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How to buy wireless communications

By Bob Smith
APCO International Director of Strategic Development

Wireless communications includes equipment ranging from personal digital assistants (PDA) and smart phones to pagers and push-to-talk telephony. The equipment in this category comprises some of the most current and up-to-date technological advances today. Public safety will need to consider many things when seeking to purchase any of these latest and greatest items in communications.

When purchasing wireless communications devices for public safety use, agencies should determine whether potential equipment meets their needs. Infrastructure and support technology of many publicly available wireless devices does not meet the needs of public safety when it comes to durability and redundancy. Towers, transmission lines and even back-up power for non-public safety systems many times do not meet the stringent needs of public safety. This means when your wireless device is most needed (i.e. disasters, large-scale emergencies, etc.) they may not be available. Agencies should closely scrutinize the infrastructure behind the equipment prior to purchase.

Durability and Usability
Just like any other type of communications equipment used by public safety, wireless communications devices should be durable and reliable. That means weather/waterproof, safe for use in hazardous environments and as impact resistant as possible. Furthermore the devices should be easy to access and operate by field users. This means easy-to-read displays for low-light conditions, easy-access buttons and controls for gloved hands and simple operations for use during extreme situations.

More than any other category the items that fall into the wireless communications category are some of the most up-to-date and cutting-edge tools available on the market today. While public safety should not hesitate to make use of these tools and this ever-evolving technology, potential purchases should come with a thorough evaluation of each and every component of the equipment being considered. Doing so will ensure the agency is providing the highest level of service possible to the communities it serves.

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Bob Smith is the Director of Strategic Development at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International. His almost two decades in public safety includes rising through the ranks from firefighter/EMT to captain of the department’s hazardous materials response and through the ranks of public safety communications from telecommunicator to county 9-1-1 Director. Along the way, he's been actively involved in emergency management on the state and local levels, served as a nationally registered EMT, a College Campus Safety Officer, an EPA-certified hazardous materials technician and a liaison to the US Secret Service and US Capitol Police. A world-renowned lecturer and subject matter expert in the public safety arena and author of "Active Shooter Incidents for Public Safety Communications," "The Telecommunicator’s Role in Homeland Security" and other public safety-oriented texts, Bob has been featured in interviews with NBC, ABC News, USA News and the Associated Press among others.

APCO International is the world's largest organization dedicated to public safety communications. More than 15,000 members rely on APCO for their professional needs – from examining standards and issues to providing education, products and services. It is a member-driven association of communications professionals that provides leadership, influences public safety communications decisions of government and industry, promotes professional development, and, fosters the development and use of technology for the benefit of the public. Its subsidiaries include the APCO Institute, Automated Frequency Coordination and the Public Safety Foundation of America.

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