New tools for everyday heroes

The new communications technology that's reaching the hands of first responders is nothing short of dazzling. It is common today for police cruisers to be outfitted with notebook PCs and video cameras, but the new standard will be wireless connectivity. The ability to beam images, along with voice and other data, from the scene of an incident back to a command center and vice versa will become commonplace in the coming years.

A District of Columbia government official demonstrated a scenario at a recent Washington Technology Solutions Series breakfast forum on wireless technology.

In part of the demo, police detain a suspect, photograph him and send the photo to another officer who shows it, via a handheld device, to a witness.

That's just one application; it's not hard to imagine others such as firefighters downloading floor plans, or sending photographs to a structural engineer to get advice on how best to enter a partially collapsed building. The list could go on.

As Ethan Butterfield tells us in his cover story, these networks and communications systems are a good business opportunity for systems integrators.

Spending by state and local government on first-responder IT is expected to grow by 7.2 percent annually through 2010, when spending is expected to reach $9.4 billion. The federal government is helping to push this along with grants and other funds.

For traditional defense companies such as General Dynamics Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., there is an opportunity to take lessons learned building sophisticated command and control systems for the military and apply them to local governments.

The trend also is a way to put powerful tools into the hands of those who need them most: firefighters, police officers, paramedics ? heroes all ? who rush to the scene of a disaster.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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