Changing our Mindset about Public Safety Technology and Innovation

November 19, 2013

Todd Piett

I still have an old school radio in my car. I don’t stream from an iPod or have satellite radio, just sports radio and the occasional country tune over the good ole airwaves. When I do tune in the occasional country song, my 5 year old often asks me to re-play it (oddly he never asks to replay the analysis of Tom Brady’s performance on Sunday). He’s grown up with the concept of on-demand entertainment – you stream, record, replay when you want. How do you explain the concept of “radio waves” and the fact that something is fleeting, existing only for an instant in time, to someone that has never had to deal with it?

Last week, I was helping my 10 and 11 year old with some work at school and recognized a similar paradigm shift happening driven by Cloud technology. Their school uses Google Drive. They post homework, chat with one another, do research, and collaborate on projects all in a virtual cloud environment. The idea of having to bring something with them like a laptop, a flash drive, or CD is foreign to them. Everything is just a log-in away from any device. And they change instantly between instant messaging, email, and virtually marking-up a shared document. This is a generation that will grow up with everything virtualized. The idea of having to install things on their computer is arcane. They are not tied to a single device or communication mode, instead they simply login and virtually configure whatever you want where-ever they are.

What does this have to do with public safety technology? Technology is advancing rapidly. The investment in redundancy and security made by a company providing virtual service to hundreds or thousands of customers is more than any one agency could possibly afford. Couple that with the redundancy and bandwidth capacity of new networks and components like FirstNet and NG9-1-1, and you have the infrastructure for enabling the type of virtual world in which my kids live. Call-taking and dispatching can be done from anywhere. Your back-up center may be in the living room of 20 different people spread across the county (or country). With effective standards, migrating between systems should be as easy as pressing a button. Modifying processes (failover, etc.) doesn’t involve racing out to a physical switch in the middle of the night, but just getting an alert that a virtual switch was triggered. On top of all that, the communication methods used by our citizens are changing faster than most of us can keep pace. While for some this may be second nature, for many of us this mindset shift is one we need to get our hands around – and in a hurry.

I recently spoke at a National conference about the changes coming to 9-1-1. It wasn’t particularly well received. Some of the comments were pretty harsh. Why? Well, one big reason is that I told people that their jobs were going to change. I told them that call taking as we’ve come to know it will be a thing of the past. Technology doesn’t just change the buttons we push, implemented correctly it drastically changes how we work. If done correctly, it changes things for the better. If done in the vein of trying to maintain the status quo, it is always a waste of time and resources. To be clear, I’m not saying things will be different when you walk in the door tomorrow. Effective change takes time, and it takes a multi-disciplinary approach. It is as short-sighted to want to develop technologies outside of input from the users as it is for users to ignore technological change. At the risk of re-iterating the point that got me into trouble in the presentation – Change is coming, embrace it and find ways to improve your operations or be left behind.

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