Use the cloud to lower sky-high costs

Unlike previous downturns, the recent recession has been different in many ways, especially in how it has impacted those who serve in public safety. In earlier economic cycles, municipalities did everything possible to retain public safety services and personnel at all costs. Although this still may be the overall objective, with scarce resources now exhausted, the ongoing economic crises facing cities and counties across the country have spared few police officers, firefighters and paramedics entirely from the budget ax. Although public safety remains the last area where cities and counties want to cut budgets, many have regrettably reached the point where they have no viable alternative but to reduce funding.

In fact, 79 percent of cities surveyed by the League of Cities indicated that budget constraints had forced them to lay off staff, and 25 percent said they were implementing outright reductions in public safety personnel. The city of Camden, N.J. — ranked as the second most dangerous city in America — laid off 45 percent of its police department and one third of its firefighters in January, reported by Financial Times on March 6, 2010. Such draconian and shortsighted steps that reduce both the numbers and effectiveness of public safety personnel serve as a stark example of the severe tradeoffs communities have made to address radically reduced funding.

But that’s not all. Communities throughout the country have also looked to public safety as a new source of revenue — often focusing on services provided by first responders. According to an article in the New York Times on December 16, 2010, the New York Fire Department may begin charging up to $500 to motorists involved in accidents requiring a service call beginning July 1, 2011. The new plan proposes to assess the highest fee of $490 for car accidents or car fires in which people suffered injuries. In addition to raising fees, the City of New York may also close up to 20 fire companies between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. everyday. On the other side of the country, the City of Garden Grove, Calif., implemented a Non-Resident First Responder Fee in mid-2009 that seeks to collect a $350 fee from non-residents involved in accidents. Although these fees may not ever raise sufficient funds to fully cover the cost of services provided, they raise the potentially troubling dynamic of pitting those who serve in public safety against the public, rather than united them in a common community.

The wisdom of attempting to raise revenue through such fees remains an open question. But the message is unequivocal. Public safety agencies will now be held even more accountable not just for their efforts, but also for their efficacy. Such radical budget pressures may not be uncommon in other areas, but it is a new dynamic for public safety agencies that have historically enjoyed being at least somewhat “recession-resistant,” if not “recession-proof.” Along with the rest of America, public safety agencies are expected to tighten belts and work harder and smarter. Without funding to hire additional personnel to deal with the challenges of growing populations, public safety has become increasingly dependent on technology to fill the gaps.

At the same time, public safety agencies have faced increasing challenges in protecting their communities due to aging legacy technology systems. Although the case of Camden, N.J. and the others cited may (thankfully) serve as extreme examples, many public safety answering points (PSAPs) are operating with outdated and failing systems that further hinder their ability to protect citizens and officers. In addition to trying to adapt to waning and constrained resources, nationwide budget cuts have depleted staff and forced public safety officials to make tough choices that have begun to threaten the overall safety of communities they serve.

Technological advances

Fortunately, significant advances have enabled public safety personnel to do more with less — and to deploy these solutions quickly, easily and at low overall cost. To fill this need sophisticated and affordable public safety CAD and mobile integrated solutions are needed, including a hosted SaaS (software as a service) delivery option. This type of solution offers a complete public safety platform for dispatch and mobile communications that scales for agencies, jurisdictions and environments of any size or complexity. Companies such as Tiburon with its DispatchNow can include a unique deployment technology to save time, money and resources while also offering seamless integration with Next Generation 911 systems.

Many jurisdictions have been looking to hosted solutions to provide state-of-the art technology without a substantial up-front investment or ongoing maintenance costs. Available hosted delivery options offer even faster, more cost-effective implementation and state-of-the-art remote system monitoring. The SaaS solution features full functionality at a price that can be easily accommodated, even by the constrained operating budgets of the current environment — and requires no need to tap into capital expenditure budgets. And because the servers are hosted in a secure offsite facility, and not installed at the local facilities, hosted options do not require agencies to purchase or maintain any additional hardware.

Hosted “cloud computing” has the added benefits of increased availability and resilience while also maintaining the absolute security and integrity of mission-critical data. Fault-tolerant architecture with multiple redundancies helps make such technology as secure and reliable as it is cost-effective. Customers also benefit from cost-effective system implementation and operation, and a streamlined backup center solution.

Solutions dynamically allocate computer resources to ensure customers always experience maximum availability and performance — even during peak hours. Moreover, dynamic load balancing and intelligent resource allocation allow hardware maintenance performance without any application downtime. Should one hosted server fail, other servers in the resource pool can take over to ensure PSAP operations continue uninterrupted.

A case in point

Significantly, the transition from Colorado County’s (Texas) legacy system to DispatchNow was virtually painless. “Like many other agencies across the country, we are balancing stressed budgets with the obligation to modernize outdated public safety technologies that help our dispatchers and front line effectively respond to the needs of our communities,” says Colorado County Sheriff R.H. Wied. “But beyond affordability, being able to deploy a full-featured DispatchNow system in weeks, rather than months, is what mattered most to us in Colorado County.”

The cities of Columbus, Texas, and Weimar, Texas, also implemented DispatchNow Mobile units through the Colorado County program. As demonstrated in Colorado County, DispatchNow’s hosted solution allows smaller communities to enjoy a higher level of protection without the need for big city budgets and resources. With a subscription model, agencies can pay for the system using their operating budget, thereby eliminating the need to secure approval for a capital expenditure budget. A hosted solution also cuts out other expenses, including IT support staff and ongoing maintenance and upgrade costs. By leveraging virtualization technology, secure networks, hardened hosting facilities and advanced monitoring capabilities, it reduces implementation time, maximizes system availability and lowers total cost of ownership.

In fact, because the hosted delivery model agencies can realize savings of up to 40 percent on the total cost of ownership in the first five years. Many agencies can even completely avoid costly RFP and procurement processes by foregoing large up-front capital and service expenditures. Agencies realize additional savings through reduced IT workload with companies like Tiburon monitoring and maintenance of all servers and databases.

In addition to cost savings, dispatchers and first responders can log in to servers and immediately enter and obtain the most up-to-date data available. In the event of emergencies or disasters, command centers can be set up from multiple locations, and the systems make dispatch information, including incident type, names, addresses, built-in maps, GPS directions, license information, caller information and locations readily available online and also deliver it to laptops and mobile devices.

Architecture needs to also ensure agencies can meet the impending challenges of Next Generation 911 (NG911). For example, the CAD solution should integrate with NG911 voice and data services through established industry standards.

Because NG911 will become available at different times to different jurisdictions, agencies must be able to configure, test and implement NG911 solutions and services at their own pace, according to the best use of agency resources, while assuring the continued safety of the public. DispatchNow solutions and services are fully modular and customizable to meet the unique requirements of individual agencies, and can scale to support the full range feature-rich multimedia content available with NG911. DispatchNow’s NG911 system will moreover deliver voice, text and multimedia content through fully secure and redundant networks with the goal of allowing agencies to enhance the safety and services they provide to their communities.

“DispatchNow Mobile arms our officers with more of the critical data they need to safely and efficiently respond to calls in the field,” says Weimar PD Chief Bill Livingston. “Not only are manual tasks automated now with the technology of the mobile system, but our officers can file required reporting instantly from their squad cars. The automatic vehicle location capabilities also greatly improve our officer safety and response effectiveness.” With more information at hand, officers are not only better able to protect themselves and their communities, but they are freed up to perform their primary and critical responsibility of saving lives, not scribing.

Regardless of the economic environment or budgetary pressures, harnessing new developments in technology that save time and money represents a real step forward as communities throughout the country seek to adapt to the “new normal” facing those who serve in public safety.