What Are Critical Communications in Public Safety?
Friday, October 07, 2022 | Comments

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During times of crisis or emergency, reliable public safety communications are crucial not only to help first responders save lives but also to help keep first responders safe, improve response time and interagency coordination. Public safety teams rely on mission critical communications solutions in order to carry out their missions.

What are mission critical communications?
Mission critical communications encompass a wide range of solutions that includes a mix of devices, equipment, systems and infrastructure that enable first responders and others to communicate efficiently and effectively in the field.

Why is mission critical communication important?
Mission critical communications provide all levels of emergency response the ability to coordinate response activities, helping to keep teams connected, communicating, and informed. Without the right mix of public safety communications, lives could be at stake. A National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) survey of first responders found a clear preference for current communications devices and technology to be more reliable, more usable and interoperable — whether it's searching for a lost hiker or responding to a natural disaster, first responders rely on mission critical communications solutions.

The NIST survey sought the views of four key groups of first responders:
• Communications Center Services (911 call centers)
• Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
• Fire Services
• Law Enforcement

One notable response was that at least 20% of the EMS, Fire and Law Enforcement respondents said they did not have critical public safety communications devices. According to first responders, mission critical communications devices include:
• Laptop computers
• Mobile data terminals or mobile data computers
• Portable radios
• Tablets
• Vehicle radios
• Work-issued wireless earpieces

So, how can public safety agencies deliver on this request to ensure their mission critical communications infrastructure and equipment are more reliable and usable, while also reducing the risk that two or more agencies responding to the same event won't have interoperability issues?

Overcoming the challenges of public safety communications
First responders often face a number of communication obstacles during an emergency — starting with the emergency itself. A natural disaster such as a hurricane or wildfire can knock out power and cell phone towers, taking down critical communications infrastructure at the exact moment it is needed most.

In addition, emergencies in remote regions may encounter communication difficulties. Not only do these regions have gaps in coverage, but physical barriers such as mountains, canyons, cliffs and dense forests may also be present. When working in a specific area, such as searching for an injured hiker or responding to a plane crash, these obstacles can create dead zones that make it difficult to communicate back to base or other agencies.

A public safety communications survey polling first responders showed that 93% say coordination between agencies is critical when responding to public safety crises and emergency situations, while a third want future tech developments to focus on delivering more reliable networks.

First responder requests and critical communication solutions 
The NIST survey makes clear that first responders want timely, accurate information during incident response. The mission critical communication solutions and real-time technology these responders need ranges from traffic navigation solutions to language translation. Nearly half of first responders identified real-time information, such as live video and images of the scene, as being the key technology needed. Push-to-talk technology was also considered important.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were some findings regarding mission critical communications technology that were applicable to all groupings, and others relevant only to one or several of the groups:
• Firefighters reported issues with audio clarity on the fire ground and expressed interest in technology that integrates more seamlessly into their gear.
• EMS requested a method of reliably transmitting patient records to hospitals.
• Law enforcement identified body camera improvements as being most useful and also referenced technology integrations into their vehicles.
• Dispatchers' sought the ability to enhance location accuracy when tracking 911 callers, preparations for continuity of operations, and preparing for text-to-911 and images and videos.

Preparing for the needs of public safety communications
To overcome mission critical communications challenges, it’s important to be prepared with the right technology and communication solutions in order to coordinate effective incident response. These solutions should be:

To help ensure reliable communications, first responders need a network with extensive coverage in all regions of the country. The network should ideally be built with redundancy, diverse transports, and battery and satellite backups to help support vital communications and data getting through when frontline workers need it most. Recognized industry experts like J.D. Power can help to provide objective guidance on performance.

Mission critical communications need to continue to function even when commercial power is lost. This requires the use of generators and/or battery backup. Network structures in hurricane-prone areas should also be able to withstand Category 5 winds.

Whether you’re a firefighter battling wildfires or a first responder serving in a crisis, you need to communicate and collaborate effectively and reliably. Quickly create an ad hoc network using a mobile mesh connectivity deployable. The ability to quickly set up a mobile network can be crucial for overcoming the challenges of mission critical communications.

To ensure agency interoperability for public safety communications, first responders need to be able to communicate and share data across agencies, regardless of what networks, apps or devices they use. This includes not only other first responders but also other departments, too, such as medical services, federal agencies, military units or public aid agencies that may join later. The requirements for interoperability are similar across all critical public safety agencies. They need reliable dispatch connections and real-time situational awareness—with access to maps, data and integrated communications and information sharing that ensures every agency and first responder is in the know.

Verizon Frontline’s Group First Response provides radio like communication with dedicated priority for first responders so public safety users1 can share critical information seamlessly, all with the push of a button, regardless of radio network. Learn more about Verizon Frontline, the advanced network for first responders.

1: Available to government-liable subscribers under qualifying National Security, Public Safety and First Responder NAICS codes.

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