Last December, ACT | The App Association and Sonim Technologies joined together to host “The Future of First Responder Technology,” an event to showcase how first responders are adopting high tech devices and software to better serve American communities. The event gathered congressional staff and other attendees to explore the cutting-edge technologies first responders and law enforcement agencies use to keep Americans safe and the role of technology in public service.
The discussions at the event were timely, especially considering the current political environment. From battles over encryption to debates about “fake news” and Russian election interference, tech and law enforcement often appear to be at odds. But the reality is that tech companies and law enforcement continue working together to solve some of our nation’s most difficult problems, and they need the proper avenues to succeed.
The First Responders Technology event provided a platform for tech companies to showcase the cutting-edge technologies they have developed for first responders. Among the eleven companies featured, RapidSOS displayed how they use a rich data connection to public safety answering points (PSAPs) – the call centers responsible for answering calls to an emergency telephone number for police, fire fighting, and ambulatory services – to help first responders pinpoint the exact location of an emergency call, ultimately reducing response time and saving lives. HunchLab shared how they analyze data collected from various parts of a community to help law enforcement predict where certain types of crime are likely to occur and thus more efficiently deploy resources. Separately, Mutualink provided a demo of their interoperable communications platform that enables first responders from different agencies to communicate with each other quickly and effectively—a long a sought-after capability in the aftermath of 9/11.
In addition to the tech demos, the event gathered several of the nation’s leading first responders to describe how they are using technology to improve the effectiveness of first response efforts. Oregon’s Tualatin Valley fire chief Mike Duyck shared how his team is using drones, and the advanced analytics they provide, to more effectively battle formidable forest and structure fires in the Pacific Northwest. Shing Lin, the chief technology officer of Houston, Texas’s Harris County, illustrated how advanced communications services helped his department perform search and rescue missions in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
The demonstrations and testimonials confirmed that the promise of future collaboration between law enforcement and tech innovators will only make our communities safer and better served.
As all fifty states and American territories consider the implementation of the nationwide First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), instances of tech and first responder cooperation will only multiply. Our First Responder Tech event’s featured tech innovators are part of the growing number of small- and medium-sized tech firms that see first responder apps as an opportunity to succeed, while keeping their fellow citizens safe. FirstNet presents a huge opportunity for app developers and device makers, and competition in this arena will immensely benefit our nation’s first responders. We must demonstrate the value of these innovations and bridge any gaps between first responder agencies and the tech companies that can create effective, cost-saving solutions for them to ensure these benefits are felt nationwide.
From a public policy perspective, the legal and policy conundrums tech companies face are now shared by law enforcement and first responders in an unprecedented manner. Most App Association member companies depend on the unmatched architecture of cloud computing to improve data services for their clients. However, the law governing when and how law enforcement can access data, particularly data stored overseas, was written long before the age of cloud computing. This leaves tech companies, even those working with law enforcement, in the lurch. Without clear laws defining access to data, cloud-based tech innovators cannot provide their life-saving solutions to civilians or to first responders. Without legal clarity on this vital issue, many of the great first responder tech innovations will be for naught. We firmly believe this law should be updated with legislation like the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA, H.R. 3718 or S. 1671).
This event reinforced the fact that first responders have extremely important jobs, and they need our support to succeed. To further our shared goal of keeping Americans safe, we must uphold all avenues to collaboration and cooperation between first responders, law enforcement, and the tech community. In the year ahead, we will continue to work to ensure complete implementation of FirstNet, and urge we Congress to act to update vital data access laws.