Information Sharing in the Public Safety Community

There is a lot of energy in the public safety sector today around the term information sharing. Information is everywhere and with the build out of the Internet of Things (IoT) our public safety friends will continue to be flooded with too much information.  Information, is great if it’s accurate, relevant and provided at the right time.  There are a lot of Federal initiatives that have been stood up to help the public safety community with this issue.  At the same time, many local departments are coordinating with other disciplines and jurisdictions in an attempt to improve information sharing at their level, but often invest in systems that only provide them part of the solution that is required. While we won’t solve public safety’s information sharing issues overnight (and that is part of the problem), here are four ideas to consider when standing up a public safety information sharing initiative:

  1. You must work out the governance first.  Who needs what data and when? Who has that data? Who else needs that data to make decisions? Locals want to own their data. They want to be able to turn it on and off, and the ability to share their data with others.
  2. You must then develop and operationalize standard operating procedures (SOPs).  Do you have standard operating procedures (SOPs)? Are the public safety partners that will be responding aware of the procedures, so they can show up and respond in alignment? Having SOPs is one thing. Having SOPs that you actually use is another. Documents that sit on a shelf and are only pulled for big incidents are essentially worthless.
  3. You must exercise and train. Would a big time athlete show up for a game not having practiced for many hours? Nope. And, if she did, she likely wouldn’t be at her best. Public safety needs to take the same approach to information sharing.
  4. Finally, if you’re not using your information sharing system/applications on a daily basis, then when the sh*t hits the fan you’re efforts to share information will likely fall short of expectations. Unlike a land mobile radio (LMR) system that is used for voice communications, there are normally many different systems that provide data for a more complete information-sharing environment. Think of this as a systems-of-systems. During the event or incident is not the time to think about the governance, determine who has the data you need or what systems are relevant, or write an SOP.

Notice that I did not say anything about the technology used for information sharing. Technology will not solve the problem. There are tons and tons of technology vendors selling you the solution that will “solve all of your problems”.  If you don’t address the full system -- governance, SOPs, exercises and training, and usage (see the SAFECOM Continuum) -- then your information sharing initiatives will fall short. When it comes to information sharing in the public safety environment, are there any other considerations I’m missing? How would you approach this complex issue given the tight budgets of today’s state, local, and federal budgets?