This past year was marked by innovative—sometimes controversial—technologies that promise to have significant impact on law enforcement agents, firefighters and EMTs. As first responder agencies begin to explore how they can integrate these new technologies into their operations, we revisit some of the most popular technology trends in 2014:

Drones revolutionize disaster relief efforts
Emergency response agencies added unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to their toolbox when providing relief to areas impacted by disasters. Drones can navigate through extreme conditions to provide assistance to people in remote or unstable areas without risking more lives. Officials rely on drones to survey a dangerous situation, collecting critical data in advance of rescue workers reaching the area.

Drones should become more commonplace in the coming years, but there are obstacles agencies must first overcome. At present, unmanned aircraft systems have few regulations for domestic use. As state and federal rules are developed, first responder organizations should create and update their own policies for training and use. Citizen privacy is also a concern.

Firearms training is supplemented with virtual ranges
Physical firing ranges are crucial when instructing police officers to properly use their weapons in the line of duty, but law enforcement academies are now seeing benefits to computerizing firearms training. Unlike physical sites, virtual ranges are easier and safer to maintain. These facilities can prepare students for life-threatening situations without actually putting anyone danger.

As with most cutting-edge technologies, cost is a major factor to consider when exploring use of these ranges. While modern facilities can save agencies money with regard to ammo, hazardous materials care and landscaping, virtual ranges require a big investment to build and install.

Police jurisdictions explore the benefits of Google Glass
From small-business owners to plastic surgeons, professionals across all industries adopted Google Glass to improve how information can help their work. First responders were no stranger to experimenting with this new smart technology.

In New York City, police officers began integrating Google Glass into their training operations and fieldwork, using the facial recognition software to identify threats. Firefighters and EMTs can also benefit from the heads-up display by bringing up road maps, floor plans or patient records. When the technology becomes widely adopted by other first responders, communication between agencies could drastically improve with information transferred more efficiently between people cooperating on scene. Department leaders have to find a balance, however, between community protection and respecting the privacy of citizens and officers alike.

Body cameras improve accountability for first responder professions
Over the past several months, the nation has engaged in a heated conversation about use of force by police. One of the technologies contributing to a solution will be body-worn cameras. Many police jurisdictions already require that police officers wear body cameras to provide legally defensible records. Doing so promises to decrease instances of violence during police encounters with suspects, both to and by officers facing an immediate threat. Body cameras are also linked to a reduction in fraudulent claims against police officers, further motivating departments to consider adoption.

Similarly, EMTs are experimenting with body cameras as a way to benefit first responders during medical emergencies. Some agencies in London now require all EMTs to install cameras in ambulances and on bodies. The benefits the recordings provide to emergency medical care and future training are offset by concerns about preserving patient privacy and choice about being recorded.

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