The Importance of Redundancy in Law Enforcement Technology

May 9, 2024
Police officers are trained to know what to do in case different scenarios happen on the scene, and having a plan B is essential when it comes to public safety technology.

The recent 9-1-1 outage in several states caused by a fiber cut during the installation of a light pole highlights the system's fragility and stresses the crucial need for redundancy in public safety. The most recent outage impacted Nevada, South Dakota, and Nebraska for approximately three hours, impacting the public’s ability to reach 9-1-1. Areas with text-to-9-1-1 capabilities urged residents to text 9-1-1 or use a landline to call 9-1-1. 

A separate incident occurred at the same time in the area of Del Rio, Texas, and impacted residents' abilities to reach 9-1-1 through a specific cellular carrier. Residents were told to use another cellular carrier or a landline to reach 9-1-1. These two incidents, which occurred on the same date and at similar times, highlight the need for redundancy in public safety systems and stress the importance of having a plan to deal with outages. 

Plan B

A plan B or a backup plan is second nature in law enforcement. Police officers are trained to know what to do in case different scenarios happen on the scene. They are also trained to adjust and think on the fly when situations change. The same training, thought, and planning need to be in place with public safety technology and the staff that works with the systems. 

Sometimes, the system failure is minimal and easy to fix, such as a non-functional body-worn camera that is exchanged for an operational one. Sometimes, the outages, like Computer-Aided Dispatcher (CAD) or phone system downtime, can be more large-scale. Having procedures that are known to staff helps maintain officer safety, community safety, and the integrity of case-related evidence.

Redundancy Planning

Frequent technology improvements and updates help law enforcement agencies do their jobs more effectively. Agencies rely on these technology pieces, so planning a redundant path to avoid failure is critical. Public safety agencies rely on electricity or other forms of energy to keep the numerous technology pieces operational. When the power goes out, most agencies have a backup generator that turns on to power their systems. That generator should have regular maintenance and test runs to ensure it will function as intended when needed.

Planning redundancy for the facility is only part of the overall technology used in law enforcement. Systems often integrate or connect through a shared network or even have hardware in the same room. An air conditioner not working to control the server room temperatures can take down several vital systems. The shared network can leave an opening for hackers to access and damage critical systems. The connection to the Internet could go down, leaving some systems only partially functioning. Downtime does not always indicate a system failure or power outage. Working through the possible downtime scenarios to create a response plan and procedures to follow for those events lets the agency operate at even basic service levels.

Training for the Future

Law enforcement is used to contingency planning and continuing to provide service even when equipment fails, staffing is low, and systems are down. As much as training programs focus on using the technology and equipment that are part of policing, training staff on how to work around and without that technology and even some equipment will help minimize the stress of the inevitable system and equipment failures. With a plan in place, the staff knows how to deal with downtime or equipment failure and what protocols to follow for command, community, and media notification. 

Much of the world relies on technology daily. As much as we rely on it, we’re also not surprised by downtime–inconvenienced but not surprised. Law enforcement is no different. Sometimes, reverting to ‘old school’ ways of writing down call information may not work as quickly as we’d like, but when the technology fails, emergency calls don’t stop or wait until things are back up and running. 

About the Author

Toni Rogers

Toni Rogers is a freelance writer and former manager of police support services, including communications, records, property and evidence, database and systems management, and building technology. She has a master’s degree in Criminal Justice with certification in Law Enforcement Administration and a master's degree in Digital Audience Strategies.

During her 18-year tenure in law enforcement, Toni was a certified Emergency Number Professional (ENP), earned a Law Enforcement Inspections and Auditing Certification, was certified as a Spillman Application Administrator (database and systems management for computer-aided dispatch and records management), and a certified communications training officer.

Toni now provides content marketing and writing through her company, Eclectic Pearls, LLC.

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