Co-authored with Dani Schrakamp

As we move along with in #GovernmentNow blog series, we look at the scope of what public health and safety mean in today’s context of continuous change.

Today, seemingly overnight, all of us have been forced to confront change – change in the way we work, the way we learn, the way we heal and the way we live. And, with all of these changes, we have also had to (re)consider the role of government. In many instances, the meaning of public safety, health and security must be revisited and in some cases, revised.

‘Public safety’ is defined as a function of the government that ensures the protection and welfare of the general public, and is traditionally associated with law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services. However, the scope of public safety has clearly expanded beyond these areas. Now, this narrative encompasses a new series of threats that could jeopardize the core definitions and associations that form our approach to good governance as well as the overall well-being of the people that our governments protect and serve.

What are some of the unique challenges we face today, and how can public safety evolve to safeguard public health? Let’s take a look.

Beyond physical safety

Technology development has and will continue to feed various human factors that influence societal health and safety. As public safety expands beyond the traditional role of police and response to crime, we see the once clearly delineated separations between physical and digital security begin to blend.

Our lives increasingly exist online, making cyber-crime an explosive new business seeking to exploit this growth. The risk of compromised sensitive data imperils the public good. And, the unfortunate reality is that government is the biggest target.

As we digitalize public services in areas such as education, healthcare, transportation and utilities, there is growing concern over the vulnerability to cyberattacks. Particularly when you consider the ramifications of secure workforce continuity and resiliency in critical infrastructure industries. In fact, according to the 2019 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Cybersecurity Survey, 74% of healthcare organizations reported experiencing a significant security incident.

With this in mind, as cyber threats constantly evolve and attempt more sophisticated attacks in the public sphere, the concept of public safety must address the cybersecurity challenge. At Cisco, our mission is to be the trusted partner to help our customers secure what’s now and what’s next. We’re reimagining what’s possible by prioritizing security in all that we do.

Image of city street with emergency response vehicle and cyber secure endpoints

Beyond mobility

The principle of moving people and goods sounds simple. Even so, managing the complexities of transportation ecosystems, the realities of changing population demographics, the respective geographical and infrastructure needs, the demand to go green, the process of making mobility more accessible and much more are all shaping what could be argued as one of the greatest challenges of the current generation.

As the world around us changes, often inexplicably and without any sense of consideration, we must find a way to balance growth and the protection of public safety and health.

In the world’s top 10 cities with the worst traffic, drivers can often suffer through 53% to 71% of extra travel time. While that time sitting in your car or on the bus could mean catching up on that podcast you love, it also brings detrimental effects in the form of pollution, safety incidents and lost productivity.

For example, as a result of traffic congestion alone, it is estimated to cost €60 billion in healthcare each year in Europe. The World Health Organization refers to air pollution as the “greatest environmental risk to health”, estimating that 4.2 million premature deaths occur each year from diseases caused by air pollution.

With the right urban mobility technology, we can improve routes for commuters, and by leveraging the growing amounts of data available to transportation organizations, we can help identify patterns, reduce delays that cause congestion and remedy issues of safety. Also, as new technologies and global circumstance eclipse the declining cost of distance, we can see that secure connectivity and digital access will redefine physical transportation. A lingering effect of today’s world will leave behind a combination of telework, cloud-based collaboration and remote engagements that will give rise to a broader scope of public services that better serve the health and well-being of people and the economy.

Beyond reactive, to proactive

In response to this shifting landscape, vast amounts of data incite a paradigm shift that will be used to drive micro and macro changes. Innumerable, interoperable data sets will allow us to truly sense what’s happening, to make enlightened decisions at critical junctures instead of responding only after calamity occurs.

90% of global natural disasters are water related. But what if we could take proactive measures that would minimize this kind of danger to safety and public health?  Like building a secure, modernized network as an investment to develop resiliency, readiness and system capacity to secure critical water utility infrastructure.

Data will undoubtedly be a catalyst for change. Something to fuel continuous learning and growth. And with this, we can empower government leaders and our communities to remain hyper-vigilant in the sustainability of social, economic, physical, and mental well-being.

Link to more information of transformative solutions

The bridge to possible

Health and safety matter. When all is said and done, nothing is more important. And while technology is undeniably pivotal in the ability to help improve well-being, at Cisco, we recognize that it’s the people that dedicate their lives to protect and heal us that play the most important role. To those heroes, we thank you. Today, and every day.

Defining the future of our public health and safety is essential, particularly in a constantly changing world. As the scope of threats, challenges and opportunities continue to evolve, we must embrace a new paradigm. One that is centered on a vision of proactive intervention, sustainable well-being and overall healthier, safer, happier people.

Between vulnerability and prosperity, there’s a bridge.

We’d love to hear what you think. Comment below. Share your thoughts. Join the conversation. And keep an eye out for our next #GovernmentNow post.

#GovernmentNow series map that shows today's and next week's upcoming post


Clarence Barboza

Director, Public Sector

Sales, Asia-Pacific, Japan and China