Video Applications in Public Safety
Saturday, October 15, 2011
By Vince Siragusa
With terms like interoperability, collaboration, and standardization saturating the pages of guidance documents across the funding landscape, there is often an associated focus on supporting initiatives that, for lack of a better term, make sense. For many communities across the county, rural and urban alike, utilizing video conferencing to support various public safety-related needs will fit that broad requirement.
Identifying examples of how education-based community anchor institutions have leveraged video conferencing solutions is certainly not a difficult task. The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) aptly named Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program (DLT) alone has enabled thousands of facilities to utilize video technology allowing students in remote locations to experience the same quality of education as their peers in more traditional settings. Along the same lines, healthcare organizations have in their own right been employing this technology to support telehealth and telehomecare-based initiatives, whether through DLT’s support or through a more healthcare-centric program like the Telehealth Network Grant Program or the Telehealth Resource Center Grant Program.
DLT grants, similar to most USDA offerings, establish a “rural threshold” for their eligibility by targeting jurisdictions under 20,000 in population. By geographic characteristics alone, these areas have been deemed “rural” and with that designation comes the recognition that someone living in rural Montana may not have the same onsite education or healthcare options as one residing in New York City. In this case, geographic isolation serves as one of the main determinants in identifying a particular need for distance learning or telehealth-based deployment and support.
Of course the unique needs geography presents are not limited to education and healthcare. Many of the same benefits of video conferencing technology can be applied in the public safety/homeland security realm. Moreover, despite the relative lack of funding that has been dispensed to these remote areas, they can benefit greatly from the implantation of these types of technologies.
Since the early advent of videophones, the public safety and judicial system have always been tempted by the promise of cost and time savings offered by videoconferencing technologies. The initial start-up costs for a videoconferencing system are undoubtedly substantial but cost-benefit analysis shows that these costs are quickly offset by, among other things, the savings in transportation and other training redundancies. These efficiencies are often magnified the more remote the area is. Time spent traveling to and from a training session, arraignment hearings, etc. generally comes at the expense of the alternative job duty that is not chosen, and getting around rural areas often requires more travel time because of the sheer distance between facilities.
Perhaps as grant-friendly as any benefit, video conferencing solutions help facilitate communication by making it easier and much more efficient for various groups, whether based on geographic or other disparities, to improve information-sharing but also to standardize the information and training that is shared. While educational strategies like train-the-trainer and hands-on-training will never be without merit, a hybrid approach to training our nation’s first responders, judges, emergency management officials and other service providers makes sense when we can incorporate the best of both worlds.
When seeking funds for a mission as broad as information-sharing, a number of key programs will likely show up in your grant team’s prospect list. For those involved in the public safety, the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) remains one of the more obvious programs to target. Addressing a variety of public safety needs, the JAG program can in fact fund video surveillance in a police cruiser, and in the same way it can support video conferencing or tele-arraignment in a local court or judicial environment. But the fact that decisions about how to spend the money are usually made at the local level, champions for these types of technology enhancements usually need to advocate for their own needs early and often under this DOJ program’s support process. And it is never too early to start. Interested agencies should be working now to further explore the potential uses and support available under the anticipated Fiscal Year 2012 JAG offering.
Other federal opportunities to consider include the funding available through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Visit the Responder Knowledge Base (www.rkb.us) and under the Interoperable Communications Equipment Section you will find “video conferencing” described as an eligible expense for programs including the Emergency Management Performance Grants, State Homeland Security Grant Program, Urban Areas Security Initiative and others. Interested applicants should be working with their local/regional level decision makers, in conjunction with their State Administrate Agency (SAA), to target ongoing DHS grant money. See www.fema.gov/government/grant/saa/index.shtm for additional SAA information.
Additionally, for the community anchor institutions operating in rural areas and towns of up to 20,000 people, the USDA’s Community Facilities Grant Program may be another promising option for a video communication project. While these federal funds can be used to construct, enlarge, or improve community facilities, awards are also comprehensive enough to cover the purchase of equipment required for a facility's operation. Contact your local USDA field office (www.rurdev.usda.gov/recd_map.html) for additional information.
As we continue down the line of a nationwide approach to security preparedness, maintaining regional collaborations, memorandums of understanding, and standard operating procedures will become more and more relevant in our heavily inter-dependent world - a world that requires us all to play a role in ensuring we have the tools, training, and awareness necessary to keep our nation and communities as secure as possible.