Looking ahead: What 2021 will bring to public safety
Most agree that 2020 was a year no one could have predicted. However, the shaping forces that took hold during the year—the pandemic, civil unrest and an increase in natural disasters, to name a few —will continue to influence the world in 2021 and beyond.
Among the industries most likely to feel the lasting effects of 2020 long after it’s gone are public safety and emergency management. The pandemic especially has forced many to rethink how these vital agencies operate, interact with each other and the public, and share information.
Here’s a few ways these changes will take hold in 2021:
Increasing collaboration across stakeholders
This past year, more than most, has shown that public safety, emergency management, departments of health and more all need to be able to collaborate to handle emergencies, get the right information out to residents and ensure the safety of their communities.
This collaboration has not only been important for sharing data between agencies so that stakeholders can work together to slow the spread of the virus, but will become increasingly more crucial as these entities gear up to distribute vaccines in local communities on a wide scale. To better prepare for what’s to come during the remainder of the pandemic, and to better manage day-to-day emergencies, public safety, emergency management and other stakeholders must turn to solutions that make collaborating streamlined and efficient.
Emergencies are often chaotic and confusing for everyone involved, so the ability to know the role every department or person plays in a response can save time and lead to better outcomes. To do this, agencies will turn to solutions that allow them to better coordinate incident response, share real-time data and communications amongst multiple responder teams, ensure compliance with task lists and protocols, and record all actions taken for audits and reporting. Technologies that can guide actions, support on-the-fly changes and escalate past due tasks to the appropriate personnel will become essential in ensuring safe, effective emergency response in 2021 and beyond.
Evolving the response to those in mental health crises
In addition to the call for more collaboration across local and state agencies, 2020 has also seen a growing number of conversations surrounding mental health and emergency response. Police mental health responses across the country have raised important questions about who responds to these types of incidents, the information they have before arriving on scene and how these situations should be handled to prevent further tragedies from taking place.
However, no matter who responds to these types of incidents—whether they’re police, mental health experts, EMTs or someone else—public safety departments must focus on collecting and sharing critical background information with anyone handling the response. This information— such as if a person suffers from autism or has a mental health condition that may impact their reaction to responders— can provide the context first responders need to best approach the person they’re assisting and understand how he or she might respond to that interaction. By using tools or safety profile systems that allow the public to opt in and share this information in case of an emergency, like the free Smart911 service, public safety officials can be ready with the information needed to help someone during the time of the crisis. When first responders have more context up front, they can provide a well-informed, appropriate response that results in the best possible outcome for everyone.
Better communicating across channels and geographies
The coronavirus has spread, re-spread, surged and re-surged at different times and paces across not just the country, but individual states and cities as well. No two communities have been impacted in the exact same way. Because of that, the communication provided to cities and towns must be customized based on their unique population and experience with the spread of the virus.
As 2021 approaches, and with the coronavirus being present for at least the first half of the year, public safety and emergency management need to get creative in how they effectively communicate with different audiences. Both geography and channel need to be considered when developing a strategy for reaching residents.
As mentioned, no two areas were hit the same by the coronavirus, and communications need to be targeted to residents differently depending on where they are in a city, county or state. For example, does every county in the state need to be warned about high transmission rates? The answer is possibly no – only the counties that do have the high transmission rates should be sent reminder messages warning of associated risks of not quarantining. Or, communities may choose to target the most at-risk community members like those with pre-existing conditions or over the age of 65. As many people start to get tired of alerts, officials should strive to only send messages to relevant audiences. Otherwise they take the chance of many tuning out alerts when they are important – a risk some areas can certainly not afford to take.
If there was one lesson learned in 2020, it’s that no one can predict what’s coming around the corner. However, it is certain that public safety and emergency management need to be ready to tackle whatever challenges come next. By learning from the past, these agencies can prepare for future emergencies and focus on what matters most: protecting their communities.
Todd Miller is the COO of Rave Mobile Safety.