How public safety
systems support
natural disaster

Author: Mike Elgan

Sometimes it can feel like the news is constantly reporting a new earthquake, hurricane or large fire—not to mention man-made disasters like cyber attacks. When disaster strikes, will public safety systems be ready?

The number of natural disasters each year keeps steadily rising, linked mostly to climate change and the growing populations and urbanization of previously unoccupied areas. At the same time, smaller, local events can threaten public safety just like the big events can. Whatever its scope, when disaster arrives, we all count on the planning and systems and practices and technologies that see us through the storm.

The good news is that in the past 40 years, technology and services that help public safety systems weather a range of disasters have seen vast improvements.

Mastering natural disaster recovery faster

Public safety continuity of operations is the methodology of preparing to keep public safety organizations running in the midst of a crisis. It involves a plan created before but executed after a natural disaster has occurred and, among other things, warrants government agencies to figure out in advance how to communicate internally and externally, from 911 to computer-aided dispatch and public safety answering points. Other critical concerns include restoring or preserving data and data access and keeping operations and services running.

The world is full of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including sensor-based options that can detect disasters, such as water, excess heat, earthquakes, smoke in the air and more. While IoT public safety devices are helping to transform disaster prediction on a national or global scale, they can also offer hyper-local early warnings for conditions that could damage local infrastructure.

IoT can also amplify the effectiveness of first responders by providing streaming communication for coordinated response—for example, to expedite emergency healthcare—as well as a record of events through the eyes of police, firefighters, paramedics and others. Different IoT devices can be employed to make sure emergency equipment, such as backup generators, are functioning before a crisis hits.

It's also vital to predict what might happen in a disaster, and new technology can help. The most promising of these is artificial intelligence (AI). By tuning AI to read massive data sets, we can become far better at predicting the timing, magnitude and location of earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes well before they happen.

Ensuring continuity of operations

When you fly, they advise you to place your own mask over your mouth and nose before helping others. The same is true for public safety planning. A big part of providing safety during natural disasters is planning to keep public safety systems running when other systems are failing. Your continuity of operations plan needs to assess the risk of every possible natural or man-made disaster—or combination of disasters—and how it will impact:

  • Public safety employees
  • Citizens
  • Power
  • Resource availability (fuel, for example)
  • Data security
  • IT systems
  • Financial integrity and continuance

After the pandemic and lockdowns of 2020, it's clear that disasters could force many employees to continue their jobs from home. When disasters occur, communications must be maintained, even if random outages happen to the existing infrastructure. Unified communications and collaboration as a service (UCCaaS) is a great way to preserve communication lines and productivity and its continued provisioning. Regardless of your approach, it's important to test every worker's ability to work from home.

Also at the top of the list is the need to protect data. Approaches that lend themselves to data preservation and recovery include managed SD WANs, cloud-based networks and/or a good old-fashioned robust and secure network architecture with solid, frequently tested backups. Also look for trusted data recovery services that can help you find whatever you might lose in a crisis.

Another consideration is the readiness of your partners and providers. Make sure you understand what their continuity plans are, and consider their readiness part of your readiness.

Getting ready to weather the storm

Technology is transforming the ability of public safety systems to predict and respond to natural disasters, and it's transforming the ability of public safety organizations to improve operational continuity. It's likely that, at some point, your location could be affected by a natural disaster or two. The time is now to prepare to not only weather the storm but also maintain vital operations during and after it hits.

Learn more about how Verizon helped a disaster relief organization communicate and collaborate more efficiently.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.