Public safety incidents, by their very nature, can change from routine to critical in an instant. As most law enforcement officers will attest, they must be able to think and act quickly in order to protect citizens and fellow officers alike. Simply put, time equals lives.
In mission-critical environments, training and instinct are of the utmost importance, as are the tools and technologies that allow officers to effectively manage any situation they encounter.
A recent survey conducted by Motorola and The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) revealed a strong demand for advanced technology solutions that improve officer situational awareness and streamline emergency response.
New sophisticated technology, however, comes with added challenges. Vendors must ensure that the operation of advanced tools is intuitive to the end-user. An emergency is no time for responders to fumble with a device that is difficult to operate, awkward to carry or requires them to change their behavior in order to use the equipment optimally.
Officers confronting an armed suspect do not have time to worry about which radio knob changes the broadcast channel and which changes the volume. A poorly positioned knob can mean the difference between an officer staying in touch with emergency backup or being isolated.
Thoughtful, purpose-built mission-critical design is the first step in making sure first responders are equipped with products and solutions that meet their unique requirements.Designing for 'hours of boredom, moments of terror'
Scientists have long studied aspects of human behavior. Highly relevant to the public safety community is the study of how people think and function in the extreme states driven by their environments, from the mundane to high stress situations.
The average person's daily life can be characterized as having a narrow spectrum of calm interspersed with occasional and minor stressful moments, such as when the alarm clock rings in the morning or during the daily commute. In scientific terms, people's normal, everyday conditions and reactions are called "equilibrium."
An emergency responder, on the other hand, must constantly be prepared and ready to respond at elevated states of stress. One officer characterized law enforcement work as a roller coaster of extremes: "Our typical day is 'hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of terror.' "
The human condition caused by extreme stressful situations, termed "non-equilibrium" by scientists, impacts the ability to function normally. For example, a sudden stop or near-miss when someone is driving in traffic can result in an increase in heart rate and a short-term lack of focus.
Now imagine what happens to a typical officer's ability to think clearly when confronted with an emergent or life-threatening situation.
Physiologically, in such extremely stressful situations individuals can lose high-level brain activity, meaning that other parts of the brain will attempt to compensate by filtering out the least relevant information to the situation. Unfortunately, this may lead to the inability of the officer to process relevant, but more complex information, such as that from the cruiser's dashboard display.
The ability to function is also affected in the non-equilibrium condition. Reaction time can be delayed when difficult-to-use technology is thrown into a high-stress environment.
For that reason, all the tools that officers use — new and old — must be designed to be intuitive, or second nature in their operation.Mission-critical capabilities mean easy operation
When given a new product, users typically fall into two camps. The first is made up of those who welcome the new features and quickly adapt to the technology. The other camp includes those who focus on the perceived complexity, discouraging costs and inconvenience.