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The need for smarter emergency vehicles

Emergency response vehicles – police cars, ambulances and fire trucks – are, of course, a smart idea. The lights and sirens tell us to move over as they speed to complete their mission. By appearance, they are also quite smart. They are bristling with communications. Police cruisers are often outfitted to accelerate and speed beyond the capability of the cars you and I own, and fire trucks and ambulances are specialized and engineering marvels.

But are they indeed smart? To begin with, they belong to different agencies, with different procurement practices, levels of funding and sophistication. Often their radio communication systems are proprietary with no guarantee of interoperability. In the USA, until the advent of Next Generation 9-1-1, their dispatchers will receive emergency notification by voice only. No data streams. No digital images. So they don’t necessarily begin their missions smart and well informed.

These vehicles also present a great many devices for their drivers. Emergency responders – often operating under high stress and workload – must cope with a myriad of potentially complicated inputs and outputs. This endangers the operators, because no matter how cat-like their reflexes, they are really a specifically trained version of you and me: a driver who can get distracted and tired and therefore a driver who can crash when distracted from driving.

At issue, really, is that public safety and first responders are by and large not able to take advantage of advances in telematics. They don’t benefit from the nearly ubiquitous digital communications of near real-time information, which provides the rest of us with personal mobility. And they are not mainstreamed in alluring future concepts of cooperative systems and the concomitant safety, mobility and environmental benefits.

It can be argued that of all participants and stakeholders in telematics, emergency responders need to receive the full benefit the most. A prime example that may even have affected your commute to work today is that incidents or crashes cause congestion. An emergency crew would have responded to injuries. Then a road operator crew – working in coordination with the emergency responder – would have had to clear the incident. Until they completed their task, you were stuck in traffic. Undoubtedly your boss wasn’t pleased.

Funding for this community is piecemeal. Moreover, public safety is a relatively small market, with intermittent local purchases de rigueur. National and international standards for interoperability would help. Spectrum allocation could help. Widespread awareness and a set of helping hands from those of us who are part of the smart car ecosystem, from the gamut
of policy makers to technology and system developers, will certainly help. Therefore I hope this column will pique each reader to consider how such a helping hand could be individually or collectively offered, then extend it to the public safety and emergency response community, who are in dire need of their own smart vehicles and systems.

 

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