In May of this year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published its first ever roadmap for improving public safety communications over the next 20 years.
The plan calls for a complete overhaul to many of the systems currently used by police, firefighters and emergency medical services when responding to an emergency. These improvements uniformally call for an expansion of location-based services (LBS), which will greatly increase the situational awareness of first responders when arriving on the scene. In many ways, the NIST’s announcement reflects many location-based technologies that are already being used by the public at large. The roadmap simply provides a guide for incorporating LBS into safety-oriented public services to increase their efficiency, knowledge-base and transparency with the public. With that in mind, here are a few key ways in which public safety and location-based services are already intersecting.
Civilians Play a Larger Role
Recent developments with location-based services have greatly altered the role of civilians in the world of public safety. No longer just a bystander, GPS-enabled smartphones have played a key role in keeping the public informed about public safety issues that range from the extent of damage done during an earthquake to the conduct of police officers during routine encounters. Gone are the days of blurry flip phone photos. With an iPhone 6s Plus, anyone has the ability to record cable-news quality video at 120 frames per second and quickly share the video with local law enforcement or upload it to YouTube. The geo-tag ensures the viewer that the time, date and location are all verifiable. Organizations like the Red Cross and the National Weather Service even provide apps to allow civilians to play an active role in the collection of emergency and weather-related data by uploading damage reports and photographs to their Twitter feeds.
Police Officers Are Situationally Aware
The NIST’s playbook can be seen as a reaction to a series of highly-publicized events that were better captured by bystanders than by law enforcement. The implementation of body cameras would serve to remedy that. These cameras typically activate automatically when an officer draws his or her weapon, offering a first-person account of any encounter. On a day-to-day basis, these cameras hold officers (and the camera-phone wielding public) to a higher degree of accountability. But over the long term, this video tool offers police an invaluable resource for teaching new recruits how to be more situationally aware during a confrontation. Right now, a body camera is simply a recording device, but it has the potential to completely remove the guessing game from police work. This means a higher degree of safety for all parties involved.
When a large-scale disaster occurs, it can be difficult for those affected to find important information. FEMA is working to change that with its mobile app, which is designed for use in any kind of emergency. The reporting feature allows first responders to collect incident information in one spot. If a power line is down over a road, emergency crews or civilians in the area can geo-tag a photograph and upload it to an interactive map. It even provides real-time tracking of shelter availability and other emergency meeting locations. Even if people don’t download the app, FEMA throws all of its updates on its Twitter feed with a link to Google Maps.