These examples, and there are many others, show there can be big differences between how commercial networks and public safety networks are designed and perform. It's essential for those within public safety agencies to understand the differences between the two, so that these organizations can mitigate the potential impact of such risks on their officers in the field.
Understanding the threats and risks
If an agency is either currently using a new commercially based wireless communication service or device or planning on incorporating one into its critical business, there are at least two important things a manager can do to help make its use safer for field staff.
- Have a threat-risk assessment performed. Find qualified independent consultants who can work with the department's telecommunications provider to understand and report back on the potential technical, operational and business risks associated with depending upon a specific commercial communications tool or service. Once armed with this information, the agency can carefully develop standard operating procedures to deal with the possible impact of a shortcoming on the network. Ideally, this should be performed before making the decision to rely on the service.
- Ask the provider to detail its business continuity/business resumption plans with respect to the network the department's commercial service may rely on. Any responsible network provider has a detailed plan for how it will restore its communications service if it is interrupted for any reason.
Emerging commercial networking technologies and devices can be a boon to policing and other first response services. Much of policing now — from our friend with his Blackberry, late at night, a vehicle stopped on the side of the road, to the detective working a major crime — is about the management and communication of information. Because there's such a massive worldwide market for new and innovative wireless applications, the choices for the public and public safety will only grow richer over time — which is a good thing for everyone. But as choice grows, so does responsibility. That means the responsibility to seek all the information available, and then plan accordingly. If it was you making that walk from the cruiser, you'd want nothing less.