Building a data culture in public safety agencies
- By Jack Williams
- Apr 09, 2020
Chief intelligence officers are increasing their investments in “game-changing” technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytics. These tools are especially important for public safety agencies that are looking to build up data cultures and extend the idea to new areas of their operation, such as their dispatch centers.
Data cultures offer open access to analytics. They allow agencies to take advantage of evidence-based insights to optimize all areas of operation -- from strategic planning to daily workflows. As such, industry leaders should invest in these technologies and commit to using them.
Every public safety agency should strive for an effective data culture that allows all roles to easily access and use structured, logical information. Informing workflows with evidence-based insights helps first responders address any decision -- from resource planning and strategy to real-time operations -- to ensure better outcomes.
Unlocking data to make intelligent decisions
Many contemporary police chiefs, fire captains, field units and emergency dispatchers want better insights but don’t have effective ways to obtain them. They often get information from low-tech sources, such as a daily briefing posted on a bulletin board or periodic reports, which offer limited insights at irregular points in time. That, however, is not an efficient game plan in today’s world.
Agencies must be able to harness information from multiple departments and deliver it in ways that meet the specific needs of different users. For example, summary dashboards are perfect for managers, but investigators require more detail, and dispatchers demand highly focused intelligence linked to their immediate incident that doesn’t distract them from the call.
Users also must understand how different data points and trends relate to each other so they can make informed decisions -- from detecting long-term trends in crime to spotting connections between live incidents. The lack of timely insights and analytics inhibits them from addressing problems as they occur or taking necessary, informed action to address an issue.
As such, the key to establishing a thriving data culture in public safety is to modernize data management, access and applications. Agencies can easily streamline their systems by making information accessible, user-friendly and analysis-ready for all team members. Data is as critical as any other asset, and agencies must treat it as such if they want to meet the challenges of increasing demand and constrained resources.
Democratizing the flow of information
One of the keys to accessing meaningful insights is getting active participation and buy-in from agency leadership. Not every police and fire chief or 911 dispatcher understands the intricacies of technology. Still, they all know they need to employ operational data so their agencies will run better.
A key component in ensuring an agency’s effectiveness is the democratization of data, which provides leaders and stakeholders with the information needed to make timely decisions. The ability to easily access critical data creates excitement within all levels of an agency. This leads to innovative solutions to operational challenges.
By letting the analysis speak for itself, administrators for police, fire and emergency departments can determine public safety needs in specific geographic areas. Instead of producing static tables of figures, they can create interactive reports and dashboards that allow the viewer to explore and drill down into the information. That will deliver more detail and understanding than a spreadsheet or email newsletter ever could.
Reporting and analysis often support what sergeants, detectives and first responders already know and understand. When they have objective data to back them up, however, they can propose changes, measure results and gauge the impact of their decisions. For example, with evidence-based insights into demand and workload, supervisors can create workforce shift and patrol plans that optimize coverage and efficiency while taking concerns like officer well-being into account. And clear, evidence-based proposals are key when seeking to gain support from the public and politicians.
All public safety employees also need data literacy training to help them focus on strategic objectives. Open access to information is the cornerstone of a data culture. Teams with access to all information in one place can update daily workflows and respond proactively.
By democratizing data, IT professionals will also prove to public-safety officials that new technologies enhance, rather than replace, old fashioned teamwork. Integrated and streamlined information pipelines help the entire team respond to calls efficiently and report information accurately.
Emergency administrators must create innovative data cultures in their agencies and transform the way they serve their communities. First responders with access to technological tools can access up-to-date information and quickly help people in need. If police, fire, and emergency services commit to creating data cultures, they will make their cities smarter and more resilient for years to come.
Jack Williams is strategic product manager for AI, analytics, and interoperability at Hexagon’s Safety & Infrastructure division.