Zebra’s latest Future of Field Operations Study revealed some technology – and, therefore, operational – challenges that public safety agencies have been facing over the past several months. None are the result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Although they are certainly being amplified by the extreme response efforts being put forth by every law enforcement agency, fire department and emergency medical services crew around the world right now.
As discussed in a recent blog, it is important to give first responders mobile devices that can help protect them and those that they’re trying to help – devices that provide situational awareness, reliable communications channels and social distancing tools. The post also discussed the security and personal safety considerations that must be made when choosing technology tools for field-based teams, emphasizing the benefits of rugged mobility solutions in all of these areas. Those agencies that have put enterprise-level rugged mobile devices in the field are now able to reap some of their exclusive benefits: easier to use outside in bright sunshine, rain, snow and dust alike; long-range scanning; longer battery runtimes; and the much higher reliability and durability levels in exhaustive, around-the-clock use cases.
For agencies that chose consumer-grade devices during “normal” times, that is what they’ll need to use for a while most likely. With limited in-office IT staffing and the new heavy workload of police, EMT and fire department personnel working to protect themselves and the public from COVID-19, it is unlikely that a move to enterprise-class mobile devices could happen anytime soon. The consumer-grade devices won’t aid as much with social distancing and are harder to disinfect, but I know those first responders will take that into account and use them less so as to reduce the risk.
Remember: there is a lot of nuanced engineering that must go into any device whose prime design focus is for use in a law enforcement, firefighting or emergency response environment. Yes, it must be rugged. More importantly, though, a fire department might need a device that can withstand the elements for prolonged periods of time and EMS techs might need a device that can be thoroughly disinfected to strict healthcare standards. (We’re not talking about a quick wipe down by your average household Clorox cloth, either.)
Then there’s the need to connect ancillary devices in patrol vehicles or fire trucks when devices are mounted and when other technology tools need to be used in tandem with the mobile device in ambulances – monitoring patient oxygen levels or accessing secure pharmaceutical vaults en-route to the hospital, for instance.
Many things that public safety agencies must consider when weighing the pros and cons of rugged vs. non-rugged mobile devices are discussed in this past blog post. The benefits of enterprise rugged devices versus consumer rugged devices beyond the physicality have also been extensively outlined in past discussions.
But please do consider this every time you’re evaluating mobile technologies for your first responders…
Some police officers are trained for pursuit driving at specialized facilities (usually a racetrack), with police interceptor-type training cars and skilled instructors. Drills focus on handling these cars at high speeds on different road conditions, and often include actual contact with “perpetrator” cars.
How well are these officers trained? At the best training facilities, the best officers become some of the best drivers in the world. Like mobile computers, these training facilities and instructors must meet minimum thresholds to secure ratings. But how far they go above and beyond those levels is the difference between just holding a certificate and being highly skilled when this dangerous but important action occurs out in the real world.
For example, the Houston Police Academy has a facility for pursuit training and, a few years ago, the Porsche Club rented it for driver’s education for the novice up to advanced drivers. After a day of Porsches flying around the track, everyone was picking up cones and loading up in the paddock. A police officer nonchalantly walked out of the office, got into a Crown Vic and, with tires squealing, drove around the track faster than any of the Porsches had. Same training facility, different training standards. You could compare police officers trained in pursuit driving with new drivers pulling out of the DMV in a similar vein: both have the same driver’s license in their pocket even though the skill levels are dramatically different. Who would you rather be in the car with during a chase?
The point is that just because a tablet has an IP68 rating and is marketed as “rugged” doesn’t mean that it meets the rugged mobility standards set by public safety agencies – which have always been among the highest of any sector.
All public safety technology tools warrant close evaluation by IT and field teams from a functional perspective. Once your public safety agency defines all potential operating environments, you’ll be able to short-list your “real” rugged device options. In doing so, you may realize that you don’t need to an IP68-rated device, which is the benchmark used by many consumer device manufacturers to make their devices more marketable, and that an IP67, IP65 or even IP54 device might be more than sufficient.
Don’t Forget: Form Factor Does Factor into First Responder Speed, Effectiveness
So, which rugged devices fit the best into public safety’s unique mobile computing criteria set? While each agency will have to make this determination based on desired use cases, operational goals and front-line personnel feedback, you can see what your peers have chosen in the past in the below excerpt from Zebra’s “Future of Field Operations” study report.