The Internet of First Responder Things (IoFRT)

IoT-toasterThe “Internet of Things” or IoT is a common buzzword in the technology community these days.  It refers to the increasingly prevalent distribution of sensors throughout the natural world, and the connection of those sensors – as well as other machines – to the Internet.

The running joke is that IoT is about putting your home refrigerator, thermostat, washer, dryer, microwave, range, TVs, computers, smart phones and even toasters on the Internet, or at least connecting them so they can talk to each other.  Now what a toaster would say to a TV, or what the conversations between a washer and a dryer might include, could certainly make for a lot of talk show jokes and lists on a David Letterman show (should he return).

But clearly creating such an “Internet of Household Things” or IoHT would be quite useful.  Take, for example, the urgent water crisis in California and throughout most of the West.   If you could add sensors to every water fixture in the house, and then connect those sensors to computers and smartphones, you could determine where your water is being used and take steps to cut back use.   Going one step further, if those water sensors also had valves, you could control your household water use from anywhere in the world.  So when your teenager’s shower has gone over five minutes in length, you could abruptly get a notification and then shut off the water (or turn on the cold water full blast) from your hotel room in Hong Kong.

How might this Internet of Things concept apply to First Responders – the paramedics and firefighters and police officers who respond to our 911 calls?

I recently had a twitter conversation about this with Ray Lehr, former fire chief in Baltimore, and former FirstNet State Point of Contact (SPOC) for Maryland.  Ray suggested we should start talking about the Internet of Life Saving Things (IoLST) which I morphed into a possible Internet of First Responder Things (IoFRT).

There are many applications for the IoFRT, and I’d guess they fall into several buckets:

  • First Responder Personal Things – the sensors and equipment which would be on or near a First Responder to help that officer do the job and keep the officer safe.
  • 911 Caller and Victim Things – these sensors would help alert 911 centers and responders to problems so First Responders can quickly and accurately respond to calls for assistance.
  • Information and Awareness Things – these sensors and machines would improve public safety by monitoring the natural and built environments.

Seattle Police Body Worn Video

“First Responder Personal Things” would include a variety of sensors and communication devices.  Body worn video cameras – so much in the news recently after the events in Ferguson, Missouri – are one example of an IoFRT device.  Most such cameras today record their video and hold it in the device.  But if wirelessly connected to the Internet (by, say, FirstNet), a police commander, 911 center and other authorized users could see the video in real time to advise and support the officer.

A police officer’s badge or other apparel might have a small radio which broadcasts a signal unique to that officer, which allows many other communication devices (smart phone, radio, tablet computer) to automatically recognize the officer and therefore allow access to restricted databases such as criminal history.  A similar situation for a paramedic would allow her/him access to restricted patient files and healthcare history.

A police officer’s weapon could have a sensor which only allows it to be fired if it is personal possession of the officer.  Firefighters – especially those fighting long, sustained, wild fires, would have an array of sensors to monitor heart rate, respiration, ambient air quality, etc., alerting the firefighter and incident commander to firefighters who are overworked or in dangerous situations.

“911 Caller and Victim Things” would include those sensors on a victim or in their home or place of business which help to monitor and protect them.   Medical sensors are an obvious application:  people with a history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes or other conditions would have such sensors which would immediately alert them and their healthcare providers to impending problems.  Such sensors might further alert 911 centers for dispatch of emergency medical technicians to an immediate problem.

Vulnerable people in high crime areas might have sensors or video cameras which could be activated at a moment’s notice when they come into dangerous situations.   Many homes and businesses are now equipped with video cameras, movement sensors and other sensors.  A 911 call from the premise (or other activation by the owner) could give 911 centers and responding officer’s immediate access to the telemetry and video from those cameras.

Finally, General Motor’s OnStar gives us a premonition of the technology which will go into vehicles in the future.  Vehicles which communicate with roads or automatically notify 911 centers after an accident, to include transmission of telemetry and video are definitely in the future.

“The Internet of Information and Awareness Things” is both more fascinating and frightening.  Applications to support 911 response can be harnessed to many of these “things”.


Seattle Police Demonstrate a UAV aka “drone”

For example, Video surveillance cameras are becoming less expensive and more ubiquitous.   Surveillance camera systems deployed by cities and counties receive significant scrutiny and attention from the ACLU and city/county councils such as the brouhaha surrounding Seattle’s attempted deployment of a $5 million system.  The use of unpiloted aerial vehicles with cameras is just starting deployment.  But most such cameras are in the hands of businesses and private individuals, as demonstrated by the identification the Boston marathon bombers.  Powerful new technology tools are becoming available for automated analysis of video, for examples automated license plate recognition, facial recognition and object recognition.  We aid and abet this analysis by gleefully tagging faces in our Facebook photos, all of which Facebook uses to build its database of known faces.  The largest license plate recognition databases are in private hands.  In the near future every human being is likely to be recognized and tracked (and NOT by governments) whenever we are outside our own homes.

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was created.  Fearing potential chemical, biological and nuclear terrorist attacks, it deployed a network of sniffers and sensors in cities and other potential targets.  Similar technologies and networks could be deployed to support first responders.

For example, every load of hazardous material being transported by road, air or rail could be tagged and tracked.  Every hazmat container stored in a building could also be identified and tracked, with firefighters watching them pop up on a tablet computer app when they respond to an event in the building.

We could even tag every can of spray paint or every cigarette lighter as the combination of those two items, plus a healthy dose of stupidity (which, alas, cannot yet be tagged) contributes to major home fires like this one.

It is now easy to imagine a world like that depicted by George Orwell in his novel 1984, where surveillance is both nefarious and ubiquitous, fueled by a government (probably controlled by private companies) out of control.

Like so many other choices faced by our early 21st Century society, the Internet of First Responder Things hold both great promise and some peril.   Elected officials and chiefs of responder agencies will have many decisions to make over the next few years.


Filed under 911, FirstNet, government operations, Internet of Things, Seattle Police

76 responses to “The Internet of First Responder Things (IoFRT)

  1. Pingback: The Internet of Things (IoT) | Disaster-Zone

  2. Pingback: Chief Seattle Geek Blog: The Internet of First Responder Things (loFRT) | National Public Safety Telecommunications Council

  3. It must be helpful for us to keep the net information save

  4. Great article and a fantastic concept.

  5. Great article!
    I wonder how organised crime would cope up to stay at par with these advancements. Innovation is ominipresent even in the disruptive fields and sometimes can lead to awesome outcomes.

    • Schrier

      Good suggestion. We know organized crime is already ahead of law enforcement in some fields relating to cybersecurity and hacking into “secure” banking and consumer businesses. Undoubtedly this is an issue which must be addressed in the IoFRT through increased security measures. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Temitope

    Reblogged this on ayodeletemi1 and commented:

  7. These are some great thoughts. Technology can do amazing things but it is certainly troubling how things meant to be helpful can be abused.

  8. danidannyco

    Reblogged this on danniecool.

  9. Interesting post, and great food for thought.

  10. Thank you
    fantastic blog
    Good luck

  11. netbillboards

    Reblogged this on Internet Billboards and commented:
    I am just now noticing the reblog feature with WordPress and trying to wrap my brain around this. Hear is my first Reblog to Internet Billboards. This is a very interesting post on the Internet of Things. Written by former Chief of Technology for the city os Seattle.

  12. netbillboards

    Cool post, I just reblogged this to Internet Billboards

  13. To some degree I’m one of these fools who thinks he’s a good guy and needn’t worry about surveillance, but all this stuff is happening – more –

  14. sorry – little iPhone and fat old fingers. On the computer now – all this stuff is happening anyway, so it’s more urgent than ever that we do what we can to continue a process of humanization so that many of the crimes we would fear being seen at become either freedoms or problems to be solved, medical or whatnot.
    What really might give a little hope is exactly that it’s internet-based and trackable – big data may be able to show a business case for redistribution of wealth, that the payoff in crime reduction and social investment that may result from a real reduction in poverty might be a widely-known thing and inescapable for these private companies as well as elected governments. Maybe, anyway.

    • How on earth did you arrive at ‘redistribution of wealth’ from reading this blog? That was so not the point.

      • bit of a stretch, I’ll admit! But crime, surveillance and poverty are linked in the real world, if not in this blog. You don’t think that when everything is online spewing data, that the resulting big data could give us a better view of the results of our social policies?

        What was the point of this blog – promise and peril? My comment was intended to be the promise side of the usually offered peril, 1984 style totalitarianism. Total data could have a good side.

      • Schrier

        Good comment, neighsayer. I had not thought about the implications for testing social policies of the IoFRT or the IoT. Since most social policies require some tracking of the effects of those policies on individuals and families (e.g. homelessness, poverty, improved education student-by-student), such use could have considerable intrusion into personal lives and privacy.
        My point with the blog was to demonstrate how the IoT could be applied to public safety and first responders. As with all technology, such use is the “Force” in Star Wars – it has a bright side and a dark side.
        – bill

  15. Reblogged this on Neighsayer's Other Stuff and commented:
    this stuff is a little dear to my heart for . . . technical reasons

  16. I can only imagine all of the jokes that one could create between ‘connected’ devices. Nice post!

    • Schrier

      Wow, Nathan. Good material for a future column about toasters talking to refrigerators. Thanks.

    • Schrier

      Wonderful comment, Nathan! Provides good material for a future blog on how the toaster talks to the refrigerator or the incoming water pipe communicates with the outgoing sewer pipe!

  17. thanks Bill (no more replies up there). I kind of think that things like this are happening, the cameras and all, and if we, the people want to be safe from it all, we, the people need to own it – which, I’m sorry, that means the government, not private companies. The government should be trying to nudge social policy along and this big data will help – and the government should be watching the companies too, not the other way around. It’s not totalitarian if it’s democratic, if we, the people set the policy.

    • Schrier

      I tend to agree with you, Neighsayer, but I fear that at least one political party will do everything they can to let the private companies have free reign with the technologies they deploy, almost unaware of the longer-term consequences. While at the same time, of course, starving governments of the funds needed to enforce a policy. Thanks again.

  18. Thank you
    Fantastic blog
    Good luck

  19. It looks like technology is here to stay. The rest of our lives will likely become even more technology dependent, so much so that the economy wouldn’t function without it…. Oh wait, that time has already come.

  20. Pingback: The Internet of First Responder Things (IoFRT) | braconi

  21. Reblogged this on [technically,] Distracted. and commented:
    Reblog: The Internet of First Responder Things (IoFRT)

  22. patrickhamp

    Interesting blog. Good luck.

  23. Reblogged this on Loncad and commented:
    Let us reshare some interesting monolog in sentences of a writer again.

  24. EnviroSolutions

    I think it would be quite interesting. Great post very insightful.

  25. Great article. It makes me think of the story about How BMW doors were being unlocked by hackers (
    It’s great to give first responders access to these things but I fear that they would ultimately be hacked in a similar way. Hopefully they roll out access slowly.

    • Schrier

      Absolutely agree about the potential for hacking, Jawrsh. In the U.S. there is a new wireless network authorized by Congress called “FirstNet” which is supposed to be more secure – However given the recent totally avoidable hack of personnel records in the federal government, I’m concerned about hacking the IoFRT too.

  26. Reblogged this on writersfun and commented:
    Great IoT thought from a great mind.

  27. Reblogged this on David Rayner and commented:
    Drilling into the world of IOT.

  28. hmm, all of you are part of the IoT 🙂
    the smartPhone is a telephone and a platform for multiple use
    the smartPad similar
    the smartTV is a TV set and a platform for multiple use
    the smartNet is a Network and a platform for multiple use

  29. This sounds familiar, RoboCop anyone?

  30. Reblogged this on smritidixit and commented:
    Great article!

  31. NIce work and great food for thought!!!!!

  32. Some Police Forces in the UK are already using big data of this type to predictively reduce crime. What benefits or downfalls can you see?

  33. Pingback: Why I’m Joining FirstNet | the Chief Seattle Geek blog

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