Since 9/11, the government has made “significant progress” in emergency communications, said Greg Schaffer, the acting deputy undersecretary of the Homeland Security Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate.
But the next step of emergency communications will have to include smartphone-like capabilities and probably partnerships with the private sector, Schaffer said.
For the past 50 years, first-responders and law enforcement officials have relied on land mobile devices, like walkie talkies. In an emergency event — like this week’s earthquake — the two-way radio is reliable, especially as cell phone networks become overtaxed.
These devices, however, are expensive and do not have the “data capability that the average college student has on a smartphone,” Schaffer said. For example, emergency responders cannot take and send photos and video of a scene from their communication devices.
Tapping into the private sector market could save money for agencies, allowing government to take advantage of the economies of scale, he said.