Coordinating an effective response to a major natural, or man-made, disaster has always been challenging. With multiple jurisdictions and multiple agencies involved in disaster response the overlapping responsibilities have often created conflict between first responders as they strive to protect citizens and mitigate the impact of the event.
Bill Bratton, former police commissioner for two of the nation’s largest cities – New York and Los Angeles – knows the problem all too well.
At Verizon’s recent Public Safety Day at the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington, DC, Bill Bratton recalled a time in the early 1990s when a man exploded a bomb in the subway station under New York’s City Hall. When he came to the scene, he found police and firefighters at each other’s throats over jurisdiction.
“Out of that came the first office of emergency management” in 1995, Bill said. “Now, some 20 years later, I’m proud to say the police and fire department leave the fisticuffs behind.”
The reason for this conflict has not been about ‘turf,’ per se, but about communications. For decades, every public safety agency made its own decisions about communications equipment. Without compatibility standards and requirements, agencies with different responsibilities – and agencies with similar responsibilities in neighboring jurisdictions – couldn’t talk to each other in real time as circumstances on the ground kept changing.
“I chose the two biggest bully pulpits, Police Commissioner of New York City and Police Chief of Los Angeles,” Bratton said. “I was speaking with more authority to the private sector, where they have the investment dollars to put in … it added gravitas.” While not yet completely resolved, that headache has been addressed aggressively by the private sector and agencies across the country.
“Think about hurricanes like Sandy,” said Jerome Hauer, former New York State Commissioner of Homeland Security. “You need a partner that when it hits the fan, they’re there to support you.” Improvements in communications interoperability and coordination made a huge difference, he said.
Ted Okada, Chief Technology Officer of the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) said he concentrates on interoperability and information sharing to ensure that his agency can facilitate disaster and emergency response at high speed. Okada said there are three techniques the agency is looking to use to find solutions quickly in an emergency.
“Insight of the experts, the power of analytics, and the wisdom of the crowd,” Okada listed. “We’re increasing our ability to crowdsource the data.” During Hurricanes Helene and Isaac in 2018, he said FEMA workers were concerned because they weren’t monitoring social media the way they needed to build a full picture of the crises and the response needed. “Now they do,” he said.
The final technology in the newly improved tool box for emergency responders is video. Regardless of agency – from the Secret Service to the Government of the District of Columbia – video is a primary tool to enhance situational awareness during an emergency. Charlie Guddemi, D.C’s statewide Interoperability Coordinator said his agency relies heavily on video. “In situational awareness, nothing [helps] like streaming video in real time.”
“These improvements in communications, technology and interoperability are happening at an unparalleled pace,” shared John Harris, Director Federal Mobility Solutions at Verizon. “This pace of change will only continue to accelerate as 5G rolls out in cities across the country.” For federal, state, and local government agencies focused on public safety this will not only solve some of the last mile infrastructure and reliability challenges that arise in a disaster response but will also facilitate faster processing and sharing of data, video and other situational information. “It’s an amazing time to be working with public safety organizations to help them deliver on their mission to protect citizens and safeguard the nation,” John concluded.
Ready to learn more about public safety? Verizon and Nokia are hosting Operation Convergent Response 2019 this November in Perry, Georgia. Find out more here.