No matter who is responding to a 911 call, clear and direct communication is imperative before, during and after a call for service.
Effective public safety response relies on this bedrock principle. Dispatchers at 911 call centers need to be able to relay information quickly, securely and clearly to first responders about what is happening at a scene, and those responders need to be able to communicate just as effectively with other personnel they may need to call upon to assist them.
These principles are important to remember as many jurisdictions around the country launch pilot programs to send out first responders who are not armed law enforcement officers in response to certain types of calls for service.
Regardless of the model they adopt, municipalities need to ensure they are using robust, interoperable and secure communication as first responders go out into their communities.
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Communication and Collaboration Are Critical to Public Safety
Some municipalities have been deploying a nonpolice response model for decades; among them, Eugene, Ore., which has been operating the Crisis Assistance Helping out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) program since 1989. “Staffed and operated by Eugene’s White Bird Clinic, the program dispatches two-person teams of crisis workers and medics to respond to 911 and non-emergency calls involving people in behavioral health crisis,” notes the Vera Institute of Justice in describing CAHOOTS.
Denver is a more recent example of this model. In June 2002, the city launched the Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) pilot program, in which a medic and a clinician respond to nonviolent calls for service. Many other cities have already adopted this model or are considering it, including Washington, D.C., and San Antonio.
As these models evolve, those responders will need to be provided with information about the situations they are entering. Sometimes, this will be done via simple connections over police radio channels.
However, more robust communication and collaboration tools may be required. Increasingly, law enforcement agencies have grown comfortable using videoconferencing tools during calls for service and other aspects of their jobs, including communication with colleagues and the public.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a lot to do with the shift. Before the pandemic, many law enforcement officers were reluctant to use tools such as Cisco Webex on the job. However, the pandemic forced the adoption of a great number of remote collaboration tools, and now many law enforcement agencies and officers have embraced that flexibility.
Such tools could be brought to bear in the nonpolice response context. Sometimes, social works and other mental health professionals say they need police backup or cannot handle every call. In those cases, they could use a cloud-based tool such as Webex on their smartphone or other mobile device to set up a private virtual room to communicate with personnel in an emergency operations center or real-time crime center. The responding personnel even stream live video from the scene.
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Effectively Design a Robust Public Safety Communication System
Responding to calls for service requires flexibility in today’s public safety agencies. Those agencies need to have an equal amount of flexibility in the tools they use.
CDW•G can help construct emergency operations centers (as it did recently in Charlotte, N.C.) that support a wide range of communication tools in a multivendor environment — not just Cisco, but Poly, Microsoft, Logitech or whatever tools the agency requires to meet its needs.
CDW•G can help with the initial design, room layout, installation and management of all of the technologies needed for emergency operations centers.
In addition to data visualization, video cameras and sensors, video management software, data analytics tools and data center infrastructure, communication and collaboration tools are a core element of modern emergency operations centers.
No matter how a municipality decides to construct its public safety response model, first responders need secure, reliable communication tools. They can provide those responders with the situational awareness they need to do their jobs as effectively as possible.
This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.