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Improving police
and fire service
collaboration
with network
transformation

Author: Satta Sarmah Hightower

Whether it's a traffic accident, natural disaster or mass casualty event, every second counts when it comes to emergency response. However, first responders often face communications challenges that slow the delivery of critical information they need to more effectively respond to these incidents.

Though police and fire departments often respond to the same calls, without robust interoperability between communications technologies, police and fire service collaboration will continue to be a challenge. Several tools and strategies can help enhance police and fire communications systems and improve coordination between these groups, which could lead to improved public safety outcomes.

Barriers to better police and fire service collaboration

Police and fire departments face several barriers to improving how they collaborate and communicate.

In communities across the country, many departments grapple with legacy radio systems that lack interoperability. Unreliable network access and the lack of modern broadband connectivity also hinder first responders in certain jurisdictions, preventing police officers and firefighters from accessing the real-time information they need to gain better situational awareness when responding to incidents.

At the same time, there's no nationwide 911 communications network. Though some communities have regional emergency response networks or command centers, many agencies often rely on their own siloed communications infrastructure. These silos make communication more challenging during a time when first responders are dealing with an ever-growing volume of data from multiple sources and channels, including geographic information systems (GIS), smartphones, constituent reports via social media and third-party information from public safety partners and other government agencies.

Collaboration has become increasingly important as more emergency management, police and fire departments forge mutual aid agreements to consolidate their resources and accelerate their response in times of crisis. The pandemic also has illustrated the need for close coordination and information sharing. To foster closer police and fire service collaboration and bridge communications gaps, police and fire departments need advanced network connectivity and upgraded technologies.

Approaches for improving police and fire communications systems

Network reliability, low latency, and faster, more secure data transmission are so important because first responders need access to real-time information.

Police and fire departments can access these capabilities by leveraging a unified, intelligent platform and interoperable network that prioritizes network traffic from these agencies, allows police and fire departments to ingest diverse data sources, and consolidates much of their data in a single place.

Improving police and fire communications systems also will require a greater investment in broadband connectivity, which has to be managed at the state and local government levels. However, it will take time for state and local governments to build out their broadband infrastructure and implement 5G wireless connectivity that speeds data transmission.

Shorter-term solutions for police and fire communications systems

In the meantime, municipalities can consider leveraging private wireless networks and existing 4G networks to improve performance and control for mission-critical applications that first responders rely on.

When it comes to technology upgrades, according to a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report that involved interviews with hundreds of first responders, public safety professionals don't necessarily need new technology—they just need better technology.

In the report, first responders said they needed upgraded radio equipment and mobile devices to better communicate with their colleagues and improve police and fire service collaboration. First responders in some jurisdictions also were using their own personal cell phones to communicate, which poses security risks even when these devices connect to private networks.

Budget constraints often prevent departments from upgrading their equipment, but first responders indicated it was critical for their agencies to make these investments to enhance the current technology already in use within their departments rather than introducing new technologies with a steeper learning curve.

In reality, this may mean ensuring first responders have access to the latest versions of mobile communications and radio equipment and that these devices and all mission-critical public safety and emergency management applications are updated with the latest security patches and features.

There also may be an opportunity for departments to use enterprise versions of commercial applications that first responders are already familiar with, such as mapping, real-time location sharing, and voice-based or video streaming applications. This can speed adoption and reduce the need for time-intensive training.

Support police and fire service collaboration with better technology

Modern network connectivity and upgraded, interoperable communications technologies can be force multipliers for first responders and forge stronger police and fire service collaboration. It can help reduce the amount of time police officers and firefighters spend on paper-based administrative processes and speed the flow of information so that first responders have greater situational awareness and arrive on the scene with accurate information that can enhance public safety—and help better protect their own lives in emergency response situations.

The last year has made it abundantly clear first responders need as much support as possible to protect public health and safety. Police and fire departments do challenging, life-threatening work every day, and advanced network communications technologies can equip them with the right tools and information to better coordinate their efforts.

Discover how working with a third-party solutions provider can enhance interoperability in police and fire communications systems.