Q&A: Building the Future of Emergency Communications and Public Safety

One of the federal government’s primary responsibilities is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. Emergency planning is a critical part of this promise, and effective emergency communications can help ensure public safety, facilitate response efforts, elicit cooperation and reduce the damage caused by catastrophic events.

However, managing and protecting citizens during and after such incidents takes an enormous amount of planning and coordination. As a result, governments must deliver reliable and easy-to-use emergency communications programs and tools to protect their citizens.

During a recent Federal Executive Forum hosted by Federal News Network, Panasonic Strategic Account Manager Jeff Henderson joined experts from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Transportation (DoT) to address the benefits of emergency communications and public safety planning. Following the forum, we caught up with Jeff to dive deeper into emergency communication technologies.

Question: What are some ways emergency response teams and public sector agencies can improve emergency communications?

Jeff Henderson: When we think about emergency scenarios, these can include everything from a battlefield mission to a natural disaster. However, whether emergency response teams are mitigating a disaster abroad or within the U.S., their response can be improved with technology solutions.

The Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) is one tool used by warfighters to gain tactical information, analytics and visualizations. With technologies that leverage ATAK, military officers and warfighters are able to share data and information in real time for precision targeting, surrounding land formation intelligence, navigation and more. By having access to this information on the ground, military personnel will be able to better respond to unexpected situations. Department of Defense (DoD) agencies, search and rescue programs and wildfire containment efforts have increasingly adopted ATAK, and while traditionally the technology has been deployed on consumer-grade Android devices, it’s now being deployed to fully rugged Android handhelds. This creates an effective solution for users that need durable connectivity.

Another tool emergency response teams are deploying to improve communications are Mobile Federal Law Enforcement Enterprise Technical Services (MFLEETS) standards. The goal of the standards are to improve situational awareness for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies by requiring these agencies to utilize a solution that includes in-car video, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) through a mobile device like a TOUGHBOOK laptop and an accredited data center where all video footage is stored. By ensuring law enforcement officials are connected, coordination between teams can be facilitated in any emergency.

What challenges exist in emergency communication today and how is Panasonic helping to improve them in the years to come?

JH: While MFLEETS is a useful standard, we do find that agencies can have difficulty fitting the bill because they don’t know where to start. By offering a multitude of solutions through government contracts such as indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts, Panasonic is helping to facilitate the delivery of supplies and services such as equipment, installation and maintenance. We hope to modify MFLEETS contracts to be similar to an IDIQ that other defense agencies and civilian agencies can use to make this process seamless for federal customers.

Another area where we’re seeing an increased focus is remotely managing an emergency when the response team’s safety could be compromised. This is where drone technology comes into play. Panasonic TOUGHBOOK devices are frequently chosen as the remote navigation tool for unmanned aerial system (UAV) solutions due to our devices’ reliability and the variety of available options. When paired with UAVs, mobile devices can help public safety officials effectively monitor and manage emergencies remotely via live video feeds. We expect UAV solutions to become increasingly popular for public safety and first responders when it comes to things like wildfire suppression or other emergency scenarios where safety could be compromised.

What improvements do you foresee shaping emergency communications?

JH: Improvements in wireless connectivity are going to be crucial for emergency responders. With its increased bandwidth and low latencies, 5G networks will enable a new era of connectivity and agency coordination, particularly around disaster readiness and response.

FirstNet is bringing public safety communications into the 21st century, giving first responders the modern tools they need to strengthen their incident response. As an authorized AT&T member of the FirstNet Dealer Program, Panasonic is equipping the public safety community with industry-leading rugged devices and FirstNet services. Several of our devices are FirstNet Ready™so they have been tested and approved for use on the FirstNet communications platform.

For more information on Panasonic’s solutions for the federal sector, visit our website or watch the full Federal Executive Forum on demand here.