led, in part, by Canada’s efforts to create a national community safety information management strategy, numerous other countries are exploring the possibility of creating similar national level approaches.  Even better, they are reaching out to each other to collaborate and leverage international best practices such as open standards to dramatically improve mission critical information management.

After all, as the Canadian strategy states so well, it’s all about getting “The right information to the right people at the right time.”