ICT and the future of public safety

By: Nitin Bansal – Vice President and Head of Network Products, Ericsson India

Aging populations, changing social norms, extreme weather, and natural and man-made disasters are among the many situations that today’s public safety organizations are required to manage. At the same time, many national governments are looking to reduce budget deficits, while the public has ever higher expectations with regard to security and safety. As a result, government scrutiny of spending has increased, as have demands for higher productivity from organizations that work with public safety.

Technology can and will play a key role in bringing about improvements in efficiency and productivity – but technology alone is not enough. Solutions with diverse attributes are required to satisfy the needs and alleviate the concerns of all stakeholders. These attributes range from affordability to flexibility. The key to satisfying these different needs, and maximizing the utility of each solution, is to understand and manage the flow of information.
Enterprise Architecture-led approach can transform public safety through the use of ICT

Why information flows matter

Public safety organizations are challenged on all sides – to lower costs, improve response time, reduce crime, improve outcomes for victims, and manage the impact of natural disasters and extreme weather. Dealing with this range of events requires multiple skills and capabilities, often from many different organizations, each with its own specialist capability. In addition, the time that elapses from the moment an alert is raised to the response can be critical to the outcome. For example, a study  carried out  by the  Scottish Ambulance Service  and  the  University  of Glasgow showed that  reducing paramedic response times  from 15 minutes to five doubled the survival rate  of heart  attack patients.


Bushfires are an important part of the ecosystem in southern Australia and particularly in Tasmania. However, high fuel loads, coupled with dry, warm and windy weather, meant the 2012-2013 bushfire season lasted for almost six months – unprecedented in the recorded history of Tasmania. As the fires spread to populated areas, public mobile communications services and the internet were compromised, as the fires disabled power and telephone lines. Some radio base station sites used by the emergency services lost power, and the public lost communication services as they were unable to recharge their mobile phones.

During  the  2012-2013 bushfire season,  more  than  20,000 hectares of land  was burned, resulting in a cost of more  than  AUD 69 million (over USD 52 million). Incompatibility between the police and fire service radio systems compounded the problem of organizing an effective response. Following the official inquiry into the fires, 103 recommendations were made, many of which related to planning and chains of command, specifically:
· that all agencies and the government support the transition to an integrated communications technology for the police  and  emergency services.
As a result, significant steps have been taken since 2013 to improve the interworking between the police and fire service’s radio systems.

Mapping out the transformation journey

With the  advent of mission-critical  wireless broadband  systems,  ultra-reliable distributed computing systems and  accelerating standardization efforts,  the  next  step can  now be  taken toward effectively  managing emergencies of all sizes. But how should agencies make this transformation journey happen?

The process of developing a truly effective ICT-based solution starts with the architecture – and construction of the architecture needs to start with the mission the agency is required to perform. For every responder agency, the mission must satisfy the following five key objectives:

·  deliver successfully

·  exceed citizens’ expectations

·  use  tax money  wisely

·  share services and  information  to collaborate effectively

·  empower a highly effective  workforce

Accelerating the transformation journey

Once the architecture begins to take shape, other aspects of the design can be considered, so a complete picture of the solution may be formed. These considerations often concern quality attributes that go beyond the required functionality and yet are critically important to the overall effectiveness of the solution.

Affordability is a key attribute of open standards. Open standards have created a diverse ecosystem of suppliers and a competitive market for products, solutions and expertise. Open standards are promoted by various bodies including 3GPP and the Internet Engineering Task Force.

LTE and 4G technology standards are examples of open standards from 3GPP that are widely supported and used by the global telecommunications industry. 3GPP is currently extending its standards to include public safety and other mission-critical applications.

Some open standards are designed specifically for public safety. One example is Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL). This suite of specifications allows organizations to exchange emergency information in a secure and reliable manner without having to purchase identical equipment. EDXL is built on XML, which is a generic data standard widely used across the internet to support machine-to-machine communications.

Ease of Implementation
Open standards have done much to simplify message processing and reduce risk during implementation. For example, if the ICT solution supports open standards, the introduction of new capabilities becomes much simpler. The mapping system showing where responders are, can  also  be  used to show  rising  water  levels  or roads blocked by debris, as  the  underlying message format  is the same and  can  be read  by a machine.

Additional Factors
Agencies also need to consider a range of additional factors in their ICT transformation, including reliability and resilience, an effective workforce, flexibility, accessibility and ease of procurement.

1) Reliability and resilience
The environment in which the systems have to operate must be taken into account. The attributes of reliability and resilience are critical. Natural and man-made disasters should not be the only ones taken into considerations; systems should also be resilient to cyberattacks and other malicious activity that can prevent an organization from fulfilling its mission

2) An effective workforce
The emergency context means that an effective workforce is required to be available, along with robust business processes. Training and test systems should be implemented.

3) Flexibility
Many agencies have day-to-day roles as well as emergency functions. This calls for the attributes of flexibility and other aspects of usability. Putting a system in emergency mode may allow extra staff to be deployed or extra permissions granted during the emergency, while maintaining its intrinsic operations as well as its look and feel.

4) Accessibility
As far as possible, solutions should be commercially available and in widespread use. Maintainability and extensibility should be considered as integral aspects of any architectural requirements and technology choice.

5) Ease of procurement
To complete the journey, the architecture must be documented and used as the template to guide the procurement phases. Choosing open standards and open source software represents an effective procurement approach that public safety agencies should consider.

Emergencies and natural disasters are inevitable.  Cases have shown that effective planning and emergency response efforts can lessen their impact on life and property. Effective communications and information sharing are vital, with ICT providing a transformative tool.

The maturity of ICT architecture and consulting frameworks allows the objectives of the agency to be captured and linked to the underlying system solutions with far greater fidelity. This allows leaders to see with greater clarity how their requirements are being met by ICT, and  how each part of the solution  contributes value to the success of the overall mission. Whatever the solution chosen, factors such as affordability and ease of implementation need to be addressed. In most cases, these considerations should lead public safety agencies to embrace solutions based on open standards as their primary option.

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