First Responders Say Advanced Technology Critical for Effectiveness

First responders cite need for improved traffic-light sensor technologies, mobile video systems, mapping technology and interoperability.

by / February 7, 2008

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and Motorola today released the findings of a national survey to assess how public safety organizations use current communications technology and what future capabilities they would deploy to help improve emergency response, officer effectiveness and public and officer safety.

Key survey findings reveal a strong demand for technology solutions that provide advanced situational awareness to first responders, improve incident coordination and streamline emergency response. A top concern of first responders nationwide is their ability to react to natural disasters (65 percent), superseding both terrorist attacks (7 percent) and crime (10 percent). Regional fire and police officials dually note that advanced communications technology ranks as the most critical aid in preparedness and response both now and in the future.

While technologies are improving, community officials report that the greatest need for improvement from advanced technologies in public safety arises in terms of range, speed, and availability (26 percent), interoperability (25 percent), and availability of equipment (17 percent). Topping responders' "wish lists" were rugged notebook computers, visual identification and recognition capabilities, and smart transportation navigation.

The survey also uncovered areas for improvement within departments, as well as additional communications needs for responders and communities. Community officials in both large and small populations listed mapping technologies, or GPS tracking, as the top tool they'd hope to see utilized as technology continues to evolve in the security and safety arena.

"Improving communications and providing critical information to emergency responders helps save lives," said Richard Mirgon, first vice president of APCO. "This survey indicates that better-informed users are more effective in their jobs and the continuing advancement of technologies gives our first responders the tools necessary to protect themselves and the public."

The survey also examined the varying needs of police departments, fire departments, emergency medical services, and public administrators. Fire officials regard traffic-light sensor technologies (41 percent) as critical to their needs, while police departments rely more heavily on mobile video systems (63 percent). With regard to areas needing improvement, fire departments would like to have better availability of mapping technology (35 percent); police officials are more likely than fire officials to volunteer that they face continuing challenges with interoperability (51 percent).

The survey also studied concerns, areas of progress, and broad technology demand trends among users in urban and rural areas. Responders based in urban or suburban settings are more likely to value improved data availability and access (20 percent) as their greatest benefit. Conversely, those in rural environments are more likely than their counterparts to cite the range, speed and availability of equipment (35 percent) as most critical. Larger communities of 100,000 or more report technology as most helpful in providing situational awareness to incident response (4.6 on a five-point scale) over smaller pools less than 10,000, who cite the aid of technology in interoperability between county agencies (4.4 on a five-point scale) as most helpful.