Interoperability tops list of first responder issues, says survey

Interoperability is the number one issue facing Canadian first responders with respect to improving their ability to enhance public safety. This was one of the key findings of a survey released yesterday by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) and commissioned by the Canadian Police Research Centre (CPRC).

The survey, Keeping Canadians Safe, polled 144 chiefs of fire, police, paramedic and emergency response organizations about their current use of technology, and asked them to identify a range of services they would like to see available in order to improve collaboration among jurisdictions.

“We’re in the process of expanding our organization, and looking to include the police, medical services, paramedic and fire after 30 years of working solely with the police community,” explained Steve Palmer, executive director of the CPRC. “As we were developing our priorities we needed to understand what the priorities are of the other first responders, which was our primary goal with this project.”

In addition to interoperability, survey respondents also cited the need for more budget increases across the board with respect to all equipment and technology needs. They also reported low levels of product performance satisfaction, with communication device compatibility receiving the lowest satisfaction levels.

As CATA is a technology association focused on working with industry, its vice-president of research Kevin Wennekes explained it was an opportune time to conduct the survey, as it’s the first survey to examine how all first responders use technology.

“We wanted to look at the technologies they’re using, how satisfied they are with the performance, what more would they want from vendors, and how can they work better together,” said Wennekes.

With respect to examining the technology that first responders use in their roles, Wennekes said the focus was on information and communication technology (ICT).

“We did, at a broader level, have a category such as personal protective equipment, we wanted to touch on that element as well because it’s just as critical,” said Wennekes.

He noted that in certain areas of the survey there was a clear focus on digging down to individual technology such as first responders’ use of laptops, local area networks, and two-way radios.

“Any of the elements of ICT that you can imagine we looked at addressing: hardware, software, customized wireless, and the impact to them vis-a-vis emergency preparedness,” he said.

Both Palmer and Wennekes agreed that the survey findings clearly indicate that interagency interoperability is the number one issue facing first responders.

In line with addressing the issue of interoperability, the CPRC founded a group called the Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group (CITIG), said Palmer.

“That group is focused on bringing first responders and industry together to share best practices and come up with common solutions,” said Palmer.

Wennekes said that CATA has taken a similar approach in that they will work with the CITIG and reach out to the ICT sector and bring specific protection equipment technologies to the forefront.

“With each new development in technology it becomes easier and more cost effective, even for the smaller agencies to be able to afford to implement,” said Wennekes. “Our interest with respect to interoperability is to bring those right groups together.”

He added that CATA has a strong reach in the public service, and that they would be pushing for continued leadership from the government.

An additional recommended next step is the creation of a first responder/industry collaboration and procurement portal, according to Wennekes. “We’ll be driving to identify leaders or companies who want to collaborate further with us in that respect.”

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