A Smarter Approach to Public Safety

The job of a public safety employee never ends. First responders don’t have the luxury of clocking out at 5 p.m. Threats to public safety can happen at any given hour, and officers must always be alert and ready. Keeping citizens safe is a top priority for public safety officers, regardless the time of day.

With new technology and changes in society’s norms, security professionals are faced with diverse and emerging security obstacles. Anything from a “flash mob” – where a large group of people spontaneously break out in a public choreographed dance routine – to a stick up at a local cornerstone, public safety concerns have the potential to endanger myriad individuals.

Fortunately, there is a lot of data available to help public safety employees track events and potential dangers. Security cameras, social media and real-time video feeds provide a mammoth amount of data that provide police, fire and medical responders with information.

However, nearly 80 percent of that data is unstructured, making it difficult to analyze and put to proper use. Garnering inaccurate conclusions from data can cause public safety employees to misread clues, miss important details and fail to respond properly to threats.

That’s why IBM argues it is time to take a smarter approach to public safety.

In their executive report, IBM offers a comprehensive, hierarchical approach to data analysis to arm public safety employees with the information they need to rapidly and properly respond to threats. This strategy includes five competencies that act as layers on a pyramid – each level is productive on its own, but is most beneficial when employed alongside the other pieces. Here is IBM’s 5-tiered approach to public safety:

  1. Access to relevant data – This is the first step to a comprehensive safety strategy. Identify existing data and make sure it is accessible and readable. Focus on collating and streamlining data between departments and transferring data into digital formats.
  2. Integrated, trusted information – Next, don’t be afraid to think outside the box with your data sources. “Integrate content from disparate sources and systems to create a trusted information base,” IBM recommends. Bringing in all types of data from diverse sources takes analysis to a new level and reveals unique insights.
  3. Responder operational insight – Having the proper information is key, but it’s not useful if it’s not in the hands of those on the frontlines. Integrate technology to promote rapid responder decisions. IBM recommends automated reporting systems for personnel to spend more time in the community, and less time at the desk.
  4. Proactive planning and decision-making – Opening your agency’s data encourages community-wide and proactive decision-making. “Combined with tools and techniques that can project trends and predict outcomes,” said IBM, “an agency can be more effective in strategic planning, allocating resources and responding to incidents.”
  5. Unified threat assessment and response – Finally, bring all of the data and resources into a centralized location. It is important to pool data across departments to develop a comprehensive preparedness strategy. IBM recommends establishing a command center to manage all of the data and create full situational awareness.

Employing these competencies can streamline and strengthen public safety agencies’ operations. A 2011 IBM survey indicated that 21 percent of respondents saw improved officer safety and 22 percent improved organizational image when implementing smarter public safety and security mechanisms.

One example is from the city of Madrid, Spain. Madrid witnessed a dramatic reduction in emergency response time when they implemented an integrated command center approach. After the commuter train bombings in 2004, “the city combined information from video feeds, field reports and mobile computers to create a real-time view of events across the city,” IBM reported. As a result, there has been a 25 percent reduction in response time.

Keeping the public safe is a paramount concern for government. With an overwhelming amount of data informing response and preparedness efforts, it’s important that public safety agencies employ a comprehensive strategy. IBM’s focused and integrative streamlines the analysis process and arms public safety employees with the tool, tactics and intelligence they need to keep our citizens safe.


The IBM Analytics Solution Center (ASC) is part of a network of global analytics centers that provides clients with the analytics expertise to help them solve their toughest business problems. Check out their Analytics to Outcomes group on GovLoop.

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