The public safety market is undergoing a technology transformation unlike any it has ever seen. From public safety broadband networks, to NG911, to smartphones, to wearable cameras and other devices under the Internet of Things (IoT) umbrella, technology is coming to market faster than the operational and regulatory processes can handle it. Along with this technology comes more than a pinch of marketing hype. As companies try to differentiate and promote their service it becomes more and more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. How do you, as a public safety official, separate fact from fiction and make the right choices for your agency?
With all the vendors making claims it’s important to proper due diligence which for new technologies may be different than the typical RFP process to which you are accustomed.
Understand the product maturity and your risk profile. In some cases, it is perfectly acceptable to try a new, untested product. For example, I recently saw a very cool app to help collect investigative information in a very structured manner. If it didn’t work, the worst that would happen is the investigator would have to revert to their manual process – evidence wasn’t lost, and more importantly lives weren’t lost, just a bit of time. You work through the bugs, try it again, and if it increase efficiency you have a win. On the other hand, emergency communications tools are mission critical. Whether it be secure messaging between responders or accurately identifying the location of a caller, emergency response technologies where lives are on the line leave little room for error.
Evaluate the end to end process impact. Just because a technology is cool or something is technically possible doesn’t mean it should be. A few years back a solution came to market promising to deliver enhanced information on 9-1-1 callers. The problem was it required the call takers to manually enter every call back number that was received into a web-based interface to check if data was available. The process impact was a non-starter even though the technology to look up information based on a phone number is pretty basic. Does the solution fit into any existing protocols? If not, does the flexibility exist to modify those protocols? Are any accreditations impacted?
Evaluate your exposure and liabilities. Do you have a contract with this vendor ensuring their availability (both technical and from a service and support standpoint)? Many apps assume public safety agencies will adapt to their work flow without establishing service levels that meet with agencies stringent public-safety grade requirements. Even “free” solutions are usually far from costless. Are you comfortable promoting something without a contractual commitment to support your endorsement? Are you promoting an end-user behavior that is inconsistent with best established best practices (e.g. dialing a 10-digit line instead of 9-1-1 or texting instead of using a voice call to 9-1-1 when it’s not a necessity)?
Check references. Where possible, always check references. If it’s not possible, question why. Again, for a nascent product there may not be references, but if the vendor is claiming to have a proven technology, find out with whom and how it was proven. Just because someone has a background in public safety or a specific technology doesn’t mean what they are selling does what you need it to do. Thankfully we are in an industry that gladly shares information. Leverage the willingness of your peers to learn about their experiences.
We are in an exciting time for public safety. The wave of technology change, driven by improved computing power, high bandwidth internet access, and open interfaces that has swept through other industries at incredible pace is creating amazing possibilities. Outdated processes and technologies will fall away and we’ll be able to provide a vastly improved experience to citizens. During this exciting time, it is important that we continue to apply some of the rigor developed over years of experience procuring public-safety grade solutions to this new wave of products. Personally, I’m proud of the fact that as a company, Rave has always stood by its claims and welcomes the opportunity to prove the value of its solutions and address any questions you may have.