How Technology Is Transforming Emergency Response Communications

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Seamless communications. The term conjures up images of smartphones “talking” with one another. Its availability is as expected as a morning cup of coffee. In our increasingly connected world, it’s shocking to read after-action reports from mass casualty events that cite communications failures as a significant contributor to the loss of lives. They point to the lack of correct tools for preparedness.

Following the worst terrorist attack on American soil, the 9/11 Commission Report exposed serious communications failures among responding agencies. As a result, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security created the National Incident Management System to unite government, NGOs and the private sector in emergency prevention, response, and recovery.

As someone who’s experienced in the world of cellular and push-to-talk radio, I know that the technology was available that could have aided 9/11 first responders. And since that time, various technologies — including alerting platforms, geographic information systems and video management systems (street-level cameras) — continue to evolve to address disaster preparedness issues.

For any type of technology used in emergency situations, one key goal should be to enable responding agencies to maintain control over their communications systems while selectively and seamlessly interoperating with other systems when required. This guiding principle ensures that agencies always maintain technological sovereignty but not at the expense of agency-to-agency interoperability, which is critical for ensuring preparedness and the ability to respond effectively.

Most of the innovation today is driven and enabled by the wireless broadband networks and long-term evolution (LTE) cellular networks that are being hardened with priority and preemption for first responders. As America’s public safety community adopts (and comes to rely on) more broadband for voice, video and data exchange, companies will innovate to provide the needed technology.

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