2020 has proved that just about anything can happen at any time, and first-response agencies need to be adaptable and technologically prepared to handle new situations as they arise. IoT (Internet of Things) technologies can help first responders be ready when the unexpected happens. Not all change is unexpected, though. A couple of trends that will intersect with first response in the near future are 5G deployment and urbanization. What challenges can the space expect to face as these trends unfold in the next five, 10, and 20 years?

5G will definitely play a role in providing first responders with better realtime access to relevant information. It will also allow responders to access more dedicated bandwidth. High bandwidth and prioritized traffic is extremely important when lives are on the line and realtime response is needed. For instance, when monitoring a patient with cardiac conditions, the monitoring needs to be realtime, and it The 5G-enabled ability to better stream live video will also help first responders. Thanks to companies like FirstNet that provide the crucial connection link, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are increasingly being used to help first responders in search-and-rescue efforts. In fact, a whole suite of autonomous tools, including but not limited to UAVs and drones, can survey situations without putting additional human lives at risk. In a search-and-rescue scenario, a 5G connection could stream video from the control station to searchers, police officers, firefighters, and other first responders working in the field. 5G will also allow realtime streaming of high-resolution video from firefighters’ helmet cameras, body-worn video cameras, and dashcam video cameras, among other devices. Another potential use of 5G in first response is fleet management, by leveraging an in-vehicle router to transmit data from connected devices and sensors within a vehicle.

One challenge in integrating 5G with first-response operations will be the interface between outdoor 5G capabilities and indoor capabilities. For instance, there will be a need for ubiquitous in-building communications in areas of buildings where 5G may not reach, such as underground parking garages, and there may also be interior networks that are owned and managed by building owners rather than telecommunications providers.

Urbanization is another trend that will affect first response, but perhaps not quite as quickly as 5G will. Thanks to global population growth and a trend toward city living, another 2.5 billion people could end up inhabiting urban areas by 2050. Advancements in IoT technologies will help first responders address the various challenges that arise from urbanization. Smart cities will be able to leverage technology solutions to achieve multiple objectives. For example, video surveillance on traffic intersections could identify vehicles waiting for a streetlight to change and improve the flow of traffic, while also enabling computer vision analysis of crime alerts to help identify and track suspects.

As cities equip their streets with the tools and technologies to increase situational awareness, first responders will be better able to understand situations more quickly and respond more effectively. This will go a long way toward providing efficient response as urban centers grow and become more densely populated. In fact, it will be key. While not all future hurdles can be known ahead of time and planned for (e.g., the COVID pandemic), urbanization is a known trend, and it can and should be planned for by cities and first-response agencies.

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