The job of managing and funding public safety organizations in cities and counties has become increasingly difficult in the last few years. First, the opioid crisis – which costs the United States an estimated $78.5 billion each year[i] – stretched public safety budgets and resources thin. Then COVID-19 hit, which required even more labor and financial resources to acquire supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE).
At the same time, organizations that offer medical services, including fire departments, saw demand spike and assets deplete almost overnight. In New York City alone, calls to 911 surged more than 30% during the early days of the pandemic.[ii] Public safety agencies across the country experienced a similar influx as COVID-19 cases spiked in their jurisdictions.[iii]
Cities and counties are still facing many of these same challenges today, with public safety budgets and personnel resources continually pushed to their limits. That is why many are starting to increase their technology investments.
Government Officials Report Big Cost Savings Due to Technology Upgrades
It might sound counterintuitive, but upgrading existing public safety mobile technology tools and implementing new radio frequency identification (RFID) technology can reduce long-term organizational expenditures and save taxpayers money.
According to Zebra’s recent study, The Future of Field Operations: A Look at the Public Safety Sector Through 2025, 45% of public safety agencies have already reduced operating costs by deploying mobile technology, and 79% expect to experience cost savings in the next year.[iv]
However, many public safety agencies currently rely on smartphone-like handheld devices that use the Windows Mobile or CE operating systems (OS), which are no longer supported by Microsoft. Since all software updates for these mobile OS versions have been discontinued, devices running the outdated OS are increasingly vulnerable to security breaches and software malfunctions that can put sensitive data at risk and severely impact productivity. Therefore, city and county officials should upgrade their handheld mobile technology to avoid the vulnerabilities associated with using an outdated OS.
Now is also the time to audit the performance and capabilities of tablets, laptops and mobile data terminals used in fleet vehicles or the field by first responders, inspectors and detectives. In many cases, a single rugged tablet or 2-in-1 can serve as both the mounted and mobile computer solution needed for dispatch and routing, reporting, geospatial information system (GIS) applications and more. Because of their larger displays, multiple data input options, SmartCard/CAC readers, powerful processors and full-version Windows and Android OS configurations, tablets offer the equivalent of a desktop computing experience to employees who are constantly on the go.
In other words, local governments that invest in modern technology tools purpose-built for first responders can realize significant operational efficiencies and cost savings.
However, ensuring a smooth migration to new technology requires government officials to evaluate a few crucial areas. They must first work with key departments, such as public safety, to understand where they might gain efficiencies and then select the right devices and software options. There is no one platform or form factor that will fully support all workflows, boost the productivity of all workers or stand up to the physical challenges imposed by different work environments.
Organizations must also consider user interface issues – for instance, whether a browser-based, Telnet/Terminal Emulation (TE) or an app interface meets their needs. A technology upgrade may also involve migrating the network architecture to improve the Wi-Fi system or deploying RFID sensors to track critical assets.
Better Inventory Management Equals $3,500 in Monthly Savings Per Fire Station
One technology upgrade that can deliver a fast payback and significant cost savings to municipalities and counties – particularly in public safety – involves automating the management of assets. By deploying an RFID system, fixed readers and Android-based handheld mobile devices, agencies can automate asset management and dramatically increase accuracy in tracking supplies, gear and medications. RFID helps reduce inventory out-of-stocks, overages and waste, which in turn help reduce acquisition costs.
When Florida’s Pasco County Fire Rescue realized its supply expenses were continually increasing, it contacted logistics professionals across the state to find a solution to the problem. After significant research, the agency decided to implement an RFID system in its emergency medical service (EMS) warehouse to better track inventory utilization, including a three-month supply of medications that requires close monitoring to avoid shrinkage.
The department realized enormous cost savings almost immediately. Implementing the RFID system provided better inventory control and saved Pasco County Fire Rescue $3,500 per month per station house on supplies.
Deploying the RFID inventory tracking solution also helped Pasco County Fire Rescue support its Clean Cabins program, which requires firefighters to change out of their contaminated gear and into clean gear before they get back on the fire truck to return to the station. As part of this initiative, Pasco County Fire Rescue’s bunker gear decontamination vehicle (Decon 1) carries over 150 sets of gear, and its warehouse stores another 200-300 sets of gear that can backfill the Decon 1 vehicle. PPE and other gear need to be tracked when it’s still in storage, when it’s being cleaned or repaired, and also when it’s decommissioned. Although these processes can be performed with barcodes, RFID has helped accelerate Pasco County’s inventory management and cleaning, as well as automate tracking.
How an Upgrade to RFID Can Help Reduce the Cost of Expired Meds
Pasco County is not the only public safety organization in Florida to benefit from an RFID asset management system. Bonita Springs Fire Control & Rescue District tracks thousands of assets – including 1,500 items costing more than $750 each – using RFID. The solution allowed Bonita Springs to turn closets into smart rooms where workers can quickly scan RFID-tagged items using RFID-enabled mobile computers to track quantities and expiration dates for medications.
These types of RFID systems are particularly beneficial in managing medication inventory. Government and public safety agencies use the data in the system to rotate medications as they approach their expiration date and sell them to organizations that have immediate needs, thus eliminating waste and recouping costs. In the case of Bonita Springs, implementing this process helped the District achieve a 100% return on investment within a year.
Of course, public safety departments aren’t the only ones that can benefit from technology upgrades that lead to better asset management. The reality is that multiple city and county agencies can use RFID and Android-based rugged mobile devices to track and manage assets ranging from school desks and microscopes to maintenance and garbage trucks. And such investments can effectively reduce the high cost of wasted inventory, regardless of the type or volume of assets being tracked. In some cases, a quick return on investment (ROI) helps free up money to fund new programs that benefit the public.[v]
[i] “Opioid Overdose Crisis” National Institute on Drug Abuse, Opioid Overdose Crisis. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
[ii]“911 dispatchers in New York City receiving more calls for coronavirus than for September 11 attacks,” CNBC, 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-new-york-city-911-dispatchers-more-calls-than-on-september-11-attacks/
[iii] “In COVID Hot Zones, Firefighters Now ‘Pump More Oxygen Than Water,’” KHN, 2021. https://khn.org/news/article/in-covid-hot-zones-firefighters-now-pump-more-oxygen-than-water/
[iv] “The Future of Field Operations: A Look at the Public Safety Sector Through 2025,” Zebra Technologies, 2020. https://www.zebra.com/content/dam/zebra_new_ia/en-us/solutions-verticals/vertical-solutions/government/vision-study/field-operations-report-public-safety-en-us.pdf
[v] Bonita Springs Firefighters Streamline Asset Management with RFID Solution, Zebra Technologies, June 2020, page 3, https://www.zebra.com/content/dam/zebra_new_ia/en-us/solutions-verticals/vertical-solutions/government/success-stories/government-success-story-bonita-springs-partner-en-us.pdf