The emergency services can benefit from a more integrated and innovative approach bringing together various technologies, writes Nadim Abdulrahim, Huawei’s Global Government Industry Expert.
It will probably come as a surprise to many people that in the era of 4G (or even 5G), of apps that have become central to managing our daily lives, and of our ability to access digital multimedia at our fingertips, in most countries the emergency services are still run on independent Mission Critical (MC) encrypted systems based on 2G technology, with limited collaboration and information sharing.
There are of course many valid reasons for this. 2G MC PTT (Push To Talk) technology is well proven, cost effective and has well established existing operational processes. Furthermore, these legacy, agency-specific, private, nationwide MC communication system infrastructure investments are non-monetised services (cost centres) so upgrading to new technology would require a substantial spend. Given its functionality and reliability, the temptation would be not to change something that isn’t broken.
But while it may not be broken, it is under pressure. The bandwidth limitations of 2G MC technologies are becoming a strain on operations as time goes on. While audio only communication with SMS and GPS positioning data at 28kbps is very effective, it is not enough for processing in the age of mass data availability. It is even at risk of failing to provide reliable services for large unexpected events if there is a high concentration of responding agents within a small incident area.
The benefits of moving to a modernised and collaborated shared platform for emergency response services are therefore plentiful. The first is having a single unified emergency number such as 112 in the European Union, 999 in the United Kingdom or 911 in the United States for any emergency. Emergencies are stressful enough without having to deal with multiple calls to various centres before getting to the right person who is able to assist you. In the United Arab Emirates, they have taken this unified number approach one step further. Given the volume of international visitors, you can dial any of the above numbers and you will get connected to a single call centre that will be able to deal with your emergency. Adopting cross-agency collaboration like this requires changes in legislation within a country, and additional training of call centre staff.
To further explain the advantages of a collaborative approach, it is first important to identify the primary integrated systems that make up a modern Emergency Services Response system. These include the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), Geographical Information System (GIS), Integrated Communication Platform (ICP), Video Surveillance system and the private MC LTE (4G) communication infrastructure. These five are the primary fully integrated systems out of more than typically 30 sub-systems that make up a command and control system for a country or city.
The ICP provides collaboration between emergency services and convergence of technology by combining broadband multimedia audio/video/data communication and information sharing based on pre-agreed information classification. Multimedia convergence brings the emergency services in line with what we are used to in our private lives, merging the likes of audio communication with video conferencing capabilities, video surveillance, send and receive, and IoT alarms, in addition to compatibility with messaging and social media.
Multimedia convergence brings the emergency services in line with what we are used to in our private lives.
This is done by integrating legacy mission critical systems, such as MC 2G technology (most of which are proprietary technologies) with next generation technology such as MC 4G LTE, which is multimedia broadband-enabled and based on 3GPP open standards, to provide a transparent service platform.
Furthermore, by integrating with the CAD, it provides integration of responding agency intelligence information available based on the Poleo model (People, Objects, Location, Event and Organisation), such as giving firefighters advance information of potentially hazardous or explosive materials stored at the location they have been dispatched to. The ICP is the heart of the integrated communication between receiving calls from fixed or mobile phones from the public, or information via video with analytics, IoT alarms, social media or virtual police station apps and then dispatching it via the MC communication system to all responders in an orderly fashion and as required based on data classifications.
Nowadays, approximately 80 per cent of all emergency calls globally are made from mobile phones, most of which are smartphones, and this enables the capability to provide the incident caller GPS location automatically to the call centre. This Advanced Mobile Location (AML) feature is embedded in the iOS and Android operating systems. This form of collaboration with phone manufacturers and mobile network operators has saved many lives by shortening the response time to incidents by having an accurate target GPS. AML is already implemented in many countries including most of the EU, UK, USA, and UAE.
The Huawei ICP and MC LTE solutions are leading edge open technologies providing the above noted mission critical communication, collaboration and convergence capabilities to global emergency services responders. They feature a user-friendly touchscreen interface in a multi-screen setup for operators, integrated with all major CAD, GIS and surveillance systems currently available on the market.
Huawei’s ICP solution already offers services that would be considered next generation, including providing Poleo intelligence information, by integrating with CAD and other existing platforms to enable an intelligence-led emergency services response. Data is the key to providing clarity and situational awareness, thus enabling more precise decision making. Other next generation systems that can be integrated with ICP (based on region) include artificial intelligence enabled real-time selected language translation, voice to text translation, and natural language processing or chatbot communication for non-emergency interaction and call back.
These technical capabilities will enable the inclusion of drones as part of a wider emergency response. These promise autonomous and beyond visual line of sight flight capabilities once air traffic management legislation is agreed upon in respective countries. They would also be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, weather permitting. The drones would be based throughout a city with an assigned 4-5km radius range, and would provide patrol tours and ‘virtually being there’ incident response in less than five minutes anywhere in a city based on incident GPS location. Cameras and sensors on the drone would provide emergency responders with valuable real time information and increased situational awareness for decision making from the scene of the incident, and even enable communication via loudspeaker before they physically arrive at the scene. Once the incident is under control, the drone would fly back to its base for charging and await further instructions.
Data is the key to providing clarity and situational awareness, thus enabling more precise decision making
Other capabilities will include the introduction of augmented reality (AR) to responding emergency services via real time Poleo intelligence data feeds as they are patrolling any area or attending to an incident. The integration of emergency services vehicle cameras and responder body cameras combined with accurate GPS can provide a vast amount of AR information based on AI analysis of the scene. This can then feed available intelligence information in real-time back to the responder using 5G for enhanced decision making and threat awareness, or identify if additional emergency services are required to attend the incident.
Technology has undoubtedly saved lives and made it easier to respond to emergencies. But the scenarios we face are not fixed and technology needs to evolve and incorporate new innovations in order to protect us all. The above is just a sample of the work Huawei is doing alongside ecosystem partners to develop new ways of responding to emergencies and correspondingly save more lives.
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About the author
Nadim Abdulrahim, Global Government Industry Expert, Huawei Enterprise Business Group Middle East
As an industry leader in government and public safety, Mr. Abdulrahim is a Global Government Industry Expert at Huawei on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to enable governments, emergency services, city authorities and other government organizations to prepare, prevent, detect, respond and recover quickly and effectively from threats to public safety. He is a well sought after solution specialist, using his vast design experience to digitally transform challenging customer requirements into workable mission critical solutions that can be utilized to make communities and cities safe and secure.