Public safety agencies rely on data for nearly every aspect of their operation. It is common to associate data with functions such as a records management system (RMS), computer aided dispatching (CAD), and mobile computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software technology. However, an organization’s finances, purchases/supplies, fleet maintenance, human resources, and a host of other components also depend on proper data management.
Data has become such a growing commodity, the feasibility of its management can exceed the capabilities of an organization’s on-site servers and hardware. Cloud-based systems that are being adapted by first responders and private companies, like law enforcement or emergency medical services (EMS), are increasingly proving to provide solutions to data storage and management issues. Once thought of as a futuristic concept, cloud-based solutions like public safety cloud demonstrate the efficiency and security of this now modern technology.
Cloud Storage Based on Organizational Needs
Digital storage capacity should never cause an agency to compromise its effectiveness. Information is a form of currency with regard to its value to an organization’s ability to accomplish its mission. As such, limitations on maintaining information can certainly be counterproductive. Many may remember being told by someone in their agency to clear out some of their old computer files to make room for new information. Still, others may experience a pop-up window indicating there is no more storage available on their computer, even when it is part of a network server.
So, what happens to that old data? In the past, it was often deleted or stored on an external device with little to no organization. A drawer or box full of thumb drives is not an effective backup system. Cloud-based data management helps alleviate the guessing process. It is no longer necessary to decide which pieces of information are important enough to be retained and what can be deleted to make room; a dangerous scenario if the guess is wrong and valuable data is lost.
Instead, the use of mobile cloud-based solutions allows agencies to easily and economically expand their storage needs. The volume of data an organization manages is destined to grow as technology improves. A customizable storage plan including a cloud-based solution should be a part of every agency’s operational planning process.
As an example of data expansion, consider the growth of video used in modern law enforcement. A few decades ago, dash-cam video was literally stored on VHS tape in the trunk of a patrol car. Today, agencies often use multiple high definition cameras in their patrol vehicles in addition to body cameras, building security cameras, and traffic cameras. Add the social media and public relations videos many police departments use in their community outreach and it is easy to see a VHS tape will no longer meet the demand. Cloud-based storage expands as the data volume increases without the need to purchase additional hardware.
Security and the Cloud
Law enforcement agencies are in the business of protecting the communities they serve. Logic dictates part of those protections extend to the data with which these agencies are entrusted. Through the use of AWS GovCloud and SSL encryption, cloud-based data storage offers a far superior level of security than traditional on-site servers. The following four examples reveal the ability of cloud-based technology to meet many of the security needs of public safety agencies:
- Much of the data held, accessed, or transmitted by a law enforcement agency falls under the protection of Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS). Established at the federal level, CJIS aims to ensure criminal justice information is secure from the time it is created until its lifecycle has ended. Strict protocols are in place which requires any organization handling criminal justice information to do so in compliance with a series of security dispatch requirements. A cloud-based data management system that meets these requirements earns the distinction of being CJIS compliant.
- Not unlike CJIS, there are also federal level protections relating to medical information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), serves as a means to ensure one’s medical information is not only private and protected from unauthorized disclosure, but secure from both nefarious and accidental release. Many public safety agencies have medical information in their databases which could be protected by HIPAA regulations. Cloud-based storage which is HIPAA complaint adds the benefit of information protection with the advantages of expandable and secure cloud technology.
- Many public safety agencies seek the benefits of accreditation in the pursuit of meeting a set of industry-approved standards. To be accredited, an organization must demonstrate compliance with policy guidance directives, often under the scrutiny of external assessors. Nearly all state, national, and international accrediting bodies require compliance with high levels of data security. These requirements are also extended to cloud-based records management systems as the accreditation process recognizes the value of this growing technology.
- Cybersecurity is an ever-growing concern for organizations that manage data. Too often, media outlets report on an agency whose data was breached and made inaccessible. Sometimes referred to as ransomware, computer hackers essentially hold an organization’s data hostage and demand payment for its release. Systems that are housed in on-site servers, even those with built-in back-up, can be particularly susceptible to ransomware attacks. Cloud-based technology includes off-site storage in highly secure facilities. The systems are backed-up in several equally secure but distant facilities helping to protect against these types of attacks.
Cloud-based Systems Reduce On-Site Issues in Data Management
In addition to the advantage previously noted regarding security, cloud-based systems do not require the same number of I.T. personnel as an on-site system. The reduction in hardware and server maintenance also means fewer outages and downtime. Maintenance of systems functioning in the cloud happens behind the scenes and does not affect the user. These benefits also reduce the chance of unscheduled outages due to natural disasters or similar events. For instance, a hurricane can easily disable an on-site server, even with a back-up system. Cloud-based technology, on the other hand, uses multiple back-up locations and provides uninterrupted services regardless of weather conditions or other catastrophic incidents.