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Hidden Reserve Of Public Safety Skills

Jeff Frazier & Norman Jacknis, Cisco IBSG

Protection is a public service and one that can only effectively be carried out with the support and consent — and participation — of the people.  We’ve read stories about how Twitter played a key role in responding to wildfires or iPhone applications show a community map of registered sex offenders and crime areas.

But in public safety, especially, there is a unique source of participants – one that is especially important in these days of tighter state/local budgets. In California, for example, there are nearly 190,000 sworn active public safety officers (police and fire).  However, there are nearly a million retired and former officers.  This represents, on average, nearly 15 million years of skills and experience walking the streets.  This population of people never lost their purpose or their desire to contribute — they just ran out of time!

How can we harness this trusted population? A local government could create an “opt-in” network of these experienced citizens.  Typically, public safety training records are centralized through a central state body.  A database comparison of the records can be matched against the ‘opt-in’ application.

Once accepted, the officer will receive instantaneous alerts on his cell phone, based on its GPS location, about reported problems.  When a problem is reported, the public safety dispatcher would have the ability to examine a geo-spatial screen and discover how many people are in a particular area and who best to solicit or notify.

Governments across the country should enable this skilled population to support public safety problem-solving, in order to identify, recognize, and address problems much faster.

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Telegraph vs. Internet: Which Had Greater Impact?

2012 is the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  You may remember just two things about this period from your high school history class.  First, in an act of ignominy for the Americans, the British burned down the capital.  Second, the war ended with the resounding defeat of the British by the heroic General Andrew Jackson in January 1815, in what was the war’s only set-piece battle between the opposing sides.  Jackson eventually rode this victory into the Presidency.

There is only one problem with this battle.  It took place after the war was over.  The previous month, in Europe, the two sides had agreed to peace.  But in those days, communications was so slow that word of the peace didn’t reach New Orleans until February 1815.

Fast forward, approximately forty-eight years later, to the Civil War.  In the period between these two wars, in 1831, Morse thought up the idea for the electronic telegraph.  The Union Army had mastered its quick deployment, so that in 1863 while sitting in Washington, President Lincoln could read almost real time reports from the battlefields many miles away.

book cover

This was a dramatic increase in the speed of communications.  Not all that many decades later, telegraph lines and cables would unite the world.  Yet this did not fundamentally change the way people worked or lived or governed themselves.

So consider 2011, when the US Navy Seals got Osama Bin Laden.  There was a tweet about helicopters within several minutes, but the author didn’t know why the helicopters were nearby.  The first tweet with some confirmation came about forty-five minutes before President Obama made his announcement.

Now think back about forty-eight years before to November 22, 1963 and the assassination of President John Kennedy.  The news was out quickly all over television and radio and newspapers.  Walter Cronkite famously told the viewers of CBS News that the President had died thirty-eight minutes before.

Unlike the 19th century examples, there was no dramatic speed up in the reporting of these two more recent events separated by roughly forty-eight years.  While we may have more sources of information in more places now than in 1963, word doesn’t get out all that much faster.  You could argue that the Telegraph had a greater impact on communications than the Internet.

Yet many of us have the feeling that our world has been changed by this communications.  Why is that?

I think it has to do with the changing nature of the work we do.  In the mid-19th century, more than three quarters of Americans made things or grew food.  In 2011, less than a quarter do so and the rest of us provide services — and increasingly intangible services, including ideas, knowledge, entertainment and the like which is delivered digitally.  Because better digital communications directly speeds up the delivery of these services, we see the impact more.  It’s the increasing availability of high quality communications, in conjunction with these significant socio-economic trends, which will continue to change our lives.

Please share with us how you’ve seen the confluence of these two trends? Reply here and visit the Cisco Public Sector Customer Connection Community.

[picture credit for Battle of New Orleans http://www.frenchcreoles.com/battnozz.jpg]

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