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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Creating a culture of collaboration in public safety

Last year was unlike anything many in government have ever experienced. From the pandemic and civil unrest to a marked increase in natural disasters, local and state governments had more than their fill of crises to address.

Now, as they face budget cuts heading into a new year, local governments are looking for ways to keep their constituents safe, while also making the most of their resources. To do this effectively, agencies should invest in solutions that encourage collaboration across different departments and stakeholders and ensure resources and information are shared.

The problem of communication silos

This past year, more than most, has shown that public safety, emergency management and health departments must all be able to collaborate to handle emergencies, disseminate the right information to residents and ensure the safety of their communities. This collaboration has not only been important for sharing data between agencies, but also for keeping residents updated on the state of the coronavirus, storm or civil unrest in their towns and ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

However, this information sharing is not always taking place. In fact, when it comes to everyday emergencies, such as fires, medical incidents or acts of violence, information and communications are often siloed inside departments. This can lead to slower response times, a waste of resources and delayed or inconsistent communications among responding agencies.

A prime example of the consequences of not having collaboration tools in place is the 2018 Parkland, Fla., school shooting. According to information we know now, multiple agencies responded but could not communicate with each other effectively -- or, in some cases, at all.  Officials were slow to respond to the 911 calls made from the school. It took more than 20 minutes for law enforcement to access school video to see what the shooter looked like, giving him time to flee the school and pose a threat to the greater community. However, Parkland is not unique; many emergency incidents involve the same obstacles when it comes to collaborating and communicating across stakeholders.

The solution of collaborative safety ecosystems

To better prepare, not only for what’s to come during the remainder of the pandemic, but also to better manage day-to-day emergencies, public safety, emergency management and other stakeholders must turn to technology that makes collaborating streamlined and efficient and enables agencies to share resources. This will allow all stakeholders in the community to coordinate preparedness and response for both planned activities and unplanned emergencies, as well as bring order and clarity to the critical early minutes and hours of an event.

The reality is emergencies are often chaotic and fast moving.  For all agencies involved, events can often unfold quickly, so the ability to understand and easily coordinate the role every stakeholder plays in a response can save time and lead to better outcomes. To do this, agencies must use solutions that allow them to better coordinate incident response and share real-time data and communications among multiple responder teams or agencies. The right technology will not only coordinate incident response with task management, activity status, reminders and reference resources, but it will also accelerate the response, allowing for those involved to return to safety quicker.

When evaluating technologies for collaboration, communities should think through the capabilities they need and ask how these can be shared across departments. For example, does the technology integrate with existing communications tools and templates and allow multiple departments access to those tools? Can notifications to key stakeholders be automated or quickly updated on the fly?

Additionally, public safety departments should think of the compliance and audit requirements needed after an emergency has been resolved. Does the tool record all actions on a timeline for audits and after-action reporting? Are there task lists and protocols outlined in the tool that everyone can follow?

From regulatory compliance and daily COVID-19 protocols to severe weather response, the ability to immediately notify stakeholders, establish clear responsibilities and deliver direction for decision-making is key to providing and restoring a safe and secure environment. For example, think about if a fire occurs at a school. Not only do fire, police and emergency medical teams need to be aware, but so does the local department of education. With COVID restrictions in place, it’s likely the department of health may need to be notified as well. These different players will each have tasks they need accomplish or information to communicate, and having one collaboration platform can ensure that everyone knows that parents have been contacted when all students are safe and when the all-clear has been given so that the school day can resume.

While our lives have been dominated by the pandemic this past year, it’s important to remember that there are many other types of emergencies that require collaboration in the minutes and hours immediately after an incident has been triggered. To better prepare for these events, departments should work together to share information and resources to ensure the best response and protection for their communities. Technologies like tactical incident management that can guide actions, support on-the-fly changes and escalate past-due tasks to the appropriate personnel will become essential in ensuring safe, effective emergency response in 2021 and beyond.

About the Author

Todd Miller is senior vice president of strategic programs at Rave Mobile Safety.

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