Unplugged

Why I Sleep Better at Night: IoT and Public Safety

Apr/May 2015

As M2M communications has morphed into the IoT (Internet of Things), much of the attention has been focused on the consumer side of the business. From fitness trackers to smart homes to connected cars, products and services that ease our everyday lives have gathered most of the coverage and excitement.

Farther from the limelight but no less sexy, public sector solutions that make our communities safer are increasingly enabled by the IoT. Connected technologies are helping law-enforcement agencies, EMS (emergency medical services), disaster-response units, and the cities, counties, and departments they serve do their jobs better, and more safely.

One connected public safety solution that’s making headlines is the police body camera, with high-profile cases such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner raising the stakes on both sides of the issue. The few rigorous studies that have been done on police body cameras suggest that they reduce use-of-force incidents between police and citizens by as much as 50%, and shrink complaints against the police even more. These studies additionally acknowledge significant unanswered questions including how the cameras work: does the knowledge of surveillance affect the behavior of police, citizens, or both?

Other concerns include how and how long to store video evidence collected from body cameras, which raises both cost and privacy concerns, and when the cameras should be used: for all encounters between police and citizens or only for encounters expected to result in a citation or arrest?

Less controversial connected solutions for law enforcement include the standard telematics suite of vehicle tracking, predictive maintenance, and driver behavior monitoring, wireless fingerprint scanners, GPS ankle bracelets for offender monitoring, gunshot detection systems, and video recognition of license plates. Police cars, which were some of the earliest connected vehicles, are now almost universally equipped with cockpit-mounted laptops, mobile broadband data connections, and Wi-Fi.

Pre-dating police cars in the connected vehicle timeline are ambulances. Back in the mid-1970s, advocates for ambulance-borne medics now called “paramedics” touted the life-saving benefits of taking and transmitting patient vital signs and EKGs (electrocardiograms) to the hospital while in transit, expanding the effectiveness of the first “golden hour” of treatment after a major injury. Today’s in-ambulance connected solutions include high-resolution maps and navigation, video imaging, and chat regarding patient wounds and symptoms, full access to patient medical records. Soon Strokefinder, a clear plastic helmet trialed in the U.K. this past year, can discriminate between an ischemic (blockage) or hemorrhagic (rupture) stroke, enabling the application of appropriate treatment earlier in the golden hour—possibly while still in transit. Vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, which can permit traffic signals to change in favor of an EMS vehicle, is an emerging technology that should dramatically reduce traffic accidents involving vehicles rushing to an emergency.

Firefighters also benefit from connected devices, particularly personal wireless trackers that log entries and exits from critical venues such as a burning building. These systems ensure that everyone who goes in comes out, or at least can be located within the venue.

Body cameras and air tanks that wirelessly report their fill level provide firefighters with crucial support while in dangerous environments. Even fire trucks themselves have become high-tech communication hubs for large-scale public-safety incidents, with onboard satellite, cellular, and land mobile radio links, and usually also a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Indeed, connected technologies allow crisis managers to see the location and status of all response vehicles, share maps and information with all responders, and incorporate weather, traffic, and social data to develop a comprehensive view of an emerging situation in realtime. “Smart-city” platforms aggregate and analyze disparate data streams to provide realtime monitoring of citywide trends in weather, traffic, police activity, and emergencies, plus the status of critical infrastructure such as bridges, dams, train tracks, and highways. Systems designed to identify specific threats, such as radiation detection networks, can also feed smart-city platforms in order to alert citizens, first responders, and government leaders of emerging dangers.

Connected public safety solutions should remain a hotbed of M2M and IoT innovation for the foreseeable future. Robots with cameras and sensors will become commonplace for searching for victims in collapsed buildings and other hazardous locations, displacing the dogs and handheld sensors used for this type of search today. Autonomous vehicles will speed assistance to car crash and fire victims, responding to ground-based and Web-connected sensors including opted-in personal medical trackers. Self-piloting drones will monitor emerging situations and serve as mobile communication hubs to ensure robust broadband communication with all responders on-scene. Plus the Dick Tracy-style wrist video monitor will soon be a reality.

Thus, while we still don’t have the flying police cars and motorcycles that were predicted for 2015 in “Back to the Future II,” both the present and future are bright for public-safety IoT innovation. This all helps me sleep a lot better at night.


Laurie Lamberth’s involvement with public safety wireless dates back to the early 1990s, when she helped Nextel Communications migrate several Southern California public agencies onto, what was at that time, the new iDEN 2G mobile network. Learn more about Laurie and her strategic consulting practice at 151advisors.com

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One Comment

  1. […] safety is a robust application of connected devices. Every day we hear about the value of connected video cameras and other sensors or connected devices (for example, in stores or banks) that have either saved lives or provided […]

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