University of California Davis, Police Department 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Unit

New trends and contracting opportunities related to public safety all seem to revolve around technology and construction. Thousands of immediate contracting opportunities exist, and they may be found throughout the country at every jurisdictional level of government.

Citizens expect to be protected from crime, weather, traffic hazards, fire, and every type of disaster. Taxpayers demand safe schools, clean water, well-lit streets, and convenient health-care facilities. With budgets stretched to the limit, public officials are scrambling to find ways to enhance every aspect of public safety and deliver citizen services.

Most emergency events involve 911 calls, and it is easy for such calls to overwhelm dispatchers. As a way to respond more effectively, most large cities have 311 networks for citizen requests for assistance that do not relate to life-threatening emergencies. Even so, dispatchers and first responders struggle with outdated technology and equipment.

The 311 networks allow citizens to contact authorities about water leaks, school safety, road issues, traffic signal problems, abandoned vehicles, or other issues. But, as more people use 311, the immediate impediment again is the volume of calls as well as the method of routing calls efficiently to government authorities tasked with responding. Most 311 networks throughout the country need upgrading. Los Angeles’ 2020 proposed budget includes spending millions to improve dispatch reliability and more effective communications related to public safety.

Georgia, Mississippi, and Utah have initiated pilot projects to implement voice-activated digital assistants for quicker response to public safety calls. Cities are moving to new cloud-based 311 systems, installing call center software, and capturing huge amounts of data to be used for future planning efforts. The city of Chicago just announced an overhaul of its public-facing 311 systems, and numerous other cities have also announced upgrade plans.

Big ticket technology opportunities have been even more abundant since President Trump issued an executive order mandating the use of biometric verification of all individuals crossing U.S. borders. That order also requires the implementation of facial recognition identification for all international passengers, including American citizens, in the top 20 U.S. airports by 2021. In June 2018, Orlando became the first U.S. airport to commit to biometrics, but other airports will do the same. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are also rushing to implement biometric entry-exit systems at numerous airports that process international arrivals.

Construction opportunities are abundant also. Old and outmoded law enforcement and first responder facilities are expensive to maintain; they are not efficient, and the technology is no longer adequate. In a consolidated state-of-the-art facility, significant efficiencies and lower costs are possible. Consolidations usually include fire, police, EMS, call centers, and public safety training areas. These types of construction projects are being announced throughout the country.

The City Council of Brockton, Massachusetts, recently voted to approve $250,000 for a feasibility study for a new state-of-the-art public safety complex. The city has estimated project costs at more than $86 million, and officials hope to expedite the construction process. Available sites are being evaluated and some city-owned property in the downtown area may be selected.

Officials in Branson, Missouri, approved a contract with an architectural firm to design a new 15,000-square-foot public safety facility that will house both the fire department and police headquarters. After the design and engineering phase has been completed, the city will solicit bids for construction and other services.

The city of Halfmoon, New York, will soon begin construction on a new 18,000-square-foot fire station. Estimated costs for the facility have been placed at approximately $12.1 million.

Municipal leaders in Charlton, Massachusetts have announced plans to construct a new $28 million public safety facility. The 40,800-square-foot building will consolidate the police and a dispatch center and have space for a 40-person community room.

A number of cities in Texas have announced plans to renovate or construct dozens of new facilities for police, fire, and EMS stations. Voters in Garland, Texas, now have funding for a new 19,000-square-foot police evidence and property building. The facility will also get a new digital tracking and reporting system. Project costs are estimated at $18 million. Garland will also fund construction of three new fire stations and a police training facility with a shooting range as well as other public safety improvements.

Amarillo College has $89.2 million for the development of a first responders and public safety academy that will provide a centralized location for training EMTs, fire protection, and law enforcement.

New jails and detention centers are being announced weekly, and there are multiple solicitations for police body and dashboard cameras. Law enforcement agencies are purchasing drones, and border states are purchasing technology and launching construction projects at border crossing sites.

The public sector marketplace is currently considered ‘hot,’ and it is worthy of scrutiny.

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.