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How technology can help public safety agencies in 2024
Author: Shane Schick
The most successful public safety agencies are always looking ahead—not just to the next potential natural disaster or public safety incident, but at the tools that could enhance the work they do every day.
Even if existing equipment and devices have proven indispensable for emergency management, the industry recognizes that technology is continuing to open up new opportunities. For example, according to Verizon Frontline's most recent Public Safety Communications Survey, 77% of first responders said they see 5G as either important or critical as they prepare, respond or assist in the recovery efforts following an emergency.
The tech tools public safety agencies choose matter
Equipping teams with the best tools is becoming more important than ever as public safety organizations contend with staff shortages and difficulty retaining personnel. A 2023 Lexipol study found that 54% of emergency management service (EMS) professionals and 50% of police officers plan to leave their jobs within five years.1
Public safety and law enforcement technology can address factors behind recruitment and retention challenges by helping to act as a force multiplier, improve physical and mental wellness and safety, enhance training and operations, and improve transparency.
Here are five examples of where technology can likely play a key role in public safety in 2024:
1. 5G accelerates and improves situational awareness
It's no surprise that 65% of the first responders Verizon surveyed want a stronger connection when they're in the field.2 Regardless of the incident involved, achieving situational awareness quickly, and communicating with those off-site, is critical.
Fortunately, advancements in technology like 5G are helping to meet those connectivity needs. Using 5G-powered sensors, wearables and cameras, for instance, first responders will be able to take in live captured video and photogrammetry, creating situational awareness that traditionally takes 24 hours to capture.
Post-processing time of that footage can also be reduced, thanks to mobile edge computing (MEC) technology that allows data to be processed locally, rather than in the cloud and then back to a command center.
2. Internet-connected vehicles chart a new path for EMS
Ambulances, patrol cars and fire trucks may serve different purposes, but all of those driving them are coming to rely on vehicles that provide en-route connectivity and collaboration.
In fact, Verizon's survey found first responders are expecting an increase in daily dependence on connected vehicles, from 43% today to 62% in five years time.3
As patients are being transported to a hospital, for example, EMS teams can use connected vehicles to transmit EKG results and vital signs that help prepare doctors and medical staff. While on-site, paramedics could even conference remotely with clinicians to diagnose injuries and provide immediate treatment.
3. Artificial intelligence takes flight to offer predictive insights
Public safety agencies frequently study data before and after emergencies to improve their approach when the next incident emerges. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms offers increased capabilities to synthesize and understand large, complex datasets, and not just within a command center.
Drones are now capable of capturing 3D modeling imagery in real time to leverage AI and machine learning (ML) to determine if storms or events have impacted the intended network design. This becomes even more compelling when you consider that drones and robotics are able to enter potential hazmat areas to evaluate what is required to remediate and restore.
This could explain why 43% of the first responders Verizon surveyed said they expect to be using robotics and drones on a daily basis within five years, up from just 13% in 2023.4
4. VR and AR enhance training and emergency response procedures
Nearly a quarter (23%) of first responders Verizon surveyed believe they will be using virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) daily within five years.5
By creating VR simulations of real-world environments like an airport, for example, public safety professionals can experience immersive, tactical training, where they practice emergency procedures and view recordings to identify areas of improvement.
Firefighters can wear AR headsets and combine them with infrared thermal imaging cameras that project displays to help them see through smoke and get out of danger more quickly.
5. Wireless Emergency Communication Centers become a vital source of refuge
With El Nino conditions expected to cause severe storms between January and March of next year, public safety organizations will likely be trying to minimize the impact on affected communities. Tents can provide shelter to residents when buildings are damaged and destroyed following a weather event, for instance, but it can mean going for hours or days without connectivity.
The value of setting up wireless emergency communication centers (WECCs) that provide charging and internet support can be seen during events like Hurricane Idalia. WECCs have also been used after communities lost power and connectivity following wildfires, winter storms and other emergencies.
Public safety technology for your mission
Innovation in public safety technology often unfolds by taking what experts like Verizon learn from emergencies and developing creative solutions.
Early flying cell sites, for instance, have been modified and expanded into high altitude wireless kennewhats (HAWKs), tethered drones that provide service from the air. A similar approach has led to cell on light truck (COLT), satellite trailer emitting equipment remote (STEER) and business inclusive satellite onboard nomadic (BISON) vehicles.
While it may not be possible to predict exactly what's in store for public safety in 2024, it's likely we'll see more of these innovations, and that they'll be combined with on-site core and MEC to make first responders even more effective. It's all part of how Verizon Frontline equips, empowers, supports and partners with the public safety sector to drive greater capabilities today and in the future.
The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.
1 Lexipol, Stressed & Short-Staffed: Challenges Facing First Responders and the Impact on Community Safety, June 2023, page 7.
2 Verizon Frontline, 2023 Public Safety Communications Survey, 2023, page 16.
3 Ibid., page 4.
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