Looking back: The evolution of public safety platforms

Under pressure to digitally transform, public safety agencies and their technology have evolved over time. Cell phones weren’t always smart, video and texting weren’t standard features. And before those technologies and capabilities existed, personal computers were just getting started. Yet all those technologies are part of public safety today.

To get a better sense of how public safety has evolved, we interviewed Steve Marz, who has 25 years of public safety industry experience and 40 years with Hexagon. Steve is Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division’s Vice President of Product Strategy and Innovation.

Here’s what he had to say.

Kelsei Farmer: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in public safety over the years? Were there any that seemed gradual, but looking back were incredibly important?

Steve Marz: So many things have changed. I’d say the biggest changes are the desire for multi-agency collaboration, next generation 911/112, moving to browser-based applications and now the cloud. Public safety platforms adjusting to offer browser- and then cloud-based products certainly seemed gradual. The technology available has also moved agencies from making decisions based on intuition to data-driven approaches where analytics and reporting tools inform policy, operating procedures and more.

KF: Has anything in public safety stayed the same?

SM: Each organization’s identity is strong. Be it police, fire, dispatchers or any other agency: They have their own identities. It’s very important to remember that when it comes to public safety platform solutions, because they’re not one size fits all.

KF: As agencies look to adopt more modern technologies and systems, what can make or break an implementation or deployment?

SM: An agency having a clear goal is what will make or break their implementation. Do you know what you expect your public safety platform to be able to do in five years? Or 10? You have to know the requirements and scope of what your agency needs, wants and what direction it will be going in. If you don’t have a defined start and end, it will not reach full potential.

KF: With NG911/112/000 becoming a required standard, how do you see that being implemented throughout public safety?

SM: Since it’s being required by law, we know that it will be implemented. Each agency’s timeline and methodology is going to be different. In the U.S., each state is responsible for building both the IT and fiber infrastructures necessary to upgrade their software to support NG911. The progression has been in baby steps as our communication channels have changed greatly, so has the way the public interacts with emergency communication. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the European Emergency Number Association (EENA) drive the standards and are always looking to improve and enhance the experience based on the available technology. Because of that, you’ll see consumer apps start to merge and integrate with emergency services. Since Hexagon is a corporate member of both associations, it’s a high priority for us to support their initiatives. Our goal is to maintain our technology to their standards and be reliable to the agencies we serve.

KF: What has working with public safety over the years meant to you?

SM: As a normal citizen, it was always an enigma how public safety agencies worked. I didn’t understand the people behind each agency or how they worked. It’s very enlightening to work with them and understand how things work from the human side, but also the professional side. Also, having the mutual desire to make things better, because all these solutions and all the public safety missions are purely meant to help people.

As technology and service demands change, public safety agencies have to adapt. Next-gen 911 needs and requirements have progressed even without technologies that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Case and point: the smartphone. How will communication technologies evolve over the next 10 to 20 years? And how will residents use them to call for emergency services? That’s hard to know. But what is known, public safety agencies will need to continue to invest in critical ITC systems and solutions that will improve how they operate and serve today while preparing them for whatever tomorrow has in store.

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