They are under immense pressure to meet citizens’ rising expectations in their communities, and mobile technologies facilitate faster, more informed actions – not unlike the way mobile technologies increase the speed and efficiency of front-line workers in the warehousing, manufacturing, retail, energy or utility sectors.
Plus, public safety agencies must prepare for every imaginable scenario, plan the best response, develop the tools and techniques and train on them, regardless of how remote the chance that the worst will happen. Because, someday, the worst will happen. So, between crises, when there are times of (relative) normality, the men and women that step up to serve as first responders often take a step back to assess their preparedness level. Together with support teams, such as administrators and IT, they will review their processes, procedures and equipment – especially their technology assets – using an approach that one might describe as thorough, yet commonplace.
While visiting a couple of police agencies in Virginia a few years ago, I was struck at how similar the meetings were to those with companies in other industries. Both IT and field workers – that is, active police officers – joined to learn more about their tablet computer and accessories solution options. Their interests were very similar to those you might hear when speaking with any field-oriented organization about tablet-based mobility solutions: device capabilities, ruggedness, available accessories and whether the vehicle docks would safely work in their vehicles. And while such IT-specific considerations are common for organizations with a large field-based workforce, these public safety IT teams also talked about some of their unique internal issues, like whether they will have their own email servers or have to use their city or county’s general server. (Both agencies were able to wrestle away control and were allowed to use their own server, as their up-time and security needs weren’t served by the administrative email server team.)
During a break, we (the solution engineering team) had time to casually talk with the agency attendees about everything from how to best grill meat to real-life stories of action in the line of duty. After arguing with me a bit about grilling temperatures, these men and women recounted numerous stories of difficult calls they were able to handle effectively and safely, which left me in admiration of the day-to-day encounters they have. It became clear just how focused they are every day on training for those extreme situations that they will encounter sooner or later.
It makes sense. When one of these emergencies happens, there is no time to consult a manual on how to address the situation. They have to know how to bring all of the tools at their disposal to bear at a moment’s notice, while under immense stress, without second-guessing a single move – technology tools included. Consider the current situation: first responders are having to take extra precautions on every call to protect both themselves, their families and those they’re helping. For example, they have to disinfect their mobile devices to very strict standards at the same frequency they’re washing their hands. Knowing which mobile computer features can aid with social distancing is now critical, even if it was unheard of a few short months ago. Yet, their training on how to obtain real-time info on current government orders, connect with other support agencies and utilize longer-range barcode scanners to look at a driver’s license held by a citizen, not by the officer, all come into play. Fortunately, the devices that are used daily for routine police, fire or EMS work are the same ones that will be used during an emergency.
So, those officers in the room during my meetings with Virginia police agencies weren’t just there to make sure they liked how the devices looked. They needed to make sure the devices would be functional in the field both during routine operations such as dispatch reporting or eCitation and – even more importantly – in those emergency scenarios where long shifts or hazard exposures might be common. They were intent on selecting devices with long battery run-times and hot-swap capabilities as well as the ability to use touch screens while wearing gloves or other personal protective equipment (PPE). Public safety professionals who responded to Zebra’s “Future of Field Operations” study also confirmed that situational awareness was one of the top two reasons why they would use tools such as tablets and other mobile computers on the job.