Editor’s Note: Zaheer Allam is senior vice president of Telecom Products and Operations for Polaris Wireless, a wireless location systems company in Santa Clara, Calif.
According to market research firm ABI, revenues from location-enabled machine-to-machine (M2M) technology — where one device transmits data wirelessly to another device — will surpass the half-billion dollar mark by 2014. Driving this explosive growth is the increasing demand for real-time location data in use cases ranging from emergency alerts to package delivery and public safety.
While the private sector has been an enthusiastic adopter of M2M technologies for several years, the public sector, specifically state and local governments, have much to gain by utilizing the next generation of highly accurate, location-enabled M2M solutions in a wide range of their activities.
Due to the current revenue crises facing state and local governments, department heads are looking for efficient measures to deal with growing demands on shrinking budgets. M2M technology has been adopted by many governments already, and may be an effective solution to consider.
Here are three ways M2M solutions can be used in the public sector:
Enhancing Port Security
According to the RAND Corporation, the U.S. maritime port infrastructure consists of more than 300 sea and river ports with more than 3,700 cargo and passenger terminals. U.S. ports handle approximately 20 percent of the maritime trade worldwide, and are highly vulnerable to terrorist attack and sabotage.
As a result, the security cost to protect ports has skyrocketed, with state and local port authorities sharing a significant portion of this burden. A major fear is that terrorists will infiltrate cargo somewhere along the transit route and smuggle in a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon.
Location-enabled M2M solutions provide cost-effective protection. Consider the above example of inserting a device inside a sensitive package, and magnify it so that the ‘package’ is a cargo container. Outfitted with a wireless transmitter, the container can be tracked along its entire route, and programmed to generate an alert to a monitoring station if the container is suspiciously delayed or if it departs from its planned route without notice.
Potential responses range from targeting the container for manual inspection when it arrives in port, to dispatching authorities to intercept it before it reaches port. Location is just the beginning, as highly intelligent sensors built into the field device will be able to detect changes in temperature, humidity and the presence of chemical, biological or radioactive materials.
By utilizing intelligent M2M solutions, state and local governments can better plan and focus resources, save money and protect their economic infrastructure, and do so with static or a decreasing number of personnel.
Smarter Fleet Management
State and local governments in the U.S. own and operate an army of vehicles. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were more than 4.2 million government-owned vehicles in the U.S. in 2009, and that number had been growing — albeit at a lower rate — despite the recession.
State, county and municipal governments own 88 percent of these vehicles, ranging from police cars to fire trucks to buses, motorcycles and vans. With declining budgets for new vehicles and privatization of fleet maintenance, it is imperative that governments have an effective, reliable means to track and monitor the whereabouts of this valuable investment and deploy them effectively.
The overriding goal is to never have a government-owned vehicle out of communication with the central monitoring station. Knowing where the vehicles are at any point in time helps administrators decide where and when to deploy them, leading to increased efficiency and, ultimately, improvements to the bottom line.
Fleet managers can deploy M2M solutions for basic location tracking and navigation. Given the size of many of these government fleets, the location-based M2M solution should be highly scalable and operable across a variety of environments, including dense urban downtown areas, underground tunnels and parking garages.
In addition to fiscal and management reasons, this is vital for the public safety uses of many vehicles, such as police cars and ambulances. To be out of communication for even a minute may mean the difference between life and death.
Monitoring bracelets have long been used by local governments as a cost-effective way to track criminals and parolees. Recent cuts in state and local budgets continue to drive demand for this tracking, a type of location-enabled M2M solution.
In addition, attempts to rectify deficiencies in the current monitoring system and the desire to deploy more sophisticated devices have led governments to seek out the next generation of location-enabled M2M solutions.
A more recent dilemma facing state governments is how to continue to monitor increasing parolee populations with reduced manpower due to budget cutbacks. One possibility is an M2M solution that enables government authorities to establish virtual perimeters — called geo-fences — around a designated location, such as a school, and generate an automatic alarm and police dispatch whenever the geo-fence is breached, for example by a sex offender on parole.
This eliminates the need to have a constant live monitoring presence while providing no less protection to the community.
Another example of an M2M monitoring solution helping governments reduce their dependency on manpower is by enabling alerts whenever two or more parolees are in the same location.
If members of a gang are prohibited from meeting as a condition of their parole, the solution can be set up to generate an alarm and police dispatch whenever the designated parolees monitoring devices are within a preset distance of one another, such as 30 meters. This eliminates random chance occurrences and is accurate enough to only alert to situations where the two parolees are in close physical proximity.
While some of these solutions have been in use for some time, the technology is constantly evolving. Government decision-makers may want to consider the new generation of M2M solutions as they continue to seek out additional ways to do more with less and still protect citizens and provide better services.