cloud

Internet is Mission Critical

Alex Kharlamov
Director of Engineering at Mark43

Traditionally, the availability, security and speed of the internet connection at headquarters and other district locations is not high on a police department’s priority list. Law enforcement software systems such as the Records Management System (RMS) and Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) are historically deployed on premises and connected via a local network. This setup is problematic — highly inefficient, expensive and not secure:

  • Updating systems deployed on physical servers is a complicated process that takes a lot of time. As a result, updates are not performed frequently, exposing the police systems to security vulnerabilities.
  • High availability is difficult to set up and maintain — in case of a disaster, systems have to fall back on another physical data center, which has to be kept in sync with production servers.
  • Costs are usually very high, due to a large amount of servers that need to be configured and kept up to date.

To eliminate these problems, the growing trend is to deploy mission critical software systems in the cloud. Cloud deployments do not require significant hardware purchases or infrastructure changes, keeping costs down. Getting the latest updates with bug fixes and new features is a transparent and painless process. While patching a vulnerability on multiple servers could take a significant amount of time, it’s a near-instantaneous process in the cloud. And in the case of a disaster, automated failover at the data center (which should have multiple physical locations) keeps good cloud systems up and running; automated for on-premise systems is much more difficult and costly, and thus generally out of reach. The result of all this is that cloud deployments have very high uptime (Mark43’s RMS and CAD experience greater than 99.9% uptime).

The last point is of most importance: for any police department, mission critical systems such as RMS and CAD must remain up and accessible at all times. Traditionally, this meant spending heavily on infrastructure, maintenance, upgrades, and setting up redundancy systems for disaster recovery. But as mission critical systems move to the cloud, contingency strategies adapt. Where personnel, historically, needed to be onsite to accomplish the majority of their job, now more distributed operational models can drive down costs and improve the quality of service to communities. However, this transformation requires police IT departments to take one simple and inexpensive additional measure to dramatically increase the stability and reliability of their mission critical systems: improve their internet connection.

Police departments should treat internet as mission critical — at headquarters, substations, mobile data terminals (MDTs), and any other locations.

When external internet connections are properly configured and maintained, high speed and reliable performance is attainable. And performance and stability should only improve as innovators develop technology specifically tailored for law enforcement, like FirstNet, a national public safety broadband wireless network dedicated to first responders. States prone to natural disasters like Kansas are already making strides with 4G technology for E911 systems, with others soon to follow. Yet, when internet connectivity is treated as an afterthought, it becomes prone to failure. The result is that the remotely-hosted RMS or CAD may be up and running, but out of reach for dispatchers and first responders. How can this happen? Some departments select only the basic internet package from their Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and don’t take things like connection reliability, dead zones, or even wi-fi availability into account. The good news is this issue is much easier for the IT folks in the department to fix, leaving the difficult part — ensuring stability of the CAD and other systems — to the vendor. Police departments should treat internet as mission critical — at headquarters, substations, mobile data terminals (MDTs), and any other locations. The department’s internet setup needs to account for the following:

  • High-speed connectivity: Modern RMS, CAD, and other law enforcement systems consume a lot of bandwidth. Integrations with other systems eat up even more. At a medium size department, there could be up to 30 real-time third party integrations that all consume bandwidth. It’s absolutely crucial for the connection speed at the department to be as fast as possible.
  • Redundancy: Even the most reliable ISPs have outages, but your department cannot afford to have one. You’ll need to set up a backup internet connection (from a different ISP), and automatic failover system. If the main internet connection fails, the network should automatically connect to the backup source and continue functioning.
  • Wireless: A wired (ethernet) connection is just not enough anymore. Wi-fi connectivity is crucial for mobile law enforcement applications, such as Mark43’s Evidence Management solution.
  • Consistent coverage: When setting up the wireless connection, care should be taken to ensure there are no “dead zones” — i.e. places where wi-fi is unavailable (traditionally, evidence warehouses don’t have connectivity). Placement of the router matters, and installing signal amplifiers may be necessary.
  • MDT connectivity: When officers are responding to 911 calls and getting real-time updates from the dispatcher via CAD, internet speed becomes extremely important. If the MDT connection is spotty, first responders may have issues getting to their target locations on time. IT departments should make sure that internet connections in all MDTs are fast, secure, and reliable.
  • Security: While it’s important to have a wireless connection at the department, it does open an additional vector of attack. IT departments should make sure to secure the network against intrusion. WPA2 Enterprise is a good standard to follow.

Treating internet as mission critical dramatically increases reliability and accessibility of law enforcement software systems. By making a small investment to ensure that the connection is fast, reliable, and always on, police departments can eliminate a significant potential point of failure and allow first responders to focus on their priorities — keeping communities safe.