One of the most important concerns for elected officials is making sure that their communities are safe. This is particularly true in Texas where we have more disasters than any other state in the nation. Elected officials must ensure that public safety and emergency services organizations have the necessary equipment and technologies to prevent criminal activity and respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations.
The terrorist attacks on 9/11 highlighted many public safety communications challenges. Since then, substantial innovations in public safety technologies have been made – particularly in the areas of interoperability, information sharing, analytics, and emergency response. Many of these advanced technologies are no longer confined to stations and Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) and are available to practitioners in the field through a variety of devices and applications, significantly improving preparedness and incident response.
Law enforcement officers have the ability to instantly search criminal justice databases and run fingerprint scans in the field. Firefighters have the ability to evaluate electronic building schematics in route to a fire to gather vital information such as access points, construction type, hazard locations, occupancy load, and even digital pictures to begin planning efforts before arriving on-scene. EMS personnel have the ability to better communicate with hospital staff by transmitting real-time video and biotelemetry information for critical care during patient transport. GPS, asset tracking and Incident Command Systems (ICS) improve communications between command staff and field personnel to improve situational awareness during incident response through a Common Operating Picture (COP).
Many of these innovations have become possible because of the evolution of wireless data networks. To-date, most jurisdictions have relied almost exclusively on commercial carrier networks for mobile data communication. And while these networks typically provide reliable service, they are not always available when and where public safety personnel need them most. During major incidents when public safety has the greatest need for accessing critical data and applications, carrier networks are often brought down due to high congestion leaving them without vital tools and information. For example, after the Boston bombing, commercial networks went down for 90-minutes during which time emergency services personnel had limited information to triage patients and begin investigation efforts. They also had very limited information to provide elected officials working to calm a very nervous public. Commercial carriers also do not provide coverage in many rural areas of Texas, making these technologies unattainable by public safety personnel in many of our communities.
Public Safety Long-Term Evolution (PS LTE) will provide public safety a dedicated broadband wireless network to ensure that public safety officials have access to the right tools and information when and where they need it. Mobile technologies such as field reporting can be leveraged to reduce costs by: 1) allowing law enforcement officers more time in the field, 2) reducing the need for additional staff, 3) improving response times and 4) improving the safety of the community by keeping more officers in the field rather than at a desk.
The deployment of this network will be a very large undertaking creating jobs in many communities. It will also support continued innovations not even dreamed of today by laying a foundation which will support public safety personnel in their missions of saving lives and protecting property far into the future.