Wednesday, August 27, 2014

FirstNet: Reaping the Benefits of the "Broadband" by Aligning it with Social and Human Factors

The First Responder Network Authority, a.k.a., #FirstNet is certainly a "First" in more than one way. In addition to serving as a Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) for First Responders, it is also a "First" in terms of its potential for bridging the gulf between public safety socio-technical systems (organizations) and citizens at-large through a variety of Social Media and communication platforms (operating on 4G LTE networks with smart phones, tablets, wearable devices, and the like serving as end-user devices).
The traditional model for communication between citizens and first responder organizations, which is currently constrained by legacy systems, needs to be taken to the next level into a new era, made possible by FirstNet. This is to realize communication and computing "utilities" and widgets that are citizen-centered, public safety-focused and community service oriented solutions. For example imagine the following possibilities: 
  1. Consider the utilization of distributed computing, smart analytics and intelligent sensors (citizens included, citizens as sensors!) assets that are endowed with the capability to "pull" the right first responder assets to the site of the incident even before a formal voice call is made to 911 to a PSAP (public safety answering point)
  2. Enable the first responders develop a veridical mental model of the different aspects of the situation (e.g., chemical spill; bodily harm; natural disaster) so that they rightly equip and approach the situation
  3. Facilitate the development of situation awareness (Perception, Cognition and Projection of the Unfolding event, its non-equilibrium dynamics, potential for harm) so that the First Responder team and commander can employ "naturalistic decision making" to develop strategies on the fly as to how to respond and contain it; etc.
Last but not least, Social Media-like platforms can also be employed by exploiting the "broadband" of the PSBN within and among public safety agencies with the goal of enabling human and organizational interoperability; overcoming fragmentation and compartmentalization of data, records, and (human expertise) institutional memory. So that they can be either tapped into -- or intelligently "pushed" to -- the public safety personnel at any given time. The beneficiaries may range from a first responder at the tactical edge or sharp end of the system to command in the backend of the system.

New developments such as Cloud Computing and Data transmission at broadband speeds alone will not suffice if they are not aligned with social and human factors of citizens and first responders. The imperative here is to identify "Data" that is relevant to the emergency situation (i.e., non-normal and abnormal situations) thus turning it into actionable "Information" and, then, processing and presenting that information in a form that can be comprehended -- i.e., turned into "Knowledge" -- by all cognitive agents (humans / first responders to AI/Computing systems) in the system. This may involve developing novel transcoding techniques to developing human-machine learning systems that complement each other, leverage their respective cognitive computing strengths (perceptual vs. conceptual gist), and, thus, acting as a force-multiplier at the tactical-edge and society at-large.
To summarize, how the "Broadband's" extraordinary potential is harnessed to deliver utility to human and machine assets is contingent on understanding the interactions and coupling between them. An understanding of this requires performing cognitive ethnography in the field -- city streets to the fireground -- and applying both classical human factors and high velocity human factors (HVHF) to design intuitive user- and cognitive interfaces between first responders and their radios, computing and data devices. So that the power and speed of state of the art computing and communication technologies (wearables to cockpit interfaces to cloud computing to Internet of Things) are delivered to first responders' 'proverbial' finger tips and minds in cognitively digestible "chunks, volumes and velocities" -- in other words, in a highly intuitive format even when first responders don't have enough human (cognitive) bandwidth of their own to interact with technology due to high workload, stress triggered by a high stakes situation or imminent danger or situational impairment (smoke, water, debris in the environment) or due to personal injury.

In closing, First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is one of the best ever challenges yet to the critical communication industry to up its game where its rate of innovation has been pretty flat compared to the goings-on in the world of consumer technology. FirstNet behooves the mission critical industry to develop new paradigms and breakthrough innovations in partnership with first responders to both predict as well as react when it comes to protecting the life & limb of citizens in particular and the precious intellectual, cultural and material wealth of free nations at-large.

The author, Moin Rahmanis a Principal Scientist at HVHF Sciences, LLC
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