Leadership in an era of smarter public safety

Leadership in an era of smarter public safety

We live in a networked world. Now we need to build the intelligent infrastructure to support it.

Picture a line of fire engines, police cars and other governmental and non-governmental services arriving at the scene of a bushfire. It is a moments in public safety when communication between first responders is key.

Yet astoundingly in many cases in Australia, these parties, which often include the police, fire brigade (metro and country services), power authorities, Parks and Wildlife, State Emergency Services (SES) and more, can’t even talk to one another on how to best respond. It’s because many of the departments operate with incompatible radio and communication platforms which can’t communicate with each other. Moreover, the operational command systems and databases back at headquarters aren’t linked. What should be a seamless emergency response system is instead a jumble of disconnection.

This used to be the status quo. Thankfully, with the advent of smarter public safety solutions, it is changing fast. Cities and towns around the nation, and the globe, are starting to harness the power derived from analytics fed by sensors, global positioning systems, cameras, radio frequency tags and integrated communications to make more intelligent decisions. In the case of a bushfire, this means a frontline fire-fighter can engage police, natural resources, water bomber aircraft and other resources they need to in an instant to protect citizens and bring the fire under control.

As analytical programs mine the incoming data, public safety officials can instruct local state, federal and non-government authorities on how to protect citizens and property and keep them safe. Incident command and control have the ability to re-route, resources, traffic and people without creating gridlock, panic or confusion and further protect homes, flora and fauna from damage.

Emergency response plans that used to be heavily reliant on estimates can now be based on data and science and shared between government and non-government agencies as required.

This vast and grand transformation from industrial-age living to smarter existence requires more than just technological innovations; it also requires a new brand of leadership. A smarter leadership.

It’s a style of leadership that looks nothing like the kind most of us are used to. The age of organisational hierarchy is dying, and in its place, a networked, boundary-less system is rising. It is perfect for fighting bushfires where it’s critical that public and private emergency response organisations can communicate quickly and seamlessly. Therefore, leadership is no longer wielding power. It is about inspiring influence and building coalitions.

This vast and grand transformation requires more than just technological innovations; it also requires a new brand of leadership.

It is not a brand of leadership that everyone is good at. The new leadership hinges on divergent thinking — admitting all players, all points of view. Executives with linear, logical approaches to problem solving, who avoid those with different views, will not thrive.

The core competencies of the smart leader are different, too. Issuing orders is no longer the game. Building trust is. Moreover, success is as much about deciding what to do as in knowing what to measure — both for today’s mandate and tomorrow’s vision.

When it comes to re-engineering public safety systems, one of the chief tasks of the smart leader is to get stakeholders who have sometimes seen themselves as adversaries to begin working together as teammates. For example, leaders need to recognise it no longer makes sense for police and fire departments to operate in isolation in emergency situations. Instead, leaders (state and federal) should allocate budgets that provide for a coalition to respond together instead of individually.

How do leaders create these kinds of bridges and build these kinds of collaborative relationships? They can begin by using the data they have at hand intelligently. With the insights that the new analytics provides, leaders can demonstrate gaps that need to be closed and concentrate on building collaborative solutions. Once a leader is able to establish new collaboration among these groups, more data can yield yet more common ground. And so on until a virtuous loop is created. The police, fire departments and other parties mentioned earlier, for example, are convinced by the facts that an interconnected, interdependent relationship will benefit them both. They begin sharing operational information and infrastructure, securely on a need to know basis, allowing seamless planning, response and recovery to all manner of emergencies.

Clearly revamping public safety is hardly limited to the fire and police agencies. To make a city and public safety system smart, leaders must now build the right set of agreements between communities, government officials, legislatures, volunteers, citizens, and businesses.

Typically, these groups have been disjointed despite their best efforts. The work of the smart leader is to build the kind of communications networks and trust that will enable them to function as a social network.

We live in a networked world. But now we need to build the intelligent infrastructure to support it. It is up to our leaders, to adopt new mindsets, new approaches, and new operating systems, to guide the work of making our nation smarter—and safer. In the end, it all comes down to saving lives. And when it comes to leadership, what could be more important?

Sean Dolkens is Industry Solutions Executive, Software Group, IBM Australia

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