Emergency dispatch and public safety command and control rooms have been undergoing a period of evolution globally. IMS Research, now part of IHS (NYSE: IHS), has tracked the critical communications market for over 14 years; this article will address some of the factors that are driving change in this industry and looks to the future of control rooms.
Regionalisation is one of the significant trends occurring in the command and control room space in public safety. Regionalisation refers to the consolidation of local control rooms into a reduced number that can cover a wider range of areas.
More often it is single agency consolidation. However, there has been increasing amounts of multi-agency consolidation.
Reduced public safety funding has been the major driver behind this trend. In the US and Western Europe public safety spending has suffered over the past few years, and consequently control rooms have to find efficiency savings. Regionalisation allows the combination of resources, allowing savings to be made.
Besides the cost benefits, often having several emergency agencies in the same control room can provide much better interoperability in providing response to emergencies that require multiagency cooperation. Figure A shows this regionalisation trend over the coming years. Smaller systems are decreasing, as is the overall number of control rooms.
General technology trends
Computer aided dispatch (CAD) is a fundamental aspect of the control room landscape. IHS anticipates CAD revenues will show strong growth over the next five years. Significant investment in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East is leading to many new control room deployments.
Regionalisation is impacting markets with a well-established command and control room infrastructure. In places like Western Europe and the US, where public safety spending has suffered as a result of the poor economic climate, regionalisation is increasing.
As more local control rooms opt to co-locate they can upgrade their CAD system, so that all the users in the control room can be accommodated. These new larger control rooms require different levels of functionality for different agencies and to cover larger jurisdictions.
Therefore, this trend is leading to steady growth in the value of CAD projects. The increasingly specialised and tailored CAD platforms designed and adapted to specific users’ and control rooms needs are accounting for some of the steady increase anticipated in the market over the coming years. Figure B highlights the anticipated growing revenues from the key command and control technologies.
Within the public safety user installed base, analogue remains a significant proportion of the technology, particularly in Eastern Europe and MEA. As the transition to digital gathers momentum, new digital radio technology infrastructure will be established. Control rooms voice dispatch technology will need to be capable of adapting to these digital technologies.
Alongside the traditional public safety digital technologies of TETRA, P25 and TETRAPOL, newer groups of digital technologies such as DMR, dPMR, NXDN and PDT (IHS refers to this group as ‘Cost-Optimised’ digital technologies) continue to gather market share.
Call taking is expected to show some of the strongest growth out of all the control room components. Improved next generation calling solutions have been established and public safety agencies have a responsibility to meet the expectations that callers now have.
Next generation 911 (NG911) is a realisation of this expectation and currently is in the early stages of being rolled out across the US. Callers to the control room will soon be able to interact with control room staff through a variety of methods including VoIP, text, video and photo imaging.
A major challenge associated with this call taking will be managing the level of information from the caller and the first responder without overwhelming the dispatcher.
Similar next generation initiatives are being trialled in Europe, but only as a way of improving accessibility to the control room for disabled users. It remains to be seen how long it will be before nationwide next generation accessibility is provided.
Increasing levels of data communicated with first responders is a growing aspect of public safety control room communications. Private LTE looks to be one of the major network standards that will affect the public safety control room market.
In the US, $7 billion of federal funding has been allocated to build out a public safety wireless broadband network. This network will facilitate a range of data capabilities that could change emergency response procedure, such as video streaming, maps and photos.
This will impact the control room, where the dispatcher must be capable of managing the data efficiently. It falls to control room vendors to provide solutions that will facilitate data exchange from the caller to the first responder, while being able to absorb the information relevant for the dispatcher.
More service based
Services in the control room industry are expected to grow strongly over the next five years, shown in Figure C. In more mature control room markets, with well-established control room infrastructure, services account for a high proportion of control room revenues.
In countries with a less evolved emergency response structure, investment is being used to install new control rooms. Therefore, services account for a much smaller proportion of expenditure.
Change management is expected to be one of the fastest growing services for the control room industry. Change management encompasses a huge range of processes aiming to improve the transition to new software/equipment installations within control rooms. During periods of transition within the control room, it is essential that the perceived level of service is not affected.
As a result, revenue from change management is expected to grow, as emergency processes must be maintained efficiently while staff are retrained to use new equipment.
Western Europe has been particularly affected by the austerity measures, and public safety spending remains very low. As a consequence, control room operations are also at risk of reduced funding, so control rooms are striving to find large efficiency savings in their operations.
In Western Europe control room outsourcing is becoming more common. Companies are seizing the opportunity to manage control rooms privately. As public safety spending continues to struggle, it seems inevitable that more control rooms will be taken over by private companies who can run the control rooms at a perceived lower cost.
As technology evolves and solutions become increasingly advanced, the nature of control rooms begin to change. Hosted control rooms are forecast to become more common, as companies host servers for operations, saving customers the investment in expensive hardware.
Interestingly, this trend could pave the way long term for ‘working from home’ dispatchers, who in case of control room destruction, are able to log on and field emergency calls from home. It is possible that as technology evolves further, the control room will no longer be limited by physical location and the resilience benefits from this are exponential.
Overall the public safety control room industry and beyond have a number of challenges to respond to over the coming years. However, there remains plenty of opportunity for vendors. Despite difficult funding circumstances, investment is still required in order to implement cost saving measures through regionalisation.
New regions establishing brand new emergency response infrastructure, such as Eastern Europe and MEA, provide rich opportunities. Control rooms remain a crucial element of critical communications, where some of the most innovative and technologically advanced software solutions are being implemented in order to realise the potential of these communication hubs.
About the author: Jennifer Shortland has produced reports on the Command & Control Room markets for North America and EMEA. For more information, please contact: