This is an AI, what's your emergency?

Complex emergencies are getting far too complex for human dispatchers to coordinate, so AI/ML is the new norm.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

First responders have been busier than usual in 2020, but it's not just the seemingly escalating quantity of emergencies that's been difficult. In the grips of a pandemic, and with natural calamities ranging from fires in the west to devastating hurricanes in the east, the complexity of emergencies is growing, as has had the likelihood of fatal mistakes.

For first responders and dispatchers, this often means allocating resources and initiating relief actions without a full picture of the consequences or a full understanding of the risks involved.

Artificial Intelligence, advanced statistics, and machine learning can help untangle the dynamic variables of complex emergencies, and increasingly emergency dispatch and coordination is relying on these technologies to unify municipal and state response services.

A company called Hexagon, which is now working with several government agencies around the world, recently unveiled what it calls Smart Advisor, a system that mines operational data in real-time to fill blind spots and alert agencies to the potential onset of complex emergencies. A power grid failure during a heat wave in fire season can easily turn a relatively straightforward natural disaster into a complex emergency that requires coordination across multiple agencies and demands a careful consideration of available resources. Because interlocking events like these accelerate quickly and balloon in complexity, it's difficult or impossible for human operators to adequately manage them. Disjointed agencies can even work at cross purposes without precise coordination.

"Complex emergencies can be devastating to communities and can greatly impact public safety agencies' capacity and performance," said Jack Williams, strategic product manager for Hexagon's Safety & Infrastructure division. "The faster public safety agencies can detect and respond to complex events, the better they can contain the effects." 

Germany's Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate recently selected Hexagon's computer-aided dispatch and mobile public safety solutions to support state police, fire, and EMS agencies. The move to a unified system is meant to enhance collaboration and communication across agencies, enabling greater efficiency in response to more than 6,000 calls for service per day.

"More than 4 million citizens depend on our state's police, fire and emergency medical technicians," said Ralf Steinbrink, detective superintendent of the Rhineland-Palatinate state police and head the Central Command & Control Center Infrastructure program. "Hexagon's fully integrated solutions will enable us to better collaborate and optimize our service to citizens."

With states and municipalities suffering or expecting severe budget cuts due to lost tax revenue associated with COVID-19, the need to deploy resources efficiently is only growing. AI/ML may help where the need is greatest, the vital emergency response services that feel more a part of everyday life than ever.

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