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How to buy fire mobile data products

By Jarret Winkelman
Incident Response Technologies

The addition of computers as standard equipment in police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances has introduced a new realm to public safety — mobile data. It provides increased situational awareness and safety that is often taken for granted. Just think back a few years to when dispatch could not look at their screen and watch your vehicle move in real time. How much safer are you when you call for help today? If you have not yet taken the leap into the mobile data realm, or you are preparing to update your equipment, take a moment to think about the following tips.

1) Software
Before you shell out the big bucks on fancy computers and mounting equipment for your vehicles, it would be wise to first consider how they will be used. What software will you run? How will it benefit or improve your services? Computers look fancy, but without software, they just take up space in your vehicles and your budget. I know of one agency in particular that purchased computers with the assistance of grant funding, but less than two years later discarded the machines because they never got any use. They had purchased the computers based on the availability of grant funds, not because they had a specific use or software application in mind.

2) Networking

In order to use most mobile data applications, you will need to have access to the internet or an internal network (such as a VPN). The specifics here are much too complicated and lengthy to discuss in this article, but the take away point is to know what will be required to run the software. Perhaps no connection is needed at all, or perhaps you will be spending even more money on building and maintaining large internal networks.

3) Hardware
Now it is time to look at the hardware that will run the mobile data solution. Anytime you will be mounting computers in a vehicle, or using them in an incident command or mobile setting, you should strongly consider purchasing only rugged computers. Several companies offer these pricey, but essential, units. The industry standard is to test rugged computers to the MIL-STD-810F standards. Some companies, like Panasonic, have begun certifying their products to the new MIL-STD-810G standards.

Be sure to investigate what, if any, accessories you should include at the time you purchase the computers. Check with the software vendor to see if integrated broadband cards, GPS, cameras, smartcard readers, or other accessories would be of use.

With the proper planning and preparation, mobile data can greatly increase safety for everyone at your agency. Just be sure to do your homework and ensure that the solution you are getting is what you need and expect.

  • Any other suggestions? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or e-mail with your feedback.

Jarret Winkelman is an owner and regional sales director at Incident Response Technologies, LLC. IRT provides affordable administrative, scheduling, training, and incident management solutions to public safety agencies. Mr. Winkelman currently serves as the assistant chief of a volunteer EMS agency and has diverse experience in the search and rescue, fire and EMS fields.