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Emergency Communications: The Future Is Now

At APCO 2013, I sat in a session titled “The PSAP of the Future - It’s Closer Than You Think”. Hanan Harb, ENP, CMCP, San Diego Sheriff’s Department described the future of public safety telecommunications. “It’s like moving to another country and learning another language,” she explains. She then used the movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise stood in front of the screens in the Pre-Crime Unit as an example of what the future holds for us. Those images are not far off as many companies including Motorola roll out intelligence consoles capable of collecting, analyzing and distributing massive amount of data. Before we get into a look at what this means to the front-line dispatcher, here is a review of some key terms.

Big Data

Big Data is a commercial term for the huge amounts of data that could not possibly be managed by on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. All the information in the commercial world about you is Big Data. Every credit report, residency, shopping trip, medical record, criminal history, etc. exists in cyber-space. All of these records are Big Data. It is virtually impossible not to have a Big Data footprint.

Software Applications

Applications, many of which run through Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD), can mine and analyze Big Data automatically. Companies such as Intrado, Inc. and NICE produce applications which allow PSAPs to search, analyze and distribute Big Data both through CAD, P25 and wireless products. Intrado’s Beware allows an automatic or selective search using a name, social security number, address, license plate or driver’s license number to name a few. A Beware query gives information on who lives at a location, criminal history, any associated vehicles or phone numbers (including cell phones), people associated with and web information (such as a Facebook page, any articles written about a person or blog). The system then assigns a threat score. All of this information can go to the dispatcher, the first responder or both utilizing fixed or mobile devices.

Real-Time Intelligence Console

Although Motorola markets the Real-Time Intelligence Console (RIC), the idea carries over into many other markets. This powerful console allows the integration of surveillance video, radio voice and CAD information into an intuitive, multi-function map environment. This truly is a real-life example of the Pre-Crime Unit. This console allows the user to communicate critical information via voice, share multimedia data like video and photos, keep crucial video feeds in view at all times, monitor events and instantly query databases. All of this from one location. 

What does it all Mean?

As I stood in the Motorola booth at APCO, I was taken through a tour of everything the RIC could do. The first item that caught my eye was the mapping function. On the map were numerous symbols representing fixed surveillance cameras, such as ATMs, hotels, grocery stores and traffic cameras, in-vehicle and wearable mobile cameras, sensors, such as gunshot detectors, and the location of any incident currently being worked on CAD. All of the possibilities of situational awareness and crime mapping flooded over with me along with the thought of having all the resources of my area right at my fingertips.

 Next I looked over at the video screen. The system allows the dispatcher to view up to 16 video surveillance feeds at one time. You can take a snap shot of the video, search through video and even play a video with multiple times displayed at once. For example, you could watch 30 minutes of a video all simultaneously to detect if anything was out of the ordinary. All of the video could be distributed to whoever needed to see it either as a snapshot, a portion of the video or the live feed. As part of the analytic capabilities, the software could automatically analyze a scene for unusual events such as a person acting in an atypical fashion (I assume atypical has to be defined for a jurisdiction and programmed in) or an unusual act occurs such as someone leaving a bag on a street corner. The software will automatically alert on these types of behaviors. Another example is surveillance can be done on a single location like a railroad junction. The “normal” of the junction, for example trains going through, would be programmed in. The system would alert if something unusual occurred like a car driving on the tracks or a person messing with the electrical boxes.

Dispatcher vs. Police Officer

There didn’t seem to be any question that utilizing Big Data would play a large part in the NG911 world. Companies will continue to innovate and create the technology that will bring to reality these Minority Report dispatch rooms. The biggest question is who is going to sit behind the console? Some view this as an extension of what dispatchers do already. Much like an information channel but with so much more, it makes sense to have a trained dispatcher analyzing the data and sending it where it needs to go. Michael Lee of Intrado, Inc. sees the position as an extension of a public safety telecommunicator’s duty. While on the other hand, Motorola sees it quite different. At the Media Round-Table, Motorola reps expressed their vision of this position as an augmentation of patrol. They described it as a virtual police officer. Maybe it will be a combination of both-Certified Analyst Officer. Only the future can tell.