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November 19, 2010

Out of the Classroom

Long Beach (Calif.) Police Department Cmdr. Cynthia Renaud began her law enforcement career 20 years ago, long before cruisers were equipped with laptop computers and other technological tools common to modern policing.
During the interceding years she has witnessed a transformation of the profession thanks to technology.
She used that perspective in her course paper for the Technology and Homeland Security, “Technology Applications for Achieving a Common Operating Picture.”
Part of Renaud’s conclusion is that technology vendors and end users should communicate frequently to ensure that the goals of using the technology are realized.

1) The purpose of the research was to examine technology tools that could help create and foster situational awareness as quickly as possible, Renaud said.
“During a big event with multiple agencies, probably the most challenging thing is to determine how the command post can take in information, sift through it to see what is pertinent, and send out orders to first responders,” she added.
Renaud considered the benefits and disadvantages of her department’s system WebEOC. This commonly used provides all the forms needed to comply with the National Incident Management System as well as maps, global positioning systems and the ability to track assets. Also, first-responders can utilize instant messaging for quicker communication than may be possible through radios or telephones. And, the city can add customized information features to the system.
However, commissioning a proprietary version of the software poses challenges in some cases. That version is more secure than a web-based version of the software, but it cannot communicate with other agencies as would be necessary during a large-scale event. Also, a limited number of people in city government are able to administer the software
Fortunately, Los Angeles County employed a web-based version of the software and that system can be shared with other agencies, Renaud said. This web-based system enables shared communications, but the disadvantage is that Los Angeles County loses control over who can input or alter information into the system.
Another system the Long Beach Police Department uses is the more versatile Los Angeles Regional Common Operational Picture (LARCOPP), which is a mobile system that provides the same type of incident command tools. The disadvantage is Renaud discovered, is that this system is not user-friendly and requires a great deal of training, whereas WebEOC can be taught quickly.
2) Communication among technology developers and end users, such as first responders, is critical to making new technology useful, Renaud said.
Better communication between web developers and the Long Beach Police Department could have resulted in a more versatile version of WebEOC, for example.
“It’s not technology, it’s the people behind it,” Renaud said. “It still comes down to people.”
3) Long Beach police continue to use the city’s proprietary computer system for incidents within its jurisdiction and are able to use Los Angeles County’s web-based system to communicate during multi-jurisdiction events.
The department also continues using the LARCOPP system.