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How 5G can Help Improve Situational Awareness for First Responders

Greater situational awareness can help transform emergency response. Experts estimate that as many as 10,000 lives could be saved every year by reducing 911 response times by just one minute. Information that improves situational awareness is seen as a foundation of emergency response strategy because, as FEMA notes, "accurate, timely information will enable more informed, effective decision-making."

5G can support the streaming of large volumes of high-quality video, offering the potential for greatly improved situational awareness. First responders need reliable solutions to keep them connected, informed, and safe—especially during an emergency incident, natural disaster or other large-scale events. Capturing a comprehensive view of an incident or situation in near real-time has shown to be a key factor in avoiding line-of-duty deaths.

Situational awareness

First responders and public safety officials on the ground serve as both providers and beneficiaries of enhanced situational awareness. Boots-on-the-ground can provide important sources of data—including through the sensors they use, body-worn cameras, and first-hand accounts of the situation. Having access to both on-scene information and off-scene data helps to improve decision-making. This ability for public safety agencies to be able to share actionable information also allows for better management of their own personnel while also coordinating with one another, incident command and/or other agencies. Public safety can benefit from the high speeds and low latency that 5G can offer and that are based on technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), drone data, real-time situational intelligence and more.

Examples of technology that help improve situational awareness

Components of situational awareness include having not only the right solutions to capture data—such as wearables, cameras, sensors and drones—but also mechanisms to synthesize and prioritize that data to allow faster and better decision-making.

Around 1,500 U.S. public safety agencies have acquired drones as a means to help improve situational awareness. For example, after a tornado it could be unsafe to send first responders to the scene. Power lines and cell towers are often down creating an unsafe, unknown environment. Drones are often utilized to survey the damage and provide information back to incident command and emergency operation centers (EOC). For example, cameras mounted on drones can be used for photo stitching of hundreds or thousands of pictures taken from an incident, causing large data loads that could cause network congestion. Coupled with 5G connectivity, this could provide greatly improved situational awareness.

Capturing data

Connecting the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, mobile edge computing (MEC) combined with reliable and secure networking offers the prospect of improving how data is captured to enhance situational awareness. Examples could include:

  • Wearable body cameras that can stream and record video.
  • Sensors that monitor a first responder's vital statistics and can potentially track their location for safety purposes.
  • Mapping software like ArcGIS that provides contextual tools and services for mapping and spatial analysis.
  • Fixed video cameras provide additional video insights into an incident.
  • Advanced artificial intelligence (AI) dash-cams aimed to enable real-time detection of potentially dangerous driving events. 

Sharing data

While devices and upgraded networks can each contribute to improving situational awareness, the coordination of all this data and ability to properly analyze and provide a single, holistic view of an event may require improvements within a separate real-time crime center or an EOC.

Verizon's Real Time Response System (RTRS) is a managed and hosted service that gives public safety agencies a holistic view of their city at any given moment. It is built to a Criminal Justice Information (CJI) supported solution that can integrate large amounts of data from multiple sources, such as computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, video sensors, record management systems (RMS) and third-party databases.

The RTRS compiles data and gives agencies a consolidated, accurate, real-time view of their city or region. In addition, the system is interoperable with other third-party public safety offerings, which fosters inter-agency collaboration to improve situational awareness efforts across different organizations.

What is the role of situational awareness in EOC operations?

At 911 dispatch centers, or public safety answering points (PSAPs), dispatchers can share pertinent information with EOCs, sometimes situated across town. Access to multiple sources of data will provide a more holistic view of an emergency situation. This is then shared with field commanders, boots-on-the-ground responders, and across agencies that are responding to the incident.

How 5G makes the most of the components of situational awareness

Individually, each of these devices can capture large amounts of data for emergency response teams to help them improve situational awareness for a specific incident or disaster response. But as organizations explore adding devices to their situational awareness strategy, challenges can rise due to the large amounts of data and legacy network constraints. This can be compounded by potential future investments that could add hundreds or even thousands of video feeds and data points.

5G wireless networks provide the ability to handle large data requirements for near real-time video streaming and low latency that speeds data to key personnel on the ground and within an EOC.

5G-enhanced services can improve situational awareness strategies in several ways.
  • Pulling video and data from multiple sources, giving field commanders and on-the-ground personnel a holistic view of an incident.
  • Supporting higher throughput on video that can support high-definition (and potentially 4K) video streaming from fixed cameras, wearables and drones.
  • Providing higher capacity, which allows agencies to add sensors and geolocation trackers to keep first responders safer during an event.
  • Providing low latency, such as through 5G, which enables emergency responders to communicate more effectively within a response team and with coordinating agencies.

Public safety organizations looking to improve their situational awareness strategies can benefit from:
  • Hardware and device improvements, designed to withstand harsh environments.
  • Upgraded wireless networks such as 5G that provide higher bandwidth, higher capacity and low latency to generate real-time communications for better decision-making.
  • A coordinated response system within an EOC that collects data and analyzes it quickly to share with on-scene incident commanders.
  • Keep your organization securely connected, even in the most trying situations.

These components of situational awareness, taken together, can provide public safety and law enforcement agencies with faster decision-making and coordination capabilities to help save lives.

Learn more about how Verizon can provide advanced network and technologies for frontline first responders.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.

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