Response Management in Emergencies


Shrikant Shitole, Vice President, Transformation Business, Cisco India & SAARC

Since emergency situations cannot be foreseen, an organization needs to be completely prepared to face any possible eventuality. Availability of a comprehensive communication solution, i.e., an integrated response management system enables greater interoperability and better co-ordination for suitably managing emergencies.
An emergency is a chaotic event like a road accident, a crime in progress, or a natural disaster that strikes a wide area. Those that are responsible for managing such situations need real-time, accurate information in order to effectively overcome them. Responding agencies - traditional first responders (police, fire, and emergency medical services), allied agencies (such as power utilities or other enterprises), or nongovernmental organizations - must work together to mitigate the effects of the incident.
Organizations responsible for preparing and responding to emergencies are in the midst of a technology revolution. Incident response now involves modern networks, computers, and other devices in addition to ubiquitous Land Mobile Radio (LMR). The need of the hour is for a solution/ technology which enable comprehensive communications interoperability between different networks, devices, and agencies, enhancing operational effectiveness and the ability to save lives and protect property.

Standards-based networking
Networking helps to meet the need for timely access to information in emergency situations. The primary goal of public-safety networking is to connect command and control centers to the field personnel and improve response. In the past, ready-to-use commercial networking solutions available for public-safety agencies were limited. Therefore these agencies were often forced to build-or contract out-their own communications networks.
However, new business realities and the advent of new technologies-particularly converged IP networking-have compelled commercial communications companies to develop standards-based networking solutions which offer a number of advantages including secure, high-bandwidth networks that support rich voice, video and integrated data IP applications, interagency collaboration and parallel work flow, real-time information integration, synthesis, and dissemination, GPS or other location information to identify agents in the field, vendor and technology flexibility along with future-proof architecture with investment protection in existing proprietary technology.

The success of public safety services during emergencies depends on the effective sharing of information among various agencies as also between and among first responders on the ground.
In an emergency situation, IP networks facilitate real-time parallel workflow among agencies, enabling true collaboration and dynamic resource allocation for effective response. Information gathered by each agency is readily available to every other agency involved in an emergency, and each agency can respond accordingly. Given the importance of information security in public-safety applications, an IP network ensures that only authorized users have access to the required information.

High-performance networks
Public -safety agencies like the police and fire departments were earlier limited to two-way voice communication, or "push to talk" contact. Today, demands for real-time information access are influencing a move towards higher-bandwidth applications, such as enhanced database access, video monitoring, GPS integration, and real-time, interagency knowledge sharing.This means, when the police are in pursuit of a suspect, they no longer have to rely on subjective descriptions of a person or a vehicle; but can utilize the IP network to broadcast still pictures or video of the suspect.
Similarly security personnel at command and control centers can use GPS to track the movements of first responders in real time even as emergency personnel on the field have instant access to a wealth of information. Rather than just being able to query databases for license plate and identification information, police officers can search most-wanted lists, warrant lists, and other relevant databases to make the right decisions while patrolling.

Video analytics
For surveillance to be truly effective, the video footage needs to be monitored continuously - which means human intervention. Given the tremendous scope for error, digital/IP-based surveillance, which enables computer processing and analysis of video, is most sought after. Referred to as video analytics, this process uses a set of computer algorithms to scrutinize specific changes by comparing various frames of a video thus helping identify movement, recognize objects, etc. Through such real-time analysis, computers can alert operators or generate alarms based on specific events- such as people entering the field of view, the direction of an object, or the removal of an item from the field of view.
The flexibility of where video analytics can be deployed and who can use it gets enhanced when used on an IP network. The network provides the video to be analyzed and also generates reports that can be distributed anywhere the network goes. Video analytics consists of embedded software on video endpoints, such as IP cameras, which simplifies operations and lowers costs by freeing up security personnel. It helps utilize security resources more efficiently and ensures scalability and easy deployment eliminating the need to purchase additional analytics servers or storage resources.

Technology is vital to the situational awareness, span of control, scalability, and efficiency of an emergency incident response. However, incompatible communications technologies can build barriers that complicate collaboration. Organizations must therefore break down such communications silos in order to fully realize the potential of their technology investments.

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