How Technology Improves First Responder Efficiency During Disaster Recovery

First responders are often recognized for their uncommonly high levels of efficiency and effectiveness during emergencies and crises. In recent years, these characteristics have been rigorously tested, from wildfire disasters to the COVID-19 pandemic.


First responders must rely heavily on communication and information technologies. When combined, these tools can provide first responders with a comprehensive overview of a dynamic situation in real time. Despite improvements in these areas, here are some common challenges first responders face when gathering and communicating information while reacting to urgent natural or man-made disasters.


Challenges First Responders Face During Natural and Man-Made Disasters

1. Communications infrastructure can be damaged or ineffective during fires, hurricanes, floods, and other disasters

The last two decades have seen a record number of natural disasters, and climate change will likely continue to cause abnormal weather events and increased disaster severity.


The impact these disasters have on communications infrastructure was highlighted in a 2018 report by the Federal Communications Commission following the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. The report revealed that the damage caused by hurricanes increased in magnitude as the season continued, and existing communications infrastructure cannot be relied on during natural disasters.


Additionally, the number of disasters has been trending upward for years, as seen in the infographic below.


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Considering the importance of gathering and sharing information during disaster recovery, this vulnerability could lead to significant loss of life. One way to address the issue is with highly specialized equipment such as the FirstNet One LTE blimp, which was used to ensure continued access to a reliable communications network when Louisiana’s power failed during Hurricane Laura.


2. Increased population density in urban areas makes resource allocation and planning more complicated than ever before

Even in areas where network reliability is strong and consistent, communication challenges exist. GPS and location data have been used in the allocation and deployment of emergency response assets for years. However, this information often provides an incomplete picture of the situation on the ground.


In emergencies, time is of the essence, and increasing population density in urban areas can make it difficult for first responders to navigate crowded streets and allocate the most appropriate resources for the situation. Also, densely populated areas can sometimes create challenges that make it difficult for deployable assets to be delivered on time.


Fleet Complete’s fleet asset trackers and advanced situational analytics allow FirstNet to evaluate the necessity for assets like Cell on Wheels (COWs) and heavy-duty Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs) and deploy them in a contractually mandated window of 14 hours. This can also be combined with in-building solutions to ensure that private events or emergency services receive continuous network access.


How Modern Fleet Telematics and Wireless Communication Platforms Come Together to Improve Public Safety Operations

1. Interoperable software and hardware enables collaboration between states and counties during urgent disasters

Large-scale crises almost always require collaboration between public safety agencies, state governments, and private corporations. This means that the communications tools used by the various stakeholders could exist across land, mobile, and radio.


While there is fragmentation in communication technology, at least 60% of first responders have indicated that they regularly use LTE to transmit information using tablets. This number is expected to increase with the introduction and widespread adoption of technologies like 5G and IoT.


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To make use of the widespread availability and usage of LTE-based communication technology, FirstNet developed America’s only communications platform that enables smooth interoperability between land, mobile, and radio devices. This technology empowers different agencies and organizations nationwide to increase communication and information sharing during emergencies, thereby increasing the likelihood of a quick and efficient response.


2. Easily deployable network assets ensure that first responder and public safety teams have consistent access to real-time situational data

Communication and information sharing form the basis of any good emergency response strategy. However, commercial public availability during times of crisis – especially national disasters – can be unreliable or completely unavailable.


To combat this challenge, public safety agencies must rely on a network source that’s independent from commercial power plants and can be operated remotely. In areas where network connectivity is unstable or unavailable, Compact Rapid Deployables (CRDs) allow first responders to share information using mission-critical equipment, even during a hurricane in a remote rural location.


As we move into fire season, these assets will continue to be of immense value to public safety teams – and the teams must have additional situational awareness about their fleet assets. These data points go beyond simple GPS data and into things like fuel levels and equipment availability that could help tweak response strategies for specific disasters. For example, infrastructure-obstructing disasters such as wildfires can create challenges for ground-based deployables. Instead, teams may utilize a fleet of airborne Flying COWs (Cell on Wings) that can be operated remotely 400 feet in the air and are resistant to wind and rain.


3. In-depth asset usage data allows first response teams to strategize and allocate the most appropriate resources for specific crisis situations

During emergencies, it is increasingly important to recognize targets of strategic value and protect them from any interruptions. While first responders require continued network access and fleet knowledge, business continuity for organizations such as hospitals and utilities providers is also crucial to state operations. The needs of these organizations can sometimes be incredibly diverse, and each situation needs to be analyzed before the appropriate assets can be deployed. The recent expansion of FirstNet’s assets combined with Fleet Complete’s intelligent software allows organizations to evaluate and deploy assets based on a situation’s specific needs.


Public safety teams and first responders are acutely aware of the importance of consistent and continuous evaluation of their emergency response strategies. With the introduction and implementation of modern software and hardware, public safety leaders can utilize interoperable and highly customizable communications and information tools to quickly react and adjust to dynamic crisis situations.


To learn more about how emergency response can be improved with a combination of fleet telematics and communications software, request a Fleet Complete for FirstNet demo today.


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