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What Public Safety Agencies Can Teach IT

Four lessons in mobility

What Public Safety Agencies Can Teach IT

When it comes to mobile technology, IT professionals rarely look to the public sector for ideas. But today's public safety agencies—police, fire, emergency response—have much to teach IT, especially ways to empower field personnel. The field, after all, is their office. So what can IT learn from public safety? Here are four lessons.


West Yorkshire Police, UK

The West Yorkshire Police, the UK's fifth largest police force, is charged with protecting 2.1 million citizens in a challenging mix of urban and rural communities.

A 2001 study found that UK police officers spent nearly 43 percent of their time at the station, rather than policing in the field. Based on that data, the West Yorkshire Police realized that increasing its officers' time in the field would quickly yield measurable results—without adding additional officers.

Solution: A mobile office capability

How did West Yorkshire Police meet this goal? They moved office work out of the station house by issuing BlackBerry® smartphones.

The smartphones' mobile office capabilities (email, voice, calendar access) give officers everything they need to work away from the station. And officers can now access the Police National Computer, the UK's national crime database. That gives them access to the data they need to prepare crime reports and work prosecution files.

Added together, officers now spend more time on the streets and out of the station house. The community has noticed, too: “The public has responded well to BlackBerry,” says Paul Friday, head of information systems, West Yorkshire Police. “And it is helping us to do our jobs more effectively.”


Cape Breton Regional Police Service, Nova Scotia, Canada

The Cape Breton Regional Police Service patrols Cape Breton Island's 2,460 square miles (6,371 square km) in Canada's northeastern province of Nova Scotia. With a patrol area that large the service wanted a truly mobile solution that would give its officers highly secure access to the national police database from virtually any location.

Solution: Go straight for mobility

The service decided to skip the expense of hardwiring computer terminals into police cars. Instead, they issued officers their own BlackBerry smartphones. The BlackBerry® Enterprise Solution offers end-to-end security. OnPatrol, from BlackBerry Alliance partner xwave, provides secure access to the national crime database and dispatch and records management systems.

By focusing on mobility, the service quickly realized many benefits:

  • Detailed information is now in officers' hands where they need it: in the field. For example, mug shots can be emailed directly to officers' BlackBerry smartphones.
  • The service saves money by avoiding hardwiring patrol cars with laptops.
  • Officers now spend more time out of their cars and with the community.

“Our officers use OnPatrol on their BlackBerry smartphones to access the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database from wherever they're located—under surveillance or walking a beat. They don't have to be sitting in a police car to get the information they need.”
- Inspector Thomas Hastie, Cape Breton Regional Police Service

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Broward County Emergency Management, Florida, USA

Broward County Emergency Management is responsible for 30 cities in south Florida. The agency puts together emergency teams comprising fire, ambulance, and public works. Major disasters mean hurricanes and flooding so the stakes are high for both preventing property damage and for protecting human life.

Communications was a disaster

In the past teams would often carry five or six separate communications devices. Management could not effectively track events in the field, hampering high-quality decision making. Paper-based contact lists meant that people were literally carrying around phone books in the field. And updating those lists was a logistical nightmare.

Solution: Connect teams with one device

The agency needed one rugged device with full connectivity to phone, email, web, and the state's emergency databases. The solution was BlackBerry smartphones, BlackBerry Enterprise Server enabled with MDS, and mBiztech mBD for Lotus Notes to allow dynamic access to emergency management databases and prepare reports from the field.

Communications changed how teams work

Now anyone with access to the server—including other field-based personnel deployed with BlackBerry smartphones—can run a query to find out what is happening at the location, rather than having to phone a busy person at the site.

Onsite responders can now enter report details on the spot and get direct pipelines to emergency databases. Paper notebooks have been tossed away.

Damage reports are now managed via BlackBerry smartphones. Collected information is sent to headquarters so decision makers can send the right resources to a disaster.

“We've found people are more aware with BlackBerry and are using it to become more efficient in the way they work. It helps them save time—and it's a pleasure for everyone to not carry a notebook and gadgets, or maintain a lot of lists.”
- Bureau Chief Mike Verini, Broward County Emergency Management


The Franklin County Sheriff's Office, Ohio, USA

The Franklin County Sheriff's Office serves a population of 1.7 million people in Franklin County, Ohio. In the past officers without laptops in their cars had to radio in requests to dispatchers, who would then check police databases and relay the information back to the officer. It was time consuming, so officers would only radio in when it was absolutely necessary.

As part of a multi-agency pilot program, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office deployed 30 BlackBerry smartphones with PocketCop, a wireless application from BIO-key International. PocketCop securely connects officers with police and motor vehicle databases.

More checks equal better policing

The sheriff's office quickly realized that connected officers are far more productive. Connected officers can now look up driver's licenses, vehicle plates, social security numbers, outstanding warrants, and more. A person's complete record, including photo, is now at an officer's disposal. And the solution lightens the load on police radio systems and dispatchers. Overall it adds up to better policing.

“I can do anything from my BlackBerry smartphone that an officer can do in a police cruiser. I can see what officers are on duty, send them messages, run license plates and stolen vehicles, and determine whether individuals are dangerous.”
- Detective Austin Francescone, Franklin County Sheriff's Office

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