Tech upgrades for first responders are a necessity, not a luxury

Public safety professionals want technology upgrades and adoption of federal standards for first responder IT security, reporting and efficiency, according to Mark43.

first responders cyberattacks concerns

“We heard a resounding response from first responders across the country: They are concerned about their public safety agency’s ability to withstand cyberattacks and natural disasters, given the ever-increasing number and severity of bad actors attacking public infrastructure as well as the uptick in extreme weather incidents,” said Matthew Polega, President, Mark43.

“Public safety professionals made it clear that they need access to modernized systems — like cloud-native CAD and RMS — to improve the security and resilience of their agencies, so they can respond faster to community members in need. Our 2024 report shows that technology plays a central role in everything a public safety agency does,” added Polega.

First responders face growing concerns amidst cybersecurity surge

The ever-increasing number, severity and cost of cyberattacks is reflected in the concerns and experiences of first responders. 82% worry that their organization’s data could be stolen or fall victim to ransomware, a 6% increase over the 2023 survey, showing a need for enhanced security like cloud-based computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and records management systems (RMS).

91% of first responders have experienced cybersecurity-related issues in the past year like phishing, scam calls and malware attacks. Scam calls and malware/viruses are now the leading cybersecurity concern for first responders, overtaking phishing from last year’s survey.

92% of first responders also are somewhat or very concerned about how their agencies would handle a tactical response to cyberattacks or physical attacks at large-scale events like sports games, concerts and conventions.

Natural disasters, grid failures raise alarms

The vast majority of first responders are also very concerned about the impact of natural disasters and power grid failures on their agencies, with 84% reporting that such events can overwhelm public safety agencies and impact the service they deliver to their community.

Alarmingly, 96% would be somewhat or very concerned if on-site mission-critical servers that are used in on-premises systems were in a location in the path of a hurricane or other major weather event.

67% of first responders have experienced dispatch outages, and 88% have experienced other IT malfunctions. 84% of first responders using computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems have experienced a CAD outage that impacted response times, including over a 35% who experience CAD outages six to 10 times per year.

75% of first responders reported that inefficient IT systems cause outages, delays and other malfunctions. This is an increase of 8% over a similar survey last year. Seconds matter in emergency response and can impact lifesaving services for those in need.

First responders also lay out solutions for the cybersecurity, disaster recovery and dispatch outage concerns and problems they report, including their top three: more accurate reporting (52%), increased efficiency (51%) and increased data security (51%), all of which are easily attainable with modern cloud-native systems.

93% believe the general public would feel better if their local public safety agencies were required to adhere to federal cybersecurity standards, like FedRAMP, which mandates a premier and standardized approach to security and risk assessment for cloud technologies.

Public safety agencies scale up data collection amid tech boom

Driven by new technology and increases in federal, state, and local compliance requirements, public safety agencies have been collecting more data of varying types in recent years. Capturing, analyzing, and disseminating this data in thoughtful ways is essential to building and maintaining community trust and advancing public safety goals. However, determining how to effectively share this data can be challenging.

In 2024 leading agencies will develop ways to break down information silos and coordinate their systems and data to inform decision-making and effective crime fighting. These efforts will include:

  • Building trust through data transparency efforts.
  • Using modern technology to enable data and system interoperability.

“As we approach 2024, first responders expect public safety agencies to use modern technology solutions that are resilient and reliable so they can focus on keeping their communities safe,” Polega said. “In 2024, we will see leading public safety agencies prioritize security and resilience to support critical decision-making, better allocate resources, and ultimately, serve their communities even more effectively.”

In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of mobile applications by public safety agencies. Technology advances have made it easier to take first responders’ workflows off laptops and mobile data terminals (MDT) and onto their mobile devices. As a result, the ability of first responders to use handheld devices is becoming less of an added benefit for agencies and rather a necessity.

The current generation of incoming first responders are digital natives who grew up with technology and are accustomed to using their mobile devices as their primary way of interacting with the world. Public safety agencies are entering a time when the new generation of members coming on to the job interact with technology in a fundamentally different way than those who came before them.

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