Recognizing that digital data is more valuable than gold or oil, a panel at the CES show in Las Vegas today discussed how the public and private sectors are teaming up and using new technology to better respond to emergencies and disasters. The panel discussed how new innovations, such as smart home technology, can give emergency responders valuable data when responding to calls. The panel members also discussed how cyber-physical infrastructure is becoming just as important as physical infrastructure for local governments and first responders when responding to calls.
Chrissie Coons, a public safety liaison with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), highlighted how FirstNet provides emergency responders with a nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety. Ms. Coons pointed out how some emergency responders have experienced buffering and outages during emergencies. FirstNet, which was created under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, gives public safety and emergency responders their own spectrum so that their communications do not go down during emergency.
Chris Rezendes, chief business officer with Spherical Analytics, which helps develop environmental impact solutions that combine blockchain technologies with big data and machine learning, also discussed how the private sector and the public sector can forge relationship and share valuable today. Mr. Rezendes said, “We are helping public and private entities to better manage risk.” Mr. Rezendes added, “Most of the infrastructure we use today is outdated and uses outdated models. We are realizing we have some systems that are central to all different kinds of activities.”
Spherical Analytics helped create a new marine data bank in Massachusetts using data and sensors from fishing boats to provide for more coastal resilience. Mr. Rezendes stated that through collective action, business can create a new marketplace where data can be shared, licensed, or sold. But the data has to be trustworthy and relevant.
Based on conversations with emergency responders at the ground level, Mr. Rezendes noted that first responders want three things with new technology: (1) better audio with hands-free and noise cancellation; (2) the best data available such as schematics and floor plans for buildings used by firefighters; and (3) a heads-up display that is cost effective and easy to use.
In Boston, for example, firefighters struggled with mapping fire hydrants. The firefighters teamed up with the academic community and others to better map hydrants and provide better building schematics, which in turn provides valuable information to the firefighters when responding to calls. Having building floor plans and building schematics in the hands of firefighters while they are in transit and responding to a call can potentially save lives and millions of dollars in property.
The technology industry is working to create new products and team up with governments to better help emergency responders, but conversations have to start at the local level. Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities, which is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and helps cities build resilience, said that cities need to need to audit and assess their current infrastructure along with their future needs. But Mr. Berkowitz also admitted that there is no “silver bullet” and that there no easy answers. Having bureaucrats, mayors, and other decision-makers meet is essential in building any how cyber-physical infrastructure. Mr. Rezendes agreed saying, “The data is one of the most important assets after the human connection, but we have to have the human connection. We have to listen to people to really understand their needs and build trust.”
The loss of digital infrastructure through terrorist attacks can cripple a city’s ability to deliver services to its citizens and respond to emergencies.
The city of Atlanta became the subject of a massive ransomware attack in 2018 that impacted the city’s ability to provide basic services. The incident knocked out essential services across multiple city departments. Mayors from all over the world should take note of the ransomware attack on Atlanta, Mr. Berkowitz said, “This is something we need to address.”
Natural disasters can also severely impact the ability of first responders to provide assistance. After Hurricane Sandy hit Puerto Rico, some critical infrastructure systems took more than one year to be repaired or replaced. Tornadoes across the American heartland have knocked out communications systems and getting communications re-established so that emergency responders can communicate is a topic priority. The longer it takes to get systems back online, the larger an impact a disaster will have, according to Ms. Coons.– Brian Craig