It’s Time for Public Safety to Embrace the Cloud

Today, many companies are turning to cloud-based computing to increase their capacity and capabilities, or to add services on demand, without the downside of expensive infrastructure costs and higher support staff headcount.

While companies are embracing the cloud in record numbers, for the most part, Public Safety agencies have historically shied away from hosted solutions that put control in the hands of outside entities. But as budgets contract and demand for IT services expands, the Public Safety sector is beginning to take a serious look at the benefits of cloud-based computing. Whether in the form of hosted solutions, shared regional networks, or secure servers, the cost and efficiencies of such solutions simply can’t be overlooked.

Public Safety must keep pace with today’s rapidly changing technology landscape. We have to balance our fear of the cloud with a respect for its power, and its ability to help us do more with less. I believe the key for Public Safety is to weigh our need to control critical work/applications with judicious use of the cloud for less-critical applications such as data storage that excludes non criminal justice information. Storage of audio/video recordings, or archived documents are examples of the information that could be stored in the cloud.  

The biggest benefit to cloud computing is sharing resources. Rather than having each entity deploy its own very costly dedicated hardware and provide support for that hardware, cloud computing allows resources to be shared, greatly reducing hardware and support costs. However Public Safety entities are historically apprehensive about migrating to the cloud due to lack of direct control over the hardware repairs and maintenance. The best way to allay those concerns is with a well-orchestrated service level agreement (SLA). The SLA must clearly define the quality of service, priorities, responsibilities, guarantees, and warranties.

Another way to reduce cloud computing anxiety is to ensure the service provider is able to demonstrate a network redundancy strategy. For example, how would they deal with an equipment failure within the network resulting in a sudden and unexpected stoppage? For most companies, the time, effort, and costs associated with recovery and repairs after a sudden outage are significant. Ensuring that the service runs smoothly and uninterrupted is critical to the bottom line, especially in Public Safety. Therefore, the customer must ensure that the service provider demonstrates that the network redundancy has a quick-response backup system. The goal of network redundancy is to mitigate the risk of unplanned outages and ensure continuity of operation by instantly responding to and reducing the effects of a point of failure anywhere along the critical data path.

Finally, the Public Safety IT organization must take nothing for granted. They must pay as much attention to provider agreements and work with their legal departments to develop contracts that guarantee the architecture and infrastructure they plan to move to the cloud is as secure as the applications and hardware they control in their own internal physical environment. The person developing the contract must work with the product end user to ensure the contract will meet the expectations of the end user. This can only be accomplished by open dialogue and communication with the user and their legal department. 

Lisa Hoffmann is a Deputy Director for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, where she has led the Emergency Communications Division since August 2007. Hoffmann has more than 29 years of public safety emergency communications experience. Hoffmann served seven terms as an elected member of the Board of the California Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (CALNENA), serving as the President in 2007. Hoffmann has also served as a Director on the board of the Northern California Chapter of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). She is currently an active Governor’s appointee to the California 9-1-1 Advisory Board as the APCO representative for NAPCO and CPRA. She recently participated in a panel on “Hosted Solutions for Public Safety” at the national APCO Conference. The panel was moderated by Richard Juth, the Statewide Communications Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and also featured speakers from Solacom, INdigital telecom, and NICE. 

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