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COVID-19 pandemic accelerates demand for public safety technology

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

An expansive global study conducted by Dr. Chris Brauer of Goldsmiths, University of London for Motorola Solutions, found that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand and adoption of technology to provide safety.

The Consensus for Change report published on 28 September 2021 is based upon results of surveys of 12,000 citizens and interviews with 50 public safety agencies, commercial organisations and industry experts across 10 geographic markets – namely Australia, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Nordics, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United States.

It analyses how the global COVID-19 pandemic heightened awareness of the need for technology to enhance public safety while accelerating innovation and technology adoption for emergency services and enterprises around the world.

“The pandemic fuelled the need to use technologies in different ways to address new challenges within a rapidly evolving environment,” said Mahesh Saptharishi, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Motorola Solutions. “We also saw an accelerated adoption and modernisation of technologies with significantly compressed implementation timelines. This research profiles the extraordinary ways that public safety and enterprise organisations continue to adapt to changing policies and needs.”

The study finds that an overwhelming 88% of citizens globally want to see public safety transformed through the use of advanced technology. For Malaysia this figure is 83%.

Other major findings include:

  • 71% say advanced technologies, such as video cameras, data analytics, cybersecurity and the cloud, are needed to address challenges of the modern world. (78% for Malaysia).
  • 70% say emergency services should be able to predict risk, a task that can be supported by advanced technologies. (70% for Malaysia).
  • 75% say that they are willing to trust the organisations that hold their information so long as they use it appropriately. (71% for Malaysia).
  • 68% say technology could be improved if citizens can have a say in how it is used. (70% for Malaysia).
  • This includes Citizens being able to help make our cities safer – for example, by being able to submit pictures or video footage of risks to police directly from their smartphones.

The research identifies three major trends that demonstrate an inflection point in how citizens and organisations are thinking about technology and safety.

1. The Pandemic Redefined Expectations for Safety

Dr. Brauer said that conducting the study against the backdrop of the global pandemic uncovered unique insights into public expectations and attitudes for safety.

“Citizens all over the world are coming to terms with what it means to live with COVID-19 and how it impacts their safety,” Dr. Brauer said. “Our shared experience of the pandemic has made us realize that technology can play a far greater role in keeping us safe and has increased our understanding of why public safety and enterprise organisations need it to respond to new threats.”

2. The Pandemic Accelerated Technology Innovation

The report highlights how the pandemic sparked high-velocity innovation for public safety agencies and businesses, especially in the areas of cloud adoption, video security and interoperability between disparate organisations and systems, while reconfirming the need for reliable and resilient mission-critical communications.

3. Technology Must be Used in Fair, Transparent and Inclusive Ways

The report also reinforces the need for transparency and trust to increase public support for technology deployments. Citizens want the benefits of technology to be easily understood and for it to be used in ways that are transparent, fair and inclusive.

The research also identifies that more public engagement is needed to increase understanding of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI). Only 52% of respondents say they would trust AI to analyse situations of threat.

“As technology continues to quickly evolve, it is critical for organisations to ensure that their advancements are built, and understood, to be human-centric,” Saptharishi said.

“For example, artificial intelligence should be designed in a way that respects human decision making and considers the public’s input and needs, while allowing users to make better informed decisions and respond to complex threats. By designing advanced technologies to be assistive, we ensure that the decision-making remains the sole responsibility of humans,” Saptharishi added.

The research will greatly help public safety agencies and enterprises to understand and apply lessons from the pandemic, which has highlighted the need to look at things and respond differently.

These differences include new ways to assess risks and better predict areas of operational disruption, to evaluate and integrate the right technologies to support business continuity.

It has also reinforced the need for better communication and collaboration with communities and among stakeholders to secure support for the expanded use of advanced technologies.

These include the creation of seamless interoperability between different agencies’ public safety communications, monitoring and computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems across multiple public safety agencies to enable greater visibility and coordination to manage different emergency response teams.

As communities across the globe continue to respond to wide-reaching threats to our safety, these insights emphasise the steps they can take today to assure greater safety for the future.

A Malaysian enterprise in focus

More particularly in Malaysia, the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRT) uses video and software technology to detect when someone with an elevated temperature approaches the station entrance gate. The technology allows MRT to stop a passenger before boarding a train, potentially avoiding a serious safety risk and highlighting how crucial technology has become during this pandemic.

“Having that capability highlights just how crucial technology has become during this pandemic. Our technology speeds up the way we provide safety and has improved our operation on a daily basis. New technologies have made it possible for staff to call an ambulance right away if a major incident occurs,” said Mohammad Shazleigh Omar, MRT Head of Section, Telecommunication Systems (Asset Operations and Management Department).

The Challenge

Before the pandemic MRT had begun using technology systems to help improve safety standards and support the development of its major civil construction projects for rail. When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, MRT also needed to limit the spread of the virus while ensuring social distancing practices were being maintained to protect passengers and staff.

The Solution

MRT has integrated a number of technologies to increase its safety and efficiency. It installed fixed video cameras on every train and station. Digital radios keep staff connected to instant team-based communication and data, providing fast access to incident details whenever needed.

MRT also has a modern command-and-control platform that enhances its capabilities for incident handling and evidence gathering for successful case investigations and resolutions. Enhanced solutions such as body worn cameras for security personnel further improve security monitoring and safety for passengers during an incident, further increasing confidence among passengers commuting on MRT.

The Benefits

The new system has streamlined the process of identifying and responding to potential security and safety threats. It has also made evidence gathering faster and more efficient through video analytics built directly into the cameras.

With video analytics software capable of measuring a person’s temperature, anyone at risk of spreading viruses can be refused access to the MRT network.

Malaysian attitudes to safety and technology

Malaysia is one of the world’s most digitally connected societies. With its strong technology and engineering talent base it is also a research and development hub for many global organisations. Malaysians too are quite open to innovation and the use of new technologies when the benefits are made clear. However, 17% of citizens are “pragmatists”. They are not advocates of change and need to be persuaded that new technology will achieve its goals while protecting citizens’ privacy.

In some respects, Malaysians — of all the markets surveyed by the research team — are the most open to the use of new technologies in public safety. In Malaysia, 78% of respondents said that advanced technologies, including video and data analytics, were required to address public safety challenges in the modern world.

Managed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) is the country’s primary police force. It is one organisation that uses a variety of technologies to maintain public safety.

This includes secure, nationwide digitally encrypted voice communications and command centre software to manage and coordinate its emergency response and resources. The police agency is also investing in video technologies including drones for threat prevention at the country’s border areas to curb intrusion, smuggling and cross-border crime.

It also plans to deploy body-worn video technology to help maintain safety and transparency in interactions between its frontline officers and the public.

In Malaysia, 70% of respondents say they’re comfortable with safety technology being deployed in society. Other significant findings from the research include:

  • 74% agree COVID-19 has increased the need for public safety agencies to access communication technology.
  • 75% are open to technologies that benefit public safety.
  • 73% believe integrating fast and flexible systems will improve public safety.
  • 68% agree that emergency services have a greater impact with technology.
  • 71% say they need to be able to trust organisations that hold information about them.

Malaysian survey respondents included “catalysts” (42%) and “advocates” (41%). Many people in Malaysian society believe public safety can be provided without compromising privacy.

To read the executive summary or the full report, visit www.motorolasolutions.com/consensusforchange