In responding to any major crisis – from natural disasters to terrorist attacks and beyond – reliable and secure communication is essential.
It helps first responders know exactly why and where they are needed and prepares them for the risks they may face. Communication also helps to inform the public of any action they need to take to stay safe during an emergency. Communications are also key to helping agencies working across different sectors and jurisdictions to work together in a cohesive way, enabling a faster and better response.
At a recent event hosted by The Mandarin and Motorola Solutions in Canberra, public safety experts gathered to discuss current and future needs for the mission critical services used by our nation’s public safety agencies. This included lessons learned from past events and gaps in existing systems.
The common view expressed by all speakers is that stronger engagement between the public and private sectors is crucial to long term success. Among the needs of emergency services are seamless links between radio and broadband networks to enable greater interoperability. Agencies also want new solutions that leverage emerging technologies including video, AI and big data analytics.
Building the right platform for communication
The Commonwealth Government is responsible for setting the right policy frameworks to ensure first responders can communicate between agencies and across jurisdictions – leveraging the best information and services available.
Rob Cameron, Home Affairs Director General for Emergency Management, says the Australian government provides frameworks that support and enable the public safety sector to work more effectively.
The public safety mobile broadband review (PSMB), being developed by the Australian government in collaboration with the New South Wales Telco Authority and supported by all other jurisdictions, is one such example.
“That initiative aims to provide public safety agencies with the capability to use heavy data and web-based apps at the mission critical levels of reliability that they require,” Cameron said.
But the challenge for Home Affairs, according to Cameron, was supporting the competing needs of nine sovereign governments across the nation. Home Affairs’ can help by “knitting together” the needs of the public safety sector. Cameron said the goal of this work was to enable better decision making and support, helping agencies to overcome legacy challenges and to improve operating procedures overall. Collectively, these efforts will ensure a coordinated national approach can be taken to leverage new and exciting technologies to improve public safety.
Cameron says mission critical communications in Australia has been developed from a platform approach – meaning there are a group of technologies being used together that can be added to and evolved over time. This platform approach aims to be long-term and will require courage, Cameron said, with decision makers and elected leaders needing to back new and emerging solutions which are still in development.
The importance of the private sector
Former Deputy Commissioner of NSW Police, Nick Kaldas, acknowledged that skills and expertise within the private sector could be used to overcome gaps in the capability of first responders.
“Companies like Motorola Solutions really do have an important role in making sure we continue to cover much more ground than we did in the past,” Kaldas said. “Technology is rapidly evolving – and we all have a responsibility to bring new ideas and perspectives to the discussion.”
The real value of the private sector is in understanding what’s coming with technology on the horizon and how it could be applied to support public safety. This includes working with specialised service providers who can provide a unique understanding about how new technology can form part of our Federal platform,” Kaldas said.
Graeme Stanley, Solutions Architect and Innovation Director at Motorola Solutions, said PSMB opportunities emerging in Australia and globally are leveraging mobile broadband as well as AI, big data, video analysis and real-time data. These technologies are essential for improving decision making in emergency situations.
Failing to engage the public and private sectors on emergency management threatens the success of project implementation. That means new technologies may not be applied in the right way.
“As a vendor, we would love to see more involvement in national strategies,” Stanley said. “The planning and engagement needs to happen from the early stages. We don’t want to be scrambling with technology and infrastructure issues after the emergency starts.”
“Surprise management” was the term used by Dr Paul Barnes, Head of the Risk and Resilience Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, to describe the approach needed to support the future investment and planning for mission critical communications.
“If we don’t plan ahead, we won’t have an efficient way of thinking about how we want to use the technology,” he warned.
Collaboration between the public and private sectors in emergency management to better support “surprise management” was also a challenge acknowledged by the panel, with Cameron and Kaldas identifying this as a gap that urgently needed to be fixed. At Home Affairs, new governance structures are being developed to improve discussion and collaboration. But Kaldas said more work was still required to influence the development of new technologies being developed.
“You can’t learn to dance at the party,” he said.
Managing Director of Crisis Ready Peter Rekers said collaboration needed to be done “genuinely” with the real needs of community safety at the core. Rekers highlighted that in emergency situations, the team of responders increases to include key vendors as well as other community stakeholders. Building the right level of resilience into planning for all these organisations is critical.
“It’s more than just dealing with vendors,” he told the audience. “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the United States can access footage from any camera across their entire operation. They can also easily access private security cameras in an emergency to better understand what is really happening on the ground.”
Through improved collaboration, engagement can be powerful – resulting in new levels of mission critical performance that both increase the capability of emergency services while helping to protect all Australians.