Mitigating Technology Risk Through Planning

March 4, 2024
Risk management allows a police or law enforcement agency to evaluate risks and forecast where things might not work as expected.

Risk is inherent in every aspect of law enforcement, and technology is no different. As more agencies rely on technology, there will be problems: system failures, lines down, power disruption, or something to interrupt your agency’s technology. 

Last week’s AT&T’s commercial wireless unplanned network outage resulted in no service for thousands of AT&T customers. This outage minimally impacted some police agencies but serves to remind us commercial network outages have happened before and will happen again. And most importantly, this recent outage serves as a reminder to have a plan when technology fails. 

Managing Risks

Risk management allows an agency to evaluate risks and forecast where things may not work as expected. Forecasting should be done with agency technology, including software, hardware, networks, and connections. The plan for managing those risks should include backup plans for the continuity of critical services for each staff function. 

Some of this may be part of the agency’s disaster recovery planning, but the plans for staff need to be more detailed and specific to each part of the technology. Procedures need to be in place for staff to know how to handle calls for service, records requests, 9-1-1 calls, arrest and booking, and other routine tasks during system, power, and other outages. Police departments rely on technology, and knowing how to continue public safety services during system downtime is critical.


System redundancy and having a backup plan are critical for law enforcement technology. In the case of a commercial network outage, like the recent outage where thousands of AT&T cell phones were down in some areas along with Internet connectivity, an agency might consider having a redundant technology provider or a way to exchange data between the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Records Management System (RMS), and the patrol unit computers. 

With all the pieces of technology in place as part of law enforcement, each point of failure must be considered and a backup option chosen, if possible. If there is no backup option, staff needs to know the workaround solution to continue providing public safety during technology downtime. 

Communication Plan

On-duty staff must know who to contact when a system does not work as expected. At some point after the initial assessment, communicating the outage to the proper government leaders and the community should be considered, and the plan will outline who communicates the information and what channels are used for community notifications. 

Knowing when to notify the media of downtime and having a plan allows those decisions to be made before the situation. The plan also provides the notification's basics and establishes preset plans to share with the community. A plan of action for system downtime, especially when public services are disrupted, helps the agency keep the community informed, involved, and safe. 

Training for System Outages

System downtime is difficult to manage when scheduled but more challenging when unplanned. Staff should know what protocols to follow depending on the system that is down and where to get any needed supplies. For example, if the CAD system goes down, the telecommunicators need to know how to track service calls without CAD. Patrol units must know the protocol for running information searches if their mobile data computers are down. 

Law enforcement uses many types of technology, and most know how to go back to “old school” ways when systems are down. As employees retire and leave their positions, knowledge of how to do things before technology can be lost. With a plan in place and training in case of technology failures, agencies can manage system or network downtime much more safely and effectively. 

Restoring Systems

Each piece of the system, such as a network component, software program, or hardware piece, is only part of a larger chain comprising the agency’s technology. When part of the chain is out of service, bringing the rest of the technology back up to speed needs to be done following the proper protocol. Including those startup procedures in the plan can help staff bring back systems in the correct order to avoid complications or other problems that lead to additional downtime.

Even if your agency has technology staff or vendors that have responded to assist with the start-up process to ensure equipment health, agency staff will also have specific restart procedures for their work area. As with the example of the down CAD system, staff needs to know how to back-enter data as the system comes back online without losing required information like call times, responding officers, times on scene, and more. 

Preparation and Planning

Technology downtime is inevitable. Preparing for various technology outages – planned and unplanned, commercial and private – helps the agency weather the downtime and quickly return to normal operations. If your agency does not review technology regularly, consider adding the technology systems to an existing equipment review that includes repair, refresh, and replacement plans. The plan for technology downtime should also be revisited and reviewed when new technology components are added, replaced, or upgraded. 

The benefits of planning and including staff training on the appropriate responses during outages can help mitigate the risk to your agency during technology downtime. A plan to handle technology downtime can minimize the impact on the community and provide alternative solutions to keep patrol officers and residents safe.

About the Author

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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