APCO Aims to Increase Public Safety Participation in App Development

September 5, 2014
Mark Reddish, Government Relations Associate at APCO
Mark Reddish, Government Relations Associate at APCO

Mark Reddish, who is the Government Relations Associate at APCO, has been a firefighter and EMT for six years. His on-the-job experience is valuable when advocating for the public safety community on policy and regulatory matters. It’s also a huge plus when it comes to the development of mobile applications for public safety, which is something that APCO has been active on as smartphones and other broadband-enabled devices are used more during response operations.

Mark’s field experience has helped him understand what makes an application useful for public safety. A key challenge, he says, is bridging the gap between the end users and the developers. "It's very important to get public safety professionals together with app developers," Mark said during a panel on public safety apps at APCO's 80th Annual Conference last month in New Orleans. "Developers need expertise. Public safety needs developers. We can do a better job together."

To keep current on application developments, Mark engages regularly with public safety professionals and developers about app-related issues. He’s also participated in app-focused events such as the White House Innovation for Disaster Response Demo Day and served as a judge for a public safety app hackathon in May. Mark says he’s been impressed with participants’ ability to develop useful applications in short periods of time, such as an augmented reality app that provides extraction diagrams for hybrid vehicles. He sees a lot of benefits for public safety participation in these type of events.

”FirstNet and apps will have a huge impact on public safety,” Mark tells FirstNet. “First responders will have access to new tools for training and better information during an emergency response; PSAPs will be able to coordinate resources more efficiently; and our communities will be safer. The key is getting public safety professionals engaged and leveraging their expertise to ensure apps are effective.”

Mark says APCO will continue to hold a number of events to create opportunities for the public safety community to engage in the application development process. The association’s Application Community – AppComm.org – includes more than 180 sortable apps and serves as a resource for those interested in learning more about apps and getting involved with APCO’s efforts. For example, APCO’s Key Attributes of Effective Apps for Public Safety and Emergency Response identifies several considerations that may require the expertise from multiple stakeholders to properly address, such as security.

Earlier this year APCO held a workshop with FirstNet and the Department of Commerce on mobile application security requirements. The event brought together public safety practitioners, mobile application developers, industry experts, and government officials. Attendees identified initial security requirements for public safety apps based on their professional experience and subject matter expertise. FirstNet and APCO have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate on apps.

“We’ve always envisioned that initiatives like AppComm would complement and support FirstNet’s work with apps,” Mark tells FirstNet. “I’m looking forward to future collaboration and building upon the success of the app security workshop.”

The app security workshop was also a hot topic during a session at APCO’s annual conference. Called “Identifying Public Safety Security Requirements for Mobile Apps,” the APCO panel included Michael Ogata, who is a Computer Scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He talked about situational-based authentication for apps, including the direct impact that authentication has on usability. NIST has drafted a report describing the workshop and capturing input received from attendees that is open for public comment until September 13 – "Public Safety Mobile Application Security Requirements Workshop Summary.”

Michael says that fostering synergy between app developers and public safety before the deployment of FirstNet is vital to the early adoption and efficacy of the network. “Only by having this discussion now can we prepare developers for the domain specific requirements FirstNet users will have,” he says. “And these discussions really work! Through my work with APCO and various public safety centric Hackathons, I’ve seen the great and fruitful dialog that can happen between developers and public safety."

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