first responder

The vital link between innovation and first responder wellbeing

Speaking at an industry event for the critical communications sector in Kuala Lumpur last year, Motorola Solution’s Senior VP of Technology, Paul Steinberg, used a notable expression to describe the working life of a first responder as being “..long hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror”.

While that adage is often used in relation to war and military service, it also aptly describes what first responders have to face on a regular (if not daily) basis.

Law enforcement officers, fire fighters and paramedics are among frontliners who arrive first on the scene of an emergency.

This requires them to be in top condition, not only physically but mentally, so they can respond effectively during life-threatening events.

The importance of managing stress and pressure

Research has found that moments of high emotional stress and intensity can impair our abilities to process critical information. (‘High velocity human factors: Factoring the human being into future police technology’, Moin Rahman, 25 February 2008)

First responders often find themselves in extreme, life threatening conditions when they need to make split-second decisions under significant pressure. The technology and tools they use on the job on need to be designed in a way that takes that into account and alleviates the burdens they already face.

Additionally, their mental health and well-being is often overlooked. Mental illness is recognised by the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) as the second most prevalent health issue after heart disease, but it is an illness that is often left untreated because of fear and stigma.

Those who protect us and our communities need to be able to seek help and treatment without fear of being judged. As public expectations continue to rise that our emergency services will protect us from new threats, the pressure and stress on first responders will only continue to rise.

For example, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, local law enforcement (and other frontliners) are expected to ensure social distancing among citizens while also having to protect themselves against the highly contagious virus.

High Velocity Human Factor (HVHF)

One of the best weapons an emergency responder has is the ability to make smart decisions under great pressure. Therefore, every tool they use on the job should be robustly designed to withstand the rigours of whatever they may face.

To achieve this, critical communications company Motorola Solutions, places its technology designers and engineers alongside first responders. The company has observed the way that police, fire and other emergency services manage their workflows and interact with technology all over the world. (1)

In doing so, the company has gained insights that it uses to develop products that work  reliably and safely, even in the most extreme of conditions.

For example, expecting a firefighter to operate a small handheld mobile device while wearing thick rubber gloves in a smoke-filled room is obviously impractical and a potential safety risk. However, a firefighter working in the same conditions could intuitively locate the emergency button on a two-way radio designed by Motorola Solutions simply by running a hand down the aerial.

With a single press of that button, a first responder would trigger an alarm to advise their teammates back in the control room that something is wrong. In the event that a first responder is incapacitated, a control room worker could also listen remotely to whatever is happening in the first responder’s immediate environment to gather vital clues about what went wrong.

This helps to increase situational awareness for rescue teams managing emergencies as they unfold, with control room workers providing “eyes and ears” over the scene.

AI and video

Emergency and public safety response teams also need visual information to respond and resolve incidents more safely and proactively.

Imagine the search for a missing child at a busy train terminal. Strategically placed security cameras around the terminal could stream video footage back to a command centre where personnel could urgently look for a 3-year old girl with pigtails in a pink sweater, from a dozen of  monitors.

Using a technology called Appearance Search (from Avigilon, a video company that Motorola Solutions acquired) a control room operator could quickly sift through hours of video footage to find a clear image of that missing girl.

Powered by AI, this software helps control room operators rapidly filter through CCTV footage, presenting a set of results which the operator can check and verify. The smarts of machine learning come into play here too, with AI effectively learning from the human operator about which set of presented results are accurate and which ones are not. Used this way, AI does not replace the role of human decision making but rather supports people in making better, faster and more accurate decisions.


Country President of Motorola Solutions Malaysia, Datuk Mohd Rauf Nasir has stated, “the safety of first responders has always been a major concern,” adding that working closely with public safety agencies in Malaysia, has highlighted the need for intelligent applications to enable them to work with their “eyes up and hands free”.

With the strong correlation between first responders’ personal safety and their mental health, innovative technologies may not only help them to work more effectively, but could have a bigger impact in their overall well-being.


(1) ‘High velocity human factors: Factoring the human being into future police technology’, Moin Rahman, 25 February 2008