mobile tools for public safety

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How mobility and instant data sharing can transform public safety

Time is representative of many things to many people, but rarely does it represent lives. To public safety agencies, however, it does. A second here or a second there can be the difference between an injury, rescue or a fatality. Better planning and preparedness ultimately leads to better and faster response for agencies tasked with preventing or minimizing loss of life. Anything that speeds up processes while maintaining or improving quality is especially valuable to government organizations.

Evidence collection should be both swift and accurate, but for too long those goals have been mutually exclusive. Incredibly, the process most law enforcement agencies still use today involves substantial amounts of time spent rummaging through binders for the appropriate forms, switching between documenting devices and driving from HQ to scene and back again to upload information.

For example, the process to document common incidents in public safety today typically follows these six steps:

  1. Jotting notes using pen and paper
  2. Taking pictures using a digital hand-held or body-worn camera
  3. Transcribing notes to Microsoft Word documents
  4. Consolidating case information into one report
  5. Storing information on a hard drive
  6. Loading final reports into records systems

The process is slow and cumbersome, and begs an obvious question: Why not sync investigative files with HQ in real-time?

Indeed, the ubiquity of mobile devices has created an opportunity to streamline information sharing between field officers and their precinct offices without having to make massive investments in new systems or revamp tried-and-true processes.

Unfortunately, however, in most public safety agencies have no integrated communication system. County and contractor resources are often deployed to an incident with limited information about the specifics of the event. This situation creates bottlenecks in workflow, lack of coordination in response, and it can lead to dangerous circumstances for responding personnel who are not properly prepared for the incident at hand.

The development of mobile platforms has created the opportunity for mobile investigative work to be more than dashboard laptops and digital cameras. There is a potential for greater connectivity, and good investigative work is enhanced when agencies can tie systems together and move information seamlessly between technologies.

Mobile devices offer increased efficiency of information movement, while decreasing the administrative burden of collecting information from the scene of an incident and transmitting it to affected communities, agencies and contractors. Using smartphones or tablets onsite lets public safety personnel initially document the nature of the incident, determine specific requirements for the response, then relay this frontline information in near real time to supervisors who can dispatch the closest assets and coordinate among various responding agencies.

Moreover, by merging on-scene note-taking with after-incident report compilation, mobile devices can speed up the overall reporting process while reducing time and improving accuracy, because the report is being written up with the incident scene’s details in plain view.

Let’s take a look at a real-world use case that underscores the above: the challenge of determining the best use of resources when multiple state and local government agencies are involved in a response.

In 2014 in Virginia, Rockbridge County Emergency Management, Lexington Fire Department and Montgomery County Emergency Management all began to use mobile devices loaded with investigative software that allowed them to collaborate on responses and communicate in near real time.

The ability to compile detailed reports while on scene saved RCEM coordinator Robert Foresman significant time and hassle. “It used to take me an hour to take my field notes on a hazardous materials incident, and format them into an ICS-compliant (Incident Command System) report back at the office,” Foresman said. “By utilizing mobile devices and the inherent real-time communication that comes with them, I’ve been able to cut this time, on average, to just 20 minutes per incident.”

A real boon was that all the agencies involved reported an 85 percent decrease in processing time for documenting scenes and a significant improvement in the quantity and quality of information being shared. Emergency Management (EM) office paperwork was completed with full documentation and final reports in 20-40 minutes, depending on severity of the incident. Other county agencies noted that the information obtained by the EM offices, particularly the photos, helped them quickly notify county and contractor assets, who were then able to dispatch exactly the right type and number of vehicles and equipment to each incident.

While we believe that the public safety market is ready to embrace mobile technology through devices such as smartphones and tablets, public safety agencies must first validate and fund such a critical and game-changing shift in ideology. It is imperative that each agency identify use cases, research different options to find devices that fit goals and needs, and only then pilot and operationalize a framework for usage.

If agencies are evaluating mobile infrastructure to simply make calls and email, then they are missing the boat. The power of handheld devices is unleashed when an application ecosystem enhances and optimizes business process, thereby making the device and the applications it delivers a cornerstone of agency operations.

The idea of public safety making a paradigm shift to “mobile first” is no longer a question of “if,” but rather “when.” For every challenge mobile adoption creates, it also opens the door of opportunity for public safety to close the productivity gap, reassess practices and procedures, boost efficiency and renegotiate its relationship with the people it serves.

About the Author

Alex Kottoor is CEO of SceneDoc.

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