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Scott A. Neal, a communications consultant at Mission Critical Partners, and Alan Shark, executive director at PTI, released the survey results Sept. 27.
The highest response to the question, “Over the next five years, what technology project(s) will be of high priority for your agency” specific to communications, was radio communications at 59 percent. Mobile data followed at 56 percent, and 40 percent of respondents each chose smart devices and social media monitoring. 9-1-1 upgrades made up 25 percent of participants’ answers. The two lowest priorities were the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) at 13 percent and Long Term Evolution (LTE) communications at 7 percent.
The same question was asked for non-communications-related priorities, and 52 percent of respondents said body-worn cameras were the highest priority, whereas 46 percent chose records management/e-discovery. Information-sharing/multijurisdiction was chosen by 36 percent, geographic information systems (GIS) by 28 percent, crime analytics by 23 percent, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by 8 percent and building imagery by 6 percent of respondents.
Shark said public-safety officials often have an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude when it comes to keeping up with technology and funding. “I think it really depends,” he said. “I think it’s up to CIOs (chief information officers) and whether they put it in terms of risk assessment and management … The bigger issue is the public wants everything for free and for taxes to not go up. It’s a conundrum of resources.”
Neal said agencies often have to ignore technology upgrades because they have many priorities or are being pushed in other funding directions. “Those in charge of technology understand, but ultimate decision-makers would keep it all together with bubble gum if needed,” he said. “There’s a lot of technology out there that could break at any point.”
When participants were asked if their local public-safety answering points (PSAP) were upgraded to handle implementation of next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) by 2020, 35 percent said no plans have been made at their agencies. However, 20 percent answered, it’s completed. Thirty percent answered it’s in progress, and 15 percent said their agencies are planning PSAP upgrades.
Participants were also asked if PSAPs in their areas consolidated or sought to share services with another locality or localities. Yes was the answer for 50 percent of participants, whereas no was chosen by 23 percent. Nineteen percent said their agencies had no consolidation or sharing plans yet, and 8 percent responded that they are planning to.
About one-third of the agencies don’t have 9-1-1 upgrade plans, and that’s typical, Neal said. It all goes back to funding. “Some states don’t have dedicated funding, while the others who do have dedicated it to other purposes,” he said. “But it’s extremely important that we move forward with technology. It goes hand in hand that public-safety broadband is built out over five years.”
Shark said he believes the PSAP transition is absolutely imperative, but there’s no guidebook on it. “It’s a very touchy transition,” he said. “I’ve heard some people say the goal post looks slow because they’re not sure of the process and others have to think about existing equipment.”
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)
The survey included a list of FirstNet priorities and asked participants which items their groups or agencies had considered in regard to requirements for local systems. Those items included:
• Security of voice, video and data communications applications and data streams (27 percent);
• Hardening and reliability of communications networks (23 percent);
• Prioritization of capacity among local public-safety agencies (22 percent);
• Hardening and reliability of data centers (21 percent).
Many public-safety agencies are busy dealing with day-to-day operations, so FirstNet seems to be on the backburner because it won’t be available for another five years, Neal said.
In response to a question about whether the respondents’ agencies use body-worn cameras, 35 percent said they do, but only some officers use the technology. Thirty-one percent claimed their agencies had no plans to use the cameras, while 23 percent said they don’t use them, but there’s a plan in place to do so.
The survey asked participants if their agencies’ video storage and retrieval policy included the following:
• Protocols for responding to public inquiries for access to video (52 percent);
• Ensuring the quality and integrity of video evidence (52 percent);
• Integration of various video formats into an accessible body of data for analysis (19 percent).
Thirty-two percent of participants said they don’t have video storage or retrieval policies.
The goal for the Obama Administration was to push $75 million in funding for body-worn cameras to agencies for an ultimate goal of doubling the number of cameras in use, Neal said. Despite their growing popularity, he said he’s been seeing too many cases of officers forgetting to turn them on, which raises questions about the technology itself.
“Body-worn cameras will continue to grow,” Neal said. “I think they’re terrific and not the end all be all, but they help clarify a lot of issues. I know when we rolled out dash cams, we realized a lot of cases when officers were accused of misconduct, and the videos would often clear them. They just help with public trust.”
When talking video, agencies must always think about storage, data retrieval analysis and local laws, Neal said. “There’s a lot that goes into this, and we have 51 percent of respondents with no storage strategy at all,” he said.
Shark, who works closely with enterprise CIOs, said it will be interesting to see how public-safety agencies and IT decision-makers make goals for body-worn cameras and storage. “So many localities have a weird line mark with one’s responsibilities, and this causes friction,” he said. “In an age of collaboration, we’re encouraged because millennials are less territorial and more tech savvy. How do we go on to share civilian and law-enforcement cameras?”
Staffing and Budget
When asked how staffing and budget levels have changed since 2015, the survey found that 67 percent of staffing levels stayed the same, while 17 percent increased, and 16 percent decreased. Forty-eight percent of officers who responded said the budget spending level at their agencies stayed the same, while 35 percent said it increased, and 17 percent said it decreased.
Budget and staffing numbers were encouraging to see, Neal said. “The budget is increasing from the change in a recession-like economy, and law enforcement folks can start playing catch up with what they lost,” he said.
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