Sep 13 2021

Connected Fleet Solutions Keep Public Safety Vehicles on the Network

First responders adopt solutions to improve management of municipal cars and trucks.

In Baltimore, the police department recently upgraded connectivity for its police cruisers.

In these vehicles, “every single piece of equipment — the license plate readers, the laptops — they each have their own cell SIM that needs to be managed and supported by us,” says Ben Lora, IT infrastructure director for the Baltimore Police Department. “We needed to ­integrate all those things into a single VPN solution that we can ­centrally manage.”

The connected-fleet vision refers to “the ability of a vehicle to communicate with remote coordination centers or with nearby vehicles and infrastructure,” says Shashi Shekhar, a professor at the Center for Transportation Studies at University of Minnesota. In addition to supporting efficient dispatch, connectivity can drive data-based performance that helps improve fleet utilization.

“Modern vehicles generate a host of information about energy use, emissions and other onboard diagnostics,” Shekhar says. “Vehicles in a connected fleet can report such information periodically to a command center, which could leverage the information for new purposes.”

Baltimore is not alone in pursuing this vision. Across the nation, various jurisdictions have lately sought ­connected-fleet upgrades in an effort to improve visibility of police activity and to support officers in the field. 

RELATED: How cellular-to-vehicle technology might reshape road safety in cities.

Baltimore Rolls Out a Connected Fleet Solution

Baltimore city’s police department sought enhancements to its ­fleet — including almost 1,000 cruisers, as well as rental and lease vehicles — to support a seemingly endless flow of digital tools. The department needed a centralized way to integrate an ever-growing inventory of connected devices in its vehicles and to manage them from a central location.

“Every time something new comes along, there are a lot of touchpoints: installing the equipment, designing the solution, deploying it and making it operational,” Lora says.

To streamline the deployment, the department worked with CDW•G to acquire a Cradlepoint solution, the new R1900 ruggedized 5G edge router. Powered by Cradlepoint’s NetCloud subscription service, the solution includes cloud-delivered software, endpoints, training and support. It ­supports IoT connectivity with Bluetooth, and edge computing for Microsoft Azure IoT Central or AWS Greengrass environments.

Ben Lora, IT infrastructure director for the Baltimore Police Department

Ben Lora, IT infrastructure director for the Baltimore Police Department, has helped implement a connected fleet deployment. Source: Baltimore Police Department

“With Cradlepoint, everything communicates through a single cloud-based solution. Everything is connected to a single cloud VPN solution, so it saves us from having to deal with hundreds and hundreds of individual connections,” Lora says.

Because the system is cloud-based, the department can manage all those connections through a single web interface. “We can also configure the devices through a policy approach, instead of having to manage each device individually,” he says.

In addition to easing the technology management burden, this centralized approach has helped to future proof the department as it acquires new ­connected devices for its fleet. 

“Now, when we have a new requirement, a new piece of gear, we don’t have to spend much time configuring it. You just connect to the Cradlepoint, and that’s it. We don’t have to rethink or redesign anything,” Lora says.

Cocoa, Fla., Gains Greater Visibility into Its Fleet 

In Cocoa, Fla., Fleet Manager Tony Jones has likewise sought out new levels of connectivity for the city’s 400-vehicle municipal fleet.

The city needed something “to give our managers and supervisors greater visibility into their vehicles, with a ­real-time location information and driver behavior capability,” he says.

It turned to the Samsara fleet tracking solution, powered by over 200 of the company’s VG34 gateways, which provide real-time vehicle location services and telematics. A c­ompletely cloud-based GPS tracking solution, Samsara provides remote vehicle diagnostics, a safety ­dashboard, system ­reporting and other key management tools.

The technology “allows staff to manage vehicles from anywhere,” Jones says. He lauded the system for its real-time dispatching, work location verification, driver ­coaching, low-battery warnings and a range of other capabilities.

In addition to the added capabilities, the connected-fleet solution also raises the department’s level of transparency. “As a municipal fleet, we are constantly in the public eye. We needed more accountability for our fleet and driver/operators, and this solution provides that in real time,” he says.

RELATED: Discover how better data enhances emergency response.

LASD Seeks Consistent Communication for Officers

At the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, connected-fleet ­technologies help consistent connectivity across partner jurisdictions.

LASD provides law enforcement ­services to contract cities and ­unincorporated county areas. It has been using Panasonic Toughbook mobile digital computers for more than 10 years, but connectivity issues, including frequent lost connections, were limiting the performance of those systems.

When communication is dropped, “it poses potential officer safety risks as well as operational risks to the public,” says Sgt. David Chi, who manages fleet connectivity for the department.

“An officer involved in a shooting or other extenuating emergency may not be able to broadcast his or her location,” he says. “If the mobile data computer is unable to communicate, other deputies as well as dispatch may not see the current location.”

In seeking upgrades, “the goal was to have a stable, ­continuous and uninterrupted connection as much as ­possible,” he says.

The department has adopted Sierra Wireless MG90 modems in support of enhanced connectivity, ­leveraging their ability to ­seamlessly hand off connections from wireless access points to two different cellular 4G LTE providers.

“The modem is able to measure the ­signal strength of each and gives us ­failover capability,” Chi says. “When it’s out of range of an access point, it switches to 4G LTE, and when one 4G signal is lost, it switches to the other 4G provider. The transition is seamless, and the connection is maintained at all times.”

Before installing the Sierra Wireless routers, LASD’s connectivity was ­sometimes intermittent. With the new routers, “we have had big improvements in the consistency of our MDC ­connections,” Chi says.

DIVE DEEPER: How do police enhance situational awareness with real-time data?

A Unified IoT Solution Is Also More Secure

In Baltimore, meanwhile, the move to a unified solution in support of vehicular IoT has not only streamlined the IT workload, but also helped to ensure a higher degree of cyber resilience.

“These IoT devices are extremely ­difficult to support and maintain from a security perspective. They come from mostly small or midsize companies, and there are so many that you can’t manage them all,” Lora says.

“But if you put them all behind a secure platform, with encryption, then you can secure those devices much more effectively,” he says.

To deliver these outcomes, the department’s IT staff relied heavily on CDW•G’s expertise, Lora says.

“They took care of the logistics, of getting the vendor lined up. We don’t have the manpower to do this ourselves. We’re busy just keeping the operations running, and we are not mechanics,” he says. “It wouldn’t have been feasible to do this on our own.”

Illustration by Viktor Koe