Disasters have been very much in the news of late, from the massive hurricanes that swept across the US, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, to those closer to home, such as the devastating Knysna fire and the recent Durban floods.
One key difference between the disasters in the US and those in South Africa, however, has been the far greater exposure to risk here at home. The loss of life and property experienced during these local incidents clearly outlines the importance of having advanced mission-critical technologies that can play a significant role in mitigation of such calamities.
It's more important than ever for emergency services, police and other role players to be able to respond in a timely fashion when such catastrophes occur, according to Rose Moyo, Southern Africa Enterprise Wireless Network Solution Sales Director at Huawei. In this way, damage to property and loss of life can be minimised.
"In the mitigation phase, the Emergency Management Services (EMS) will be able to ensure evacuation or take proactive measures, prior to the event. In the second phase, it is all about reaction during the actual event. In both of these phases, real-time , secure communication between EMS members is absolutely critical," she says.
"This is where 'push to talk' technology can be extremely valuable, as it offers a closed network where the various EMS specialists are able to coordinate operations and work together to ensure smooth management of any disaster."
Of course, adds Moyo, in today's digitised world, truly effective disaster management and coordination will require not only voice communications, but also access to video and data. Obviously, having access to information about - for example - wind speed and direction would be vital in managing a fire. This highlights the importance of the Internet of things and the data generated by it in modern emergency management.
"This means that today, any decent EMS system is required to not just be 'push to talk', but rather more along the lines of 'push to X', where X also encompasses data and video. It's vital to focus on delivering an open platform that will allow the various platforms and solutions used by the different branches of EMS to integrate with one other."
"Moreover, because it is open, it also allows for legacy systems like Tetra to be integrated as well. By creating a platform that integrates new and old technologies properly, we enable voice to be transmitted seamlessly. In addition, the platform allows fourth generation mission-critical technology, such as video and data, to be available to responders in real time, as and when they need it," she explains.
Moyo points out that there are three key enablers for the delivery of next-generation emergency management. The first is the provision of a mobile broadband platform that enables the transmission of the enormous amounts of information currently available, over a closed network. The second is the necessity for storing and using this data securely, and the third enabler is advanced analytics, to ensure that the right information is provided at the right time, to the right EMS responder.
"While at the present moment we do not have a network like this in place in South Africa, progress is being made in implementing such solutions elsewhere in Africa. Most notably, we're working with the various security agencies in Kenya to put in place a network that can assist them in fighting both crime and terrorism in the region."
"The beauty of this is that I believe the work we are doing in Kenya can serve as an ideal blueprint. It can demonstrate to South Africa how such an open network can be overlaid and implemented, to significantly improve emergency and critical communications and responses when it comes to handling a wide variety of emergencies and disasters," concludes Moyo.