MCP Insights

A Few Thoughts on Data Integration for Public Safety Agencies

Posted on November 24, 2020 by Scott Neal

There was a time, not that long ago, when voice communications were king in the public safety community, and data communications were an afterthought. This largely was driven by the limitations of narrowband wireless systems. In the earliest days of data communications, such systems delivered throughput rates of 9,600 baud, which enabled the equivalent of text messages. Things improved a bit when data generated to and from field personnel was transmitted via air cards provisioned by commercial wireless carriers, but only modestly—the largest files that could be transmitted then were mug shots, and they often took a long time to arrive, if they arrived at all.

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. The following is a partial list of data sources that are available to such agencies:

  • Video systems
  • Sensors
  • Alarm systems
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices (e.g., wearable medical devices)
  • Biometric devices
  • Body-worn cameras
  • Fixed and vehicle-mounted cameras (public safety)
  • Private camera systems (e.g., schools, shopping centers and malls, stadiums and arenas, banks)
  • Thermal-imaging cameras
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones
  • Closed-circuit television
  • In-vehicle telematics systems (e.g., OnStar)
  • Smartphones, tablets and in-vehicle computers
  • Routers, modems and servers
  • Holster sensors
  • Biometric sensors
  • Gunshot detection/location systems
  • Facial-recognition systems
  • Automatic vehicle location systems
  • Automatic license plate readers
  • Records and jail management systems (RMS/JMS)
  • Computer-aided dispatch systems

But all of the data that these sources generate today is creating new challenges, particularly in terms of integrating it into agencies’ daily operations. This integration has two distinct but interrelated elements—data gathering/exchange and data leveraging.

The former is the ability to ensure that data is captured effectively and efficiently, and then flows seamlessly between agencies, between agencies and their field personnel, and between disparate networks and systems, for example between RMS and JMS. All data must be accessible by everyone who needs it and is authorized to access it—and no data can be allowed to “fall through the cracks.” The latter is the ability to make the data actionable, primarily by giving it context. Raw data generally has no utility, but actionable data leads to enhanced situational awareness and better decision-making—which in turn leads to improved emergency response outcomes, which finally leads to more lives and property saved.

Achieving these interrelated goals is complicated, time-consuming and at times confusing. It involves tying together multiple networks and systems manufactured by myriad vendors, numerous feeds, and a plethora of data types and incident locations.

What public safety agencies need to accomplish all of that is a strategic plan that integrates all of that data into its operational flow. The plan needs to be holistic, i.e., it should consider the entire ecosystem, which at its essence consists of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ officers, probation offices, the courts, and the correctional system (jails and prisons). Two versions of such a plan should be developed, one that looks out two years and another that looks out five years. Looking beyond five years doesn’t make sense given how quickly technology evolves and expands.

The plan should, at the very least, identify all of the data sources that currently are available to the agency—some of which the agency might be unaware—and other sources that it would like to access in the future. It should identify how the data will be captured, accessed, analyzed, flowed and stored. Again, the overarching goal is to provide field responders with data that is beneficial and not a distraction.

In a future post we will discuss two solutions that MCP has created to help clients optimize data exchange and data leveraging. In the meantime, our subject matter experts are eager to speak with you about developing an operational data integration strategic plan—please reach out.

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