Personal Area Networks, First Responders and the Power of Data

Today’s world is a connected one. Most of us live in constant communication with one another, linked through our smartphones, social media, and e-mail--you name it. This means we’re also constantly transmitting data, amongst each other and our devices. 

Personal area networks (PAN) are one way we accomplish this. These computer networks typically connect Macs or PCs, phones, or some other device that can be connected via the internet. One example is a printer in an office or home that connects to a nearby desktop, laptop or phone. Or portable devices, such as sensors,  that are wearable or embeddable and communicate with other nearby wireless devices. 

This is where first responders come in.

Personal Area Networks for Emergency Response 

PANs can create small scale communication networks for emergency responders by utilizing portable devices and/or sensors. Its greatest strength is its data transmission--a capability that not only helps first responders communicate, but save lives.

“A PAN is meant to provide the complementary information that first responders need to expand viewpoint and situational awareness,” says Alison Kahn,* an electronics engineer with National Institute of Standards of Technology’s Public Safety Communication Research Division (PSCR). 

This data might include floor plans of burning buildings, or critical status updates, that help first responders react quickly and accurately. It is moment-specific, so PANs respond to the environment at that time. Currently, many first responders rely on data that is transmitted verbally, which is much more likely to contain inaccuracies.

PANs also synchronize multiple devices at once. This means many people can communicate across a network, and send critical data when needed.

What are the barriers? 

According to Kahn, there are several key challenges that need to be addressed. At PSCR, NIST’s laboratory for conducting research, development, testing, and evaluation for public safety communication technologies, they are working to:

  • Figure out how to utilize data that comes in from different places at once

  • Decide how to best analyze data at the time of the event; and,

  • Build a sustainable data repository

“PSCR wants to direct [this] new technology wherever applicable to first responder use cases and scenarios,” notes Kahn. 

She says one of the biggest current challenges is determining what data first responders actually need, and figuring out how to standardize it. PANs hold the potential to transform emergency response--now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to best harness them. 

Learn more

You can learn more about personal area networks and first responders, and hear about Alison Kahn’s work at PSCR, on our Innovation Insights podcast discussion:

You can download the episode on our website, or subscribe and/or download via Apple Podcasts. 

Innovation Insights, a bi-weekly podcast from Corner Alliance, brings you the latest on innovation and technology impacting the federal government.

*Alison Kahn works for the National Institute of Standards of Technologies' Public Safety Communications Research Division (NIST PSCR), one of Corner Alliance's clients. Corner Alliance is currently under contract to provide marketing services for PSCR.


How Will the US-China Trade War Play Out?


Smart City Series: Columbus, Ohio