Public Safety Advocate: Surveys, Over-Hyping Products and Services, Problem Solving

First, I want to thank everyone who has responded to our survey. It will be up for a few more weeks, so please take a few minutes to fill it out if you have not done so.

 Spending a few minutes on this survey will help us make sure we are addressing what you are interested in and identify some early trends from your responses. I believe this information will be of great interest to all of us and I will share more interesting (anonymous) results with you. 

Some of the first feedback is that this survey seems to be designed to elicit responses from the public-safety community but it does not include questions for the vendor community. This observation is correct. I am working on a second survey designed for vendors of devices, applications, and more. It is important for both public-safety and vendor communities to respond to surveys such as this. I expect much of what we learn from the first survey will be of interest to the vendor community and, likewise, the public-safety community will gain insights from the results of the vendor survey. Stay tuned. 

Public Safety Adoption 

I and many others have often written about an issue that has plagued public safety for many years. This particular issue is the tendency for a number of vendors to over-promise and/or over-commit when they release new or updated devices, applications, or technologies. This tendency has the same predictable affect every time: If you hype something for public safety and don’t deliver, your company will likely have burned a bridge that cannot be easily rebuilt. To sell devices, applications, technologies, and services to the public-safety community, you must be honest and forthright before, during, and after the sale. 

Over the many years I have been a consultant, I have worked with public safety and vendor communities helping them develop specifications for bids, or helping them to engage with a company to deliver a specific product or set of products. I have been told many times that vendor XYZ “let us down a few years ago and we don’t want to do business with them.” The following are some good and bad vendor responses.

There were times when a vendor delivered a product that was not what was promised. One vendor immediately addressed the problem and made the necessary corrections to fulfill the customer’s expectations. 

Your latest whiz-bang product for public safety needs to solve or help solve a real problem experienced in the field or at the operations center. Too many times, a vendor has asked me to take a look at a new product that was developed because it could be, not because it should be. 

There have also been times when a vendor developed a great product that could have solved a particular problem and this product had found its way into the marketplace. However, for one reason or another, it was not successful.

My favorite of these was the speaker-microphone developed by Motorola Solutions (then simply “Motorola”). I believe this speaker-mic would have changed the world of Land Mobile Radio (LMR)/cellular interoperability or convergence. Not only was it a full-blown speaker-mic that could be attached to an LMR portable radio, it also had a built-in full-up GSM cellular radio.

The front of the device looked like a standard speaker-microphone and the backside sported a full keypad. This dial-up keypad could be used to access a GSM cellular network. If the company had released this device into the public-safety market, I am certain it would have been a success. I am also certain it would have spurred Motorola and other companies to continue to produce innovative LMR/cellular devices. However, the product was killed by Motorola. Not by the LMR group that had designed it, but rather by the then-cellular group that convinced management since it had a cell phone in it, the LMR group had no right to bring it to market and it was never released. The introduction of new products for public safety should be based on the needs of the public-safety community, not on what an engineer or designer thinks. 

Another objection is to the number of products introduced into a market that are touted as the “first of a kind” when the first attempts at the product occurred many years earlier. Some myth busters: the BellSouth Simon smartphone was designed by IBM with a black-and-white screen that could display text and more; laptop computers first entered the commercial marketplace in 1983; the first devices capable of sending and receiving standard email over wireless networks was developed and released in the very early 1990s by RadioMail; the first LMR data systems were designed and built by MDI in Canada and Motorola years before commercial networks were capable of sending and receiving large amounts of data; the first tablets were the Apple Newton MessagePad 100 introduced in 1993, followed by AT&T and General Magic. 

The list of firsts goes on and on. In most cases, these early products or the wireless networks needed connections to and from them but they had not yet been developed or deployed. Do you remember the first dial-up modems that provided data at speeds up to 9600 baud? Today, we are fortunate to have LTE, 5G, and perhaps 6G coming online to provide fast connectivity at ever-increasing data speeds. 

Video resolution over wireless is a lot better than it was only a few months ago, and products or imagined products of yesteryear are becoming available. Today, the convergence of technologies is possible with robust, high-speed wireless voice and data technologies that are now providing connectivity. 

Vendors that get things right first research the needs of the public-safety community and then those of the commercial community. They pay attention to these needs and perhaps the needs of the commercial community to understand what public safety needs in the way of new front-line and back-end connectivity.

Once a product or service is ready to be launched, it is imperative that it find its way into the hands of those who will use the device, application, or service. [Note: If a device is built to meet the needs of a public-safety community on the East Coast, it may not solve a similar problem in the Mid-West or on the West Coast.]

I have always recommended distributing sample or demo units to a variety of age groups. Over the years, many of us have watched as younger techno-savvy employees take to a new device or new way of doing things. Meanwhile, more seasoned, been-around and learned-how to do things on their own types tell management that they see no reason for changing “how they have always done it in the field.” 

Those within the public-safety community are finding that the younger first responder are making the most of the digital communications tools they have “grown up with,” while more experienced public-safety professionals are either leerier of technology advances or simply prefer the way they have always done things. 

People can change their ways and adapt. In the early 1970s, we were traveling across the United States promoting paramedics as first responders. We were also demonstrating field and Emergency Room (ER) display units that enabled paramedics to talk directly to the ER. At the time, paramedics were basically limited to stabilizing and transporting patients. In the 70s, a paramedic was not even permitted to start an IV without conferring with the ER and the ER doctor on duty. The greatest obstacle we had to overcome was the mistrust of paramedics that was prevalent among many ER doctors. Today, based on their training and capabilities, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel have a long list of procedures they can use at their own discretion. 

 The orange box featured in the TV program Emergency was the first device dedicated to EMS for communicating directly with emergency rooms. Today’s paramedics would not be very impressed with the BioPhone’s capabilities. EMS personnel have many more advanced tools today. They are able to send 12-lead EKG, ultrasound, and many other patient vitals as needed to stabilize the patient for transport. 

They have advanced to this level of patient care because we provided tools that enabled EMS and ER personnel to work together. The significance of the orange box is that it made it possible for paramedics and ER personnel to learn to trust each other’s abilities. 

As we continue to add capabilities to both LMR and FirstNet (broadband), there will be more opportunities for vendors to develop and provide new products and tools for public safety. There are a few things to keep in mind, however. First, while FirstNet will continue to be a great success, the reason there are so many devices available for FirstNet is that AT&T convinced the vendor community to build Public Safety Band 14 into standard commercial devices. If not for this, the cost of FirstNet devices would be a lot higher. Perhaps there is a lesson here. If your company can solve a problem for public safety, perhaps the same product can be used for commercial and business applications. This would greatly increase the demand for the units. A higher demand means more units can be sold at a lower price.

Don’t build a whiz-bang product for public safety that doesn’t solve a problem. A new product that is brought to market because it sounds great may be a grand failure. Public safety will continue to embrace products and services that help them perform their duties more efficiently, and/or contribute to a safer environment. 

Winding Down

It appears that we are finally on the downside of the Covid pandemic. The recent declines in hospitalizations and deaths, and the speed at which vaccines are becoming available for younger children are great indicators that we may have ridden out the worst of this storm. 

A decrease in the number of EMS calls related to Covid will be a tangible indication that Covid is on the decline. Statistics indicate, for example, that more police personnel have died from Covid in the past two years than any other cause, and it appears this is about the same for fire, EMS, nurses, doctors, and others who have been on the front lines. Hopefully, the end is in sight and there will continue to be fewer and fewer cases. 

Think about the great toll Covid has taken on public safety and medical communities. Most of all, remember that more than 900,000 souls have already been lost to Covid. 

Switching gears, there is still more to be done to help our first responders. These days, there are too many major incidents due to unusual weather patterns, and greater numbers of first responders find themselves in the field responding more often to more serious incidents. We do our best to support these people with new devices, technologies, and applications. Now would be a good time to revisit the past few years and determine what has been missing and what could have better enabled first responders.

While our first responders are still a long way from having everything they need, I have to wonder what the past few years would have been like if FirstNet had not been operational. If public safety had only LMR, how much more difficult would the past few years have been? 

We still need Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911), more and better interoperability capabilities, and more. As we move forward, let’s look at the public-safety communications big picture and uncover ways to provide better interoperability across all of the networks. Next month will be the end of the first quarter of 2022, leaving only nine more months to gain a better grip on interoperability this year. 

The lack of consensus and implementation of more interoperable capabilities can be traced directly back to the vendor community. The technologies are in place for full interoperability. Those who care more about their own bottom line than they do about providing the tools our first responders need are all that stand in the way.

Until next week…

Andrew M. Seybold
©2022, Andrew Seybold, Inc.


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