U.S. Army Spc. Gabriel Green, of the 173rd Airborne's Brigade Combat Team, calls in grid coordinates while conducting a patrol in Afghanistan's Kunar province in March 2008. Photo by Staff Sgt. Tyffani Davis.
It's an unfortunate reality that public safety today uses communications systems that don't work well together — let alone with our neighbors and partners — during emergencies and disasters.
Solutions to this vexing approach exist; they've been used and tested on the battlefields around the world.
Since entering the private sector, I've been struck by the vast array of command-and-control, interoperable communications, video, and data systems already in use that have direct application in public safety. Yet, these decade-old systems have not migrated to the public safety community.
I spent 34 years in a variety of positions with the LAPD before joining Raytheon Corp. to work in communications systems integration and data programs. From my new view on this side of the badge, we in public safety are erroneously resistant to adopting these more capable systems.
When I look back on my years with LAPD, guiding and negotiating use of these types of systems with private industry, our collective approach to information systems development resulted in disparate "stove pipe" solutions to a single problem. Later, as we tried to fill gaps in other technology areas, we created even more stand-alone systems with no connectivity or synergy of overall system capability.
As I've visited many fine agencies over the years to discuss communications systems advancement, I've encountered a common refrain: "We just need to solve a current problem with equipment we know and trust."
At a recent trade show, I spoke with many in law enforcement about reliance on radio towers for data systems. Based on my experience with radio systems in use by the military for more than a decade, I suggested we don't really need "towers" as public safety knows them today. In fact, migrating to new technologies could cut millions in costs for infrastructure development and maintenance. But again, I encountered hesitation about moving away from trusted equipment: "Taking my towers is like taking my gun."
Many of these individuals noted they have up to 95 percent radio coverage. But what if you could have 100 percent coverage without worrying about towers? I don't recall the U.S. military setting up towers before going into Afghanistan or Iraq; commercial versions of their technology will soon be available here at home.
Open architecture platforms that support any communications or data systems have not been our experience in the streets of our cities. Yet, they are the norm in the military space. We in public safety need to collectively drive the modern technology transfer and settle for nothing less on the streets of our cities than the best of what the battlefield has to offer.