It’s hard to believe it was 50 years ago when Moore’s Law observed that the efficient packing of transistors on integrated circuits would double every year since their invention.
In computing terms, this has enabled processing speeds and power to double every two years, helping to make technology faster, smaller and more affordable over time.
With more people connected to computing power, it’s exciting to think about where we are headed. For example, improving the experience of car travel through autonomous vehicles, telematics for self-reported traffic conditions and crowdsourced information from platforms such as Waze.
We have already seen how crowdsourced intelligence helps businesses to develop and sell new products and stimulates community growth. But what impact could this have on public safety?
A growing desire among citizens to share information to protect their communities combined with the ubiquity of having 15 million smartphones in Australia today has spawned innovative new approaches. For example, applications including EmergencyAus are connecting community and public safety agencies with real-time observations, videos and comments about emergencies. Similar approaches are being taken globally.
However, creating the right model for community engagement takes careful planning, adequate resources and clear policies.
The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings highlighted both the challenges and opportunities for public safety in managing masses of citizen-generated data.
Local police crowdsourced photos and videos from spectators and private CCTV sources that were analysed to help identify the perpetrators within 72 hours of the incident. However, in public safety terms this was a “post-incident” investigation that required agencies to sift through thousands of hours of video and images before suspects could be apprehended.
Rapid advances in computing power and the growing number of data sources can benefit public safety only if they are tailored to meet the sector’s highly specific needs.
Communications within public safety are defined as being “mission critical”, meaning they must meet the highest levels of resilience, security, availability and reliability — especially during crises when missed or delayed messages caused by network congestion or failure are not an option.
By extension, public safety agencies must be able to capture data generated by the public, including video and social media, without compromising security.
Real-time and filtered
To derive true benefits from innovation, public safety personnel must be able to complement the trusted reliability and performance they receive from their mission-critical radio communications today with new data sources.
For example, first responders gain considerable benefit from combining the mission-critical information sources they get from their voice communications today — including location services, duress alarms and sensor information — with a variety of new capabilities including live video feeds and purpose-built applications to help them better manage their daily workflows.
As the Boston bombings showed, agencies also need to filter and analyse data from multiple, disparate sources in real-time to convert it into actionable intelligence.
This can include integrating digital evidence management systems to store and share multimedia content from bodyworn video cameras, CCTV as well as citizens’ smartphones.
Public safety data comes from a variety of sources, including computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, to gunshot detection software and beyond. Therefore agencies must consider how best to ingest and manage that data so the most critical parts can be extracted and securely distributed to personnel working in the field.
Over time, effective data-sharing between the community and public safety agencies will help agencies to shift from purely responding to incidents to predicting and preventing them before they occur.
Communities that once may have been physically isolated in a natural disaster can have increased awareness and safety through geo-mapped tweets and community-based sensors and cameras can be registered for direct public safety use.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki once famously said crowdsourcing works because of the principle that there will always be “someone on the internet that knows something better than you do”.
We need to embrace the idea that crowdsourcing means openly sharing what we know. That means a two-way contract must be signed between public safety and the wider community in order to make Australia a safer and more secure nation of tomorrow.
Steve Crutchfield is vice-president and managing director of Motorola Solutions Australia and New Zealand.
Reader comments on this site are moderated before publication to promote lively and civil debate. We encourage your comments but submitting one does not guarantee publication. We publish hundreds of comments daily, and if a comment is rejected it is likely because it does not meet with our comment guidelines, which you can read here. No correspondence will be entered into if a comment is declined.