What the Public Safety Community Can Learn From the COVID-19 Pandemic
Posted on June 17, 2020 by Darrin Reilly
In a recent post, I touched upon some of the novel ways that the public safety community has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post I’ll explore some of the most important lessons that have been learned.
First and foremost, all public safety agencies need continuity-of-operations (COOP) and disaster-recovery (DR) plans. We have roughly 150 subject-matter experts, and as they travel the country supporting clients, they often discover the complete lack of such plans and/or they come to realize that they haven’t been updated for quite some time. This always amazes me. Every agency should have such plans. As Benjamin Franklin said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” While the pandemic has brought this need into sharp focus, there are many events—tornados, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, hazmat incidents—that could render an emergency communications center inoperable, inaccessible or uninhabitable.It’s good to know what you’re going to do if one of these events occurs, before it occurs.
If your agency does have a continuity-of-operations plan (COOP), it’s important that it addresses pandemic response. It’s safe to predict that the vast majority that exist do not—in fact, we know of only one client that has included pandemic response in its COOP. As important is making sure that your vendors have well-conceived business-continuity plans. You need to ensure that your vendors will be able to support you in your time of greatest need. As a result, they have to be brought into the planning process so that they are fully aware of what is expected of them.
The pandemic also has brought into sharp focus the value of shared and cloud-based services. The former enables an agency in a bug-out situation to seamlessly and quickly shift operations to another center, while the latter enables an agency to access all of its essential infrastructure because it is housed far away from trouble. I predict, with a high degree of confidence, that both types of services will assume a much larger role in public safety’s future.
Of course, the ability to shift operations quickly and seamlessly depends on an array of mutual-aid and intergovernmental agreements, as well as memoranda of understanding, with neighboring agencies, all of which must be negotiated and in place well before an operations-affecting event occurs.
One of the most interesting aspects of public safety’s pandemic response has been telecommunicators working from home. This was something that was unfathomable just a few months ago, but was necessitated by the pandemic. Generally it appears that telecommunicators have performed well outside of the traditional confines of brick-and-mortar ECCs. Nevertheless, the law of unintended consequences has come into play. For instance, depending on where they live, some telecommunicators have far less bandwidth at home than they do at work, which could have a detrimental effect on their ability to do their jobs effectively. They also need a lot of gear (e.g. sometimes up to 4-6 screens), which could be logistically and economically problematic—and the bigger the agency, the bigger the challenge.
Cybersecurity already is a big problem, and having lots of people working remotely or in a virtualized environment exacerbates the problem because a lot more endpoints exist in a remote or virtualized environment—and each endpoint is a potential breach point. Moreover, network, system and device access has to be more diligently controlled when personnel are away from the mother ship.
Clearly, all of this has to be carefully contemplated when crafting the aforementioned COOP.
This week, I am speaking on the COVID-19 pandemic’s short- and long-term impacts on the public safety community during a three-day virtual educational event that MCP is hosting throughout this week. This is the inaugural CAPS, which is open to public safety agency officials and is free of charge. The conference features some of the leading names in mission-critical communications, who will explore a cross-section of topics ranging from Next Generation 911 to wireless communications, to data, IT and networks, and more. A special track developed just for telecommunicators also will be presented, as will a career fair.
I urge you to participate—I am confident that you will find it time extremely well spent. There is still time to register, and to do so, click here.