Those who know me, even in passing, generally realize that I'm interested in technology. Probably because this is so well known, I am often asked to serve on advisory groups, committees, and such when the issue at hand is technological. In reality, my reputation exceeds me, but nevertheless, it has stuck.
This week, two meetings on matters technological caused me to think. The first was a rather informal get together at the Lancaster County Emergency Operations Center. This one was intended as a demonstration for those in attendance of some of the web-based applications we have, both public and internal, that assist in managing critical incidents. The second was a meeting of the FirstNet Working Group, which I was drafted to chair. FirstNet is a nationwide initiative to deploy a secure, interoperable, public safety broadband communications network.
Both of these meetings made me think about how much we rely on technology these days, and to reflect on our capabilities, in public safety, of continuing to function smoothly when the technology is not available or is crippled by a castastrophe. The catastrophe might be as small as a power outage, or as large as a tornado. How would we do without our web maps, field reporting systems, instant messaging, remote monitoring, and so forth?
There is a risk in our dependence on technology that we will lose important skills that we will most need on the worst day. Every public safety agency ought to have a continuity-of-operations plan of some sort, and ought to exercise from time to time, so they do not lose their ability to function in a disconnected world with no cell phone, no Internet connection, and no Google.
As my pal Sgt. (Ret) Mike Siefkes always said, "A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity." Technology can be helpful and very valuable, but we should try to avoid a situation where it becomes so critical as to constitute a necessity. We need to refresh our recollection, now and then, that a patient can still be treated, a crime investigated, a fire suppressed, an evil-doer arrested, without an MDC, WLAN, PCR, MACH, NCIC, PDMS, or any other alphabet soup.
Heck, there was a time when you could actually drive to an unfamiliar address without GPS. Be sure you still can. By the way, once you unfold this, you will never be able to make it look like this again.