By W. Brent Lee, Law Enforcement Official, Retired
Allthingsfirstnet.com’s current Points to Ponder asks the question, “Which of the following FirstNet apps do you view as most important”? One of the responses is Situational Awareness. Having access to survey responses I can tell you that Situational Awareness is leading the survey, slightly ahead of Push to Talk (PPT). The Push to Talk discussion has been occurring since day one and continues to be something all are interested in. However, this interest got me thinking about one aspect of Situational Awareness and how far public safety has come when it comes to knowing where first responders are and having the ability of tracking them.
During my law enforcement career I had the opportunity to do everything from dispatching to administration. As it was some time ago when I started in the profession, tracking assets for me as a dispatcher meant keeping track of the officers in my head. Back in those days it was a desk phone with five lines, punch cards and a map displayed in front of me. The only other way than my own memory telling me any kind of information was little lights on the console that showed red for busy and white for available.
At that time I was unable to see beyond my job. However, after becoming an officer, then street supervisor, I quickly realized I was in the exact same position. The only way to keep track of the officers I was responsible for was to do it in my head. It meant intent listening to the radio to ensure I knew where everyone was and what they were doing. I didn’t have the luxury of CAD, AVL, or anything else to help me.
Today many agencies have Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Record Management Systems/Services (RMS) to visually see and digitally record the actions of first responders, whether it be Police, Fire or EMS. Automated vehicle location, also plotted and tracked through CAD systems, allows the dispatcher, responder, supervisor, manager or administrator to visually see the location of the first responder and their current activity. Of course that “location” ability only applies to the vehicle.
So, how does FirstNet rock that world so-to-speak for the future? Although no longer a first responder I can only imagine what life will be like having the ability to have personnel all with smart devices and FirstNet applications. As the watch commander, incident commander or during the routine of a normal day, if there is such a thing in Public Safety, having the ability to see and track all the personnel resources in real time will change the way business is done. Having been involved in natural and manmade disasters whereby multiple disciplines responded, again, I can only imagine having the ability to see everyone involved (not just that of your own people), their current location and assignment, and all in real time.
Many entities already have systems in place to do most of what I have written about above, however, most are specific to that entity or only those “next door.” With FirstNet and all it has to offer, Public Safety responders from all across the country will be able to come together in time of need (9/11, Katrina, wildland fires, and others) by working together and finally being able to do what has never happened before, have interoperable communications (even if just data for now)!!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this company or any company with whom the author may be associated.
W. Brent Lee is a retired Law Enforcement Official, public safety consultant and Past President of APCO International with over 30 years of first responder and public safety experience. Having spent nearly half of his career managing communications functions Brent is a major supporter of FirstNet and all it will bring to public safety.