Harris County, Texas, is home to more than 4.5 million people and employs about 4,500 people at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
In addition to those sheriff’s employees, several other law enforcement and first responder agencies in and around Houston help protect the people of Harris County.
Because Houston hosted Super Bowl LI® in February 2017, 10 of those agencies were on duty near NRG Stadium during the game and during events surrounding the game. They were tasked with protecting 1.3 million people — 150,000 of whom came from out of town — who participated Super Bowl-related events.
But in its planning for the Super Bowl, Harris County Technology Services personnel were still using radio communications for most of their needs. Radios can lead to several issues, such as important messages blending in because of sheer volume and sensitive information being communicated over open airwaves, not to mention that it’s not a very discrete medium.
Officials noted that they did not have all the tools needed for a full unified communications solution that provided voice calling, group messaging, two-way video sharing and a global directory.
A need for team collaboration
Not only did Harris County need to find a solution that satisfied all those unified communications requirements, but they needed to do so in a way that incorporated 10 law enforcement agencies with a total of 1,000 public safety personnel spread across 21 command posts.
As is common in law enforcement, those personnel were also spread across a number of teams that perform different functions, from bomb squad to hotel supervisors, to SWAT, to K-9 officers. This presented questions of who was sending information and who was receiving it throughout law enforcement.
Initially starting with nine applications, Harris County officials determined they needed a better solution.
The agencies needed to be able to share information on a single platform securely and efficiently. They also needed to be able to communicate using everything from text to video to images using one application to keep communication as simple as possible and minimize the toggling between applications, a true hallmark of unified communications.
Switching to a single app for unified communications
Harris County implemented Mitel Secure Collaboration, an all-in-one application they were able to use for video communications, image sharing and text messaging.
Mitel Secure Collaboration allowed teams in the field to report their status, request relief and communicate other non-emergency information.
Using the application even solved some problems Harris County didn’t know it had – Mitel Secure Collaboration helped reduce overall radio traffic, leaving radio channels open for emergency and patient-related information.
The application also helped those who may be more radio shy feel more comfortable texting in the chat group.
Because of those efficiencies, one person in a command post was able to manage 90 medics and 13 ambulances, something that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
Officers also made decisions on potential threats, ranging from reported counterfeits throughout the weekend to determining whether a suspicious person was a threat.
Super Bowl successes
Ultimately, Harris County was able to minimize misinformation that can be spread over the radio, over the phone or in-person by using group messaging, and they were able to do it over a secure platform that was preferable even to encrypted radio channels.
Even within the application, various individuals could choose whether to share at the team level or at the individual level depending on what was appropriate.
Officers reported that sharing images of suspects for security purposes or for simple logistical purposes helped in performing their routine responsibilities.
Harris County proved it’s possible to coordinate multiple agencies and use unified communications and collaboration to help them work together and be productive.