The Digitalisation of Emergency Services: A Journey to Efficiency and Safety
In our fast-paced world, where technology improves daily, the realm of public safety is undergoing a profound transformation through digitalisation. This dynamic process is not just a modernisation of operations; it empowers us to automate manual tasks, extract contextual insights from data, and ultimately redefine how we respond to emergencies. This blog will explore how best to understand digitalisation, the role it can play in Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) and emergency services, and how best to exploit its potential.
What is digitalisation? There are two sides to explore here. The first is that digitalisation is the process of creating a virtual environment that allows us to autonomise a lot of our processes, particularly the most manual (and often time intensive) ones. The second side is that digitalisation allows us to extract and exploit more knowledge and information out of the data we receive, using it to its full potential – which can help streamline our emergency responses and make them more efficient.
Digitalisation is not a distant, abstract goal of the future – it is an ongoing process that almost every PSAP is either doing or thinking about. In public safety, we recognise the value of time. Ultimately, the material benefit of digitalisation is to provide a more efficient emergency response.
You will often hear first responders say that ‘time is life’ – and this is true. When you arrive earlier and respond faster to an incident, it helps to save lives, saves the destruction of property, and reduces the negative impact on the community. For example, it can cost national highway authorities in some cases 1 million euros an hour to keep a highway shut due to a road traffic collision: it is easy to see the material cost benefit of providing a faster response, alongside the importance of the lives being saved.
Digitalisation also allows us to reduce human error, which inevitably plays a part in emergency response. Humans are not machines, and fatigue can contribute to vital pieces of data being recorded incorrectly or missed during emergency communications. By automating administrative tasks, responders can redirect their focus to the immediate needs of the situation. The reduction of paperwork not only saves time but also contributes to the safety of first responders—allowing them to extract as much contextual data as possible from any given incident, providing not only a quicker response, but a more informed one.
Where Can Digitalisation Help?
There is no doubt that digitalisation can help in every aspect of emergency response. However, there are several ways it can specifically benefit both incident command and PSAPs. As mentioned before, streamlining data sharing across services, incident command, control rooms, and call-takers significantly truncates response times, fostering efficiency and collaboration. In reality, PSAPs and emergency services may introduce new technologies as part of their response – such as drones or AI solutions – while other systems within their response are less modern. A focus on digitalisation as a strategy brings a certain amount of harmonisation to the overall work of the PSAP.
There are also examples of where digitalisation can provide even more useful contextual data. AI can provide real-time decision support in medical dispatch – including technology that acts as a virtual assistant for call-takers. In 2018, EENA & other organisations partnered to pilot this technology in emergency response centres in France and Italy.
The Potential Challenges
As with any new implementation, there are challenges to consider. A clear strategy is the cornerstone of successful digital adoption. The following concerns should be carefully considered when thinking about digitalisation:
Involving the end users: Active involvement of end-users in the development process, understanding their unique needs, and addressing resistance to change are paramount. If the solution being introduced doesn’t actively improve the call-taker or first responder’s actual work – why should they take the time to learn it and adapt to it? Involving the users throughout the process and developing a product based on their needs, alongside effective training, is key to the success of that product.
Strategize the end result: this intertwines with the previous point of involving the end users, but the product itself has to have a fixed and clear end goal in terms of what it needs to achieve. This not only helps the end user to understand conceptually how the technology benefits them, but it also helps the provider to develop a product that fulfils their needs. It is important to understand that digital products are not magic wands – by clearly outlining expectations, disappointments can be avoided.
Shifts in thinking: A shift in mindset towards digitalisation is imperative, coupled with strategic planning on what data to share and how it can be mutually beneficial to other services. It is good to receive more, and more accurate, data, but the success of these processes ultimately comes down to how the humans behind them will use the data for a more effective emergency response. A well-defined digital strategy and fostering an environment that encourages the integration of technology are essential to the success of any digitalisation process.
The Future for Digitalisation
Digitalisation is not just a buzzword, but a strategic move to redefine how we respond to emergencies. As technology continues to evolve, the opportunities for improving emergency response and ensuring the safety and well-being of our communities are boundless.
But ultimately, digitalisation involves putting the human first – considering what they need and how they can benefit from digitalisation. The ultimate question we should be considering is how the introduction of new technology can take away mundane tasks and allow humans to focus their time and attention on the tasks that benefit most from human consideration. For that, a human-focused strategy on harnessing data is necessary.
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