The year 2020 was fraught with challenges, most notably those generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Public safety and justice agencies from coast to coast were forced to implement, virtually overnight, new operational strategies that became necessary because employees were unable to work in their brick-and-mortar facilities, either due to illness or various shelter-in-place orders. In some cases, agencies had to rapidly execute protective measures for those employees who could arrive at work, driven by social-distancing mandates.
The pandemic garnered most of the headlines in 2020, but there were other significant challenges. One concerned the fact that the government sector, including public safety and justice entities, found themselves increasingly under cyberattack. These attacks predominantly took the form of ransomware attacks, but there were other types, for instance the SolarWinds Orion breach that has already impacted a great many government and technological organizations.
While the challenges were significant, the successes were too. One that comes immediately to mind concerns how many emergency communications centers dealt with COVID-19 staffing issues by having telecommunicators field emergency calls from their homes.
The logistics of this were daunting—equipment had to be deployed; Internet Protocol connections with suitable bandwidth had to be implemented; network and device security had to put into place; policies and procedures had to be crafted; personnel had to be trained; and everything had to be tested to ensure that the emergency caller’s experience was the same as if the call had been fielded in a brick-and-mortar facility. Despite these challenges, by all accounts, the agencies that opted for this strategy—which would have been unthinkable prior to the pandemic’s arrival—all performed admirably in this strange new virtual environment.
The following are some of this year’s top stories, as captured in articles, whitepapers, blogs and other content posted to MCP’s website.
Travel Restrictions Wreak Havoc
Most organizations were under COVID-related travel restrictions, which generally made attending industry trade shows and conferences impossible. To fill the education void, MCP created the inaugural Conference for Advancing Public Safety (CAPS). This three-day virtual event consisted of 21 educational sessions on such wide-ranging topics as 911 facilities and operations, Next Generation 911, wireless communications, information technology (IT) infrastructure management, data management, and telecommunicator training and management. These sessions were led by some of the industry’s most forward-looking leaders and MCP’s foremost subject-matter experts. The event also featured a half dozen keynote addresses, including David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and homeland Security Bureau, and a career fair.
Law-enforcement agencies nationwide grappled with their migrations to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), an initiative to intended to improve the accuracy, timeliness and transparency of the nation's crime statistics, which could be used to help identify crime patterns and trends, and ultimately, prevent crime. Numerous challenges stood in the way of NIBRS compliance, and some agencies are at risk of not meeting the January 2021 deadline. A whitepaper identified the benefits of the migration and explored tactics that could help agencies meet the deadline.
A concept that is gaining considerable traction in the law-enforcement community today is that of the "connected officer," which has at its core a plethora of mission-critical technology. Meanwhile, citizens are demanding more in-depth investigations into how field personnel interact with the public and apply force. A whitepaper the body-worn camera implementation process, including the necessary steps for a successful deployment of this technology. A subsequent blog explored the important role that polices, and standard operating procedures play in effective body-worn camera usage, as evidenced by real-life incidents.
There was a time, not that long ago, when voice communications were king in the public safety community, and data communications were an afterthought. Everything changed about a decade ago when broadband communications systems became available to public safety agencies. Now data has exploded, and the possibilities for such agencies seemingly are limitless. In fact, the data available to public safety and justice agencies is going to increase by orders of magnitude. In fact, some experts believe that the amount of data available worldwide will increase by 300 percent by 2025—a short five years from now. On a high level, more and better data leads to enhanced decision-making and improved outcomes. But at ground level, for data to be useful it needs to be “actionable,” because a tsunami of raw information would be unmanageable at best, overwhelming at worst. MCP posted a whitepaper and several blogs this year that explored how best to make data actionable, largely by enhancing data exchange and data analytics, the latter by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies.
Earlier this month, MCP introduced three new data integration solutions—DataLink™, DataSphere™, and DataScape™ to help mission-critical agencies capitalize on this data opportunity.
The emergency communications landscape is changing rapidly and emergency communications centers (ECCs) have adapted the way that they handle 911 calls and support emergency responders. Today, technology and science play a much larger role in the way ECCs operate—resulting in new approaches that are not only effective, but repeatable and scalable One such approach, known as the lean ECC, focuses on removing extraneous steps in a center's workflows to help meet national standards. This does not mean reducing staff—rather, this approach leverages an ECCs existing resources more efficiently to enhance the quantity and quality of what is being accomplished, a concept that was explored in depth in a whitepaper.
Mission-critical communications are called that for a very good reason, which is that they cannot fail regardless of the circumstances—but fail they do, for all sorts of reasons. At the top of the list are network and system failures, but major incidents such as tornados, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, hazardous-materials spills, and terrorist attacks—even pandemics—all have the potential to disrupt mission-critical communications by rendering facilities inoperable, inaccessible or uninhabitable. Ensuring a public safety agency’s ability to provide mission-critical communications to protect the citizenry and to enable field responders to perform their jobs effectively and as safely as possible requires a COOP, which includes a DR plan. Once that realization is made, then the next step is to ensure that a well-conceived and well-practiced continuity of operations (COOP) plan is in place. A whitepaper and several blogs explored this topic.
Increasingly, government entities—in particular public safety and justice agencies—found themselves under cyberattack in 2020. Such incidents are increasing in number, severity and complexity, seemingly by the day, even the hour. This year MCP posted numerous webinars, whitepapers, blogs, articles and advisories intended to help clients and prospective clients to navigate the dark waters, all which can be viewed here. MCP also launched a new cybersecurity offering designed for mission-critical agencies, Mission-Critical NetPulse™ Secure.
Look for more of the same in 2021, as MCP’s 150-plus subject-matter experts stay on top of the trends and events that impact mission-critical communications. In the meantime, happy holidays!
Glenn Bischoff is MCP’s content specialist. Prior to joining MCP nearly seven years ago, he was editor-in-chief of Urgent Communications and Fire Chief magazines.