Internet connectivity for ambulances and the police

The desire for progress is something intrinsic to human beings, both at the individual level and collectively speaking. So, when the Government of Guyana makes certain pronouncements such as telling of plans to make online access to public services possible, the response by the general public is usually positive.

Similarly, in the same vein of progress in information technology, the Government Information News Agency (GINA) recently reported that government vehicles will soon be outfitted with internet connectivity. The vehicles involved would include police vehicles and ambulances and the report went on to say that the “initiative would provide police officers and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) with critical information at a faster rate and in most cases, save lives, while providing a better service.”

All this sounds very good, and seems like the kind of progress that we should all be rooting for, especially as it targets improvements in two critically important government agencies, that is, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the ambulance services of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). However, the difficulty becomes apparent as we look past the sweeping statement of purpose and look for information providing details and substance as to how the equipping of emergency vehicles in particular with internet capability will result in saving lives or any significant benefits to the public at large.

Starting with the GPF, it would be difficult to expect that this agency, which is yet to inspire any confidence in the general public with respect to its management of the 911 emergency phone line, could handle the technologically superior burden of having mobile police patrols communicate via computers and the internet with the central computer database, garnering up-to-date and accurate information across a range of platforms.

There are paramedics or Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) available now who can be summoned to an accident scene or to a home, school or anywhere someone might be in dire need of urgent medical attention. However, since Minister of State Joseph Harmon’s announcement in 2016 that the government was expanding its EMT service, there has been no real public update of the progress being made in this regard approximately one year later.

If a functioning team of EMTs is deployed to an accident site, the next question will of necessity relate to the level of computerisation that currently exists at the GPHC, and indeed all the other  hospitals as well. How is data collected and stored regarding patients, doctors and whatever other information an EMT might need to have access to while at the scene of an accident or any other medical emergency?

If it seems that the government is putting the cart before the horse with respect to its announcement of the outfitting of government vehicles with internet capability – and we may assume laptop computers or mobile digital terminals (MDTs) – then maybe it is. In the field of information technology, information must first be inputted as data, compiled into usable formats, kept up to date and then made accessible in the format in which it is most useful. Making the information accessible on a mobile platform is the last stage of the process, and we are not convinced that the GPF and GPHC are quite ready for this particular stage.

What seems missing from the GINA report is any statement on the need for government to enhance the capacity of the data collection and storage systems, dissemination protocols, and internet security and protection from hacking in the organisations whose computer systems will now be accessible from these specially equipped vehicles.

The primary benefit that is supposed to derive from this advancement with respect to the GPF and the GPHC is the saving of lives and an improvement in the delivery of protective and medical services, respectively. However, having a vehicle equipped as a glorified mobile smart phone is not going to be sufficient to automatically return the benefits envisioned.

The GINA report has not made it clear whether our police cars and ambulances are to be equipped with MDTs or laptops, but since we may assume that this will be the case, the real focus immediately shifts to the quality of the data in the central database and the applications that will enhance remote access capabilities without putting such data at risk of being compromised.

This issue also puts in focus the personnel that will be entrusted with the use of such equipment and the skills training that they would have benefited from so as to make them capable of best utilising the technology and information in the manner intended for the benefit of the public.

Progress is indeed desirable, but it can only be achieved via a structured development process, making sure all the parts complement the whole.

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