Are Public Safety Agencies Equipped for Modern Mobile Technologies

2020-05-04 20:28:00

When the two-way radio was introduced to policing, it was a marvel of mobile technology. The ability to transmit one’s voice across several miles brought about increases in efficiency and safety. For decades, the two-way radio mounted in a patrol car, and later in fire departments and emergency medical service (EMS) vehicles, served its purpose well. In fact, its original function remains an important part of public safety communications. 


The mobile landscape, however, has evolved.  Today's public safety professional relies on the ever-increasing advances in technology to provide tools that aid them in serving their communities. In much the same way the hand-held two-way radio developed from the in-car version, mobile technology continues to advance to include laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other internet-capable devices.


What the Mobile Data Terminal Did for Public Safety


The laptop computer mounted in a patrol car, firetruck, or ambulance, originally provided some basic information which aided the users in the performance of their duties. Today’s mobile data terminals (MDT) put the entirety of the internet and designated systems at the fingertips of public safety service providers. It offers not only information which increases productivity, but safety measures which save lives. 


An MDT equipped with GPS, allows dispatch personnel, supervisors, and other units to know the location of all on-duty personnel. This feature has obvious safety implications when a law enforcement officer, for example, is not answering the two-radio.  Knowing his or her precise location means help can get to where it is needed without unnecessary delay. Another advantage of GPS technology within the MDT can be found in the fire service. During a major incident, any experienced fire officer can attest that personnel and equipment logistics is a key element in firefighting. Gone are the days of paper maps and pushpins. Instead, mobile technology allows the incident commander to access integrated mapping and GPS systems to aid in vehicle staging and equipment management. 


The chat features in MDTs and other mobile technologies enhance both communication and record-keeping. Chat conversations can be customized to ensure necessary personnel are included while helping to protect the integrity of any information which needs to stay secure. Detectives and SWAT team members may be preparing to execute a search warrant, for example. Chat communications can be restricted to the members assigned to this specific task. However, at the operation lead’s discretion, select members of patrol or other units can be included as needed to help ensure the safety of the scene and overall mission. Finally, all of these messages can be saved as part of the case file and used for report writing, after-action critiques, or for any purpose in which memorialization is necessary.  


Mobile Technology Beyond the Laptop


Many agencies are finding the portability and versatility of tablets to be a welcome addition to their cloud based mobile technology toolkit. Some have replaced the traditional laptop with a tablet and keyboard, while others use the tablet as a complement to the in-car MDT. Regardless, the inclusion of tablets and smartphones has proven their worth to public safety providers are only stand to increase in their use.


Paramedics can use these mobile devices to communicate directly with personnel in the emergency department for both instructions and to alert them of the arriving patient's condition. Depending on the applications installed, tablets and smartphones also have the ability to aid in diagnosis and treatment procedures.  They can also be used in conjunction with the computer aided dispatching system to exchange information with members in the communications center. This ability aids both dispatcher and EMS supervisors in determining manpower needs based on availability and location. 


Another example of smartphone and tablet technology’s relevant applications can be found in forensic investigations. While crime scene investigator responsibilities can vary by agency or state, the ability to access information is a universal benefit. Having the resources of an agency's records management system (RMS) at the scene of a crime can help investigators in multiple aspects. Comparisons to other crimes or references to prior incidents can add insight and provide additional leads during an active case. Delays associated with contacting others to access important records and relay the information can be largely eliminated by having the RMS available on a tablet or other mobile device.


Mobile Technology Not Just for Those Wearing a Badge


Public safety organizations are often associated with only those personnel who hold certifications in the agency's specialty such as law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services. While police officers, firefighters, and paramedics obviously play a key role in their agency's mission, there is a host of staff behind the scenes that help make the operation run smoothly. The benefits of mobile technology are not lost on these important functions. 


Those involved in fleet management often use portable technology to catalog repair records, determine scheduled maintenance needs, analyze wear and tear, and evaluate fuel efficiency. Members of a law enforcement agency’s evidence and property room function have long known the advantages of proper tagging and categorizing their items in their charge. Mobile technology integrated with the RMS helps keep track of evidence and other items by scanning their movements directly into the associated case file. This creates a permanent record within the RMS which details the chain of custody for each item. Finally, human resources staff have found benefits in mobile technology through the application process, background checks, and at off-site recruiting events, just to name a few.  


The mobile landscape for public safety is destined to continue its growth. By having the RMS and computer aided dispatching systems part of a practical and portable tool, agencies will undoubtedly improve the effectiveness and efficiency with which they serve their communities.