Category Archives: eRepublic

Echo, Public Safety, FirstNet

Amazon's Echo

Amazon’s Echo

I recently attended and spoke at the Government Technology Beyond-the-Beltway event.  Our panel of local and state Chief Information Officers (CIOs) was asked “what is the most significant technology advance in your lifetime”.   I answered “either the IBM PC or the iPhone”.  Others mentioned the Internet and the world-wide-web.   (No one mentioned the development of email, invented by Ray Tomlinson, who just recently passed away, and sometimes considered the bane of our existence.)

A more significant question might be “what will be the most significant technology advance in the near future”.   Or, to narrow it a bit, what will be the most significant technology advance for public safety first responders in the near future?

I’m convinced such technologies already exist, or, in the words of William Gibson:  “the future is here, it is just not evenly distributed yet”.

One of the candidates is Amazon’s Echo.

Echo is a speech-enabled technology which is arguably better than Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana and which can be used right now in homes to do everything from order more laundry detergent to play music to control the thermostat. All by recognizing speech.  And connecting to Amazon’s website, of course.

We hire and extensively train police officers, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and paramedics as first responders. Then, because we want to be “data driven”, we tell them to sit down at computers and type crime reports, hand-write medical reports, prepare fire code inspections and do what are essentially clerical tasks which take them away from the real work of law enforcement and fire protection.

Enter Echo.

Why don’t we have Echo-like devices in police vehicles and fire apparatus and even in police officer badges or firefighter helmets?

star-trek-comm-badge

Comm Badge

Can you imagine a cop who comes to your house to investigate a burglary, taps her badge (just like the CommBadge in Star Trek) and asks “Alexa, have any red Schwinn bicycles been recovered lately?” or “Alexa, search all nearby pawn shops for Canon EOS rebel single-lens reflex cameras sold in the last three days”.

Or the traffic officer who goes to his police car and simply speaks to the car “Car 54 take a collision report for two vehicles who collided at this intersection twenty-two minutes ago,” then proceeds to dictate the report to the car.  And the Echo-like device in the car prompts the officer for any additional information, even doing database searches returning information like “Officer Schrier, I detect that the red Ford Mustang involved in this collision has fourteen unpaid parking tickets.  Shall I call for a tow truck?”

Similarly paramedics responding to an emergency medical call could talk to their devices “Alexa, get me the detailed health records for William M. Schrier, apparent heart attack victim, specifically including any known medications he is using and any known adverse reactions to meds”.  Or “Call Schrier’s personal physician at the highest priority, locating the doctor immediately for this emergency.” And that same paramedic could dictate observations and reports, rather than hand-writing them or typing them.

language-translation-software-image

Language Translation

Another significant use for speech-activated devices are language translation.   We are a nation of immigrants, and real-time translation services like Google translate or Skype.

Although most police cars are equipped with mobile data computers today, many police officers are justifiably skeptical of writing reports in their vehicles, especially if it means looking down at a screen and a keyboard, and not paying attention to their surroundings.   Killing of police officers like those in New York City, Houston/Harris County, and Lakewood (Washington) have reinforced this fear.  But with speech-to-text such as Echo, officers might be able to spend more time on the street, less time at computers in the police station.

Even in daily situations, police officers who need to tap or type on their in-car computer while driving represent a potential hazard to themselves and others.  Being able to give verbal commands such as “acknowledge that dispatch and set status to en route” or “text Sergeant Schrier that I’ll be following up immediately” improve not only speed but also safety for officers.

Echo and similar technologies do, however, require high speed Internet access.

FirstNet-logo-vertical

FirstNet

For first responders working in the field, that means 4G LTE networks.   The First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”) is planning to build just such a network, specifically designed for first responders.  FirstNet will, perhaps, have applications, apps and devices specifically tailored for first responder missions.  FirstNet recognized the importance of such voice technologies in a blog post here.

Even more importantly, public safety software vendors of computer-aided dispatch systems (CAD) and fire/police records management systems (RMS) should immediately start integrating speech-to-text technologies into their products.   A speech-enabled RMS will significantly reduce the time for a paramedic, law enforcement officer or firefighter to create reports.  Such reports will be more accurate and of higher quality, and first responders will spend more time on the streets and less time typing in front of a computer.

Echo or similar speech-to-command technologies should be high on FirstNet’s list.  And on the list of any company creating software for first responders.

 

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Filed under emergency operations, eRepublic, firefighting, FirstNet, future of technology, Law Enforcement

– MIXing Cities, Counties, Web 2.0

A Group of Local Government CIOs

MIX: A Group of Local Government CIOs

The Metropolitan Information Exchange (MIX), an association of City and County
CIOs, met in Seattle this week. MIX is a select group of 55 forward-thinking technology leaders. Their discussions about the future uses of technology in government have been quite enlightening.

For the most part, these are mid-sized cities and counties, almost all with populations of 100,000 or more. These Chief Information Officers (CIOs) share at least one passion: making information technology work in service to the government and people of their communities.

Many of these jurisdictions have award winning government websites – Las Vegas, Riverside, Wake County (North Carolina), King County (Washington) and Yuma County (Arizona) each were among the five top web portals in eRepublic’s 2008 competition. Others – such as Seattle and Tucson – have top municipal television channels.  Still others have cutting edge implementations of a wide variety of technologies, ranging from the 35,000-public-safety-radio network operated by Harris County (Texas) to the Second Life experiments of Nevada County (California) to the City-wide Wi-Fi network operated by Corpus Christi.

Web 2.0 was the subject of this conference. All of us working in government technology know Web 2.0 is leading edge. But Web 2.0 is really “icing” on our government technology “cakes”.

The core, first layer of IT in government is infrastructure – networks, computers, data centers. That infrastructure has to be rock solid and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week because local government delivers service all day, every day.

The second layer of our “cake” is the applications, built upon the infrastructure, which provide efficiency and effectiveness for government. These applications include mapping, utility billing systems, financial management, computer-aided dispatch and many others.

The third layer of our IT “cake” is a wide variety of ways government employees and constituents use the technology to request and render services or provide information. These methods include interactive voice response systems, television channels and the websites of our jurisdictions.

Web 2.0 is the “icing” in one sense, because it is so leading edge (for government). In another sense, web 2.0 technologies are the essence of government. Web 2.0 is about collaboration. It is about social networks.  It is about building community.  And that – building community – is what government is all about – collaboration and making our communities stronger.

How are governments using Web 2.0 technology? I have a detailed set of examples here (and welcome feedback with more samples).  Some highlights:

  • Some elected officials are blogging, but only a few regularly write – Tim Burgess of Seattle and Walter Neary of Lakewood (Washington) are two examples.
  • Chicago Police is doing a great mashup and display of detailed crime statistics by address or ward, around schools and parks.
  • Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, is making extensive use of wikis to improve information sharing among county departments.
  • The Seattle Channel is doing podcasting and interactive television with its Ask-the-Mayor program for Mayor Greg Nickels – viewers can call or e-mail real-time and there are video-taped questions.
  • A very few governments have YouTube channels, e.g. Mountain View/Los
    Altos California, although constituent video of local government
    meetings appears to be a more popular use of YouTube, such as Somervell
    County, Texas.
  • Some cities and counties have Facebook or Myspace pages, e.g. Prince William County, Virginia, which uses MySpace for recruiting. MIX, itself, has a LinkedIn group.
  • But I’ve not seen local government effectively use social networking yet. Fertile ground for innovation!

In short, we in MIX – and other local government CIOs – are concentrating on keeping the core of information technology networks and systems running well in our governments.  And we are experimenting with a wide variety of Web 2.0 and similar technologies which we know will make government more collaborative and interactive.

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Filed under egovernment, eRepublic, future of technology, MIX, NATOA, seattle channel, web 2.0