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Cloud Computing for First Responders

The cloud is the next frontier for integrated communications, and already appears to be akin to the quantum leap that the Internet and IP networking unlocked during the 1990s. 

The cloud will dominate electronic service delivery—at least until the next quantum leap in technology arrives.  

Cloud computing offers new services, scalability and economy that may make “bricks and mortar” just about irrelevant. Electronic service delivery is creating new end-user interest in the capabilities and cost savings offered by the cloud as an information repository. That, in turn, is driving continued innovation in cloud computing. 

Minimizing risk, managing costs, and maximizing efficiencies and performance are all part of the cloud. Experiences with the cloud were described by Capt. Eugene Smith, Boise, Idaho Police and Laurence Russell, CPP, Vice President, Global Corporate Security,, as they hosted a discussion about cloud computing for the ISC West Premier Education Series (SM).

Smith admitted that he had never been a “technical” person and, instead, relied on IT personnel to assist. But as the information needs of patrol officers, detectives and command personnel grew at the Boise Police Department, and as the budget underwent cuts, there had to be a move toward learning more about how the cloud could help computing and the money available to spend. 

A department could buy hardware and software, Smith said, but that would not assure that a department was getting the best for the money being spent. The question of connectivity and its “when” and “where” and ease of “how to access” had to be assured.

Smith explained that patrol officers produce data and information that needs to be stored and accessible. Detectives also produce data, but they also use much data. Command needs the most data and “at the strangest hours.” Smith added. The department could produce, run and store data, but needed better connectivity, and the IT department sought ways to consolidate data. “Law enforcement and IT didn’t speak the same language.” Smith said. 

A partnership was needed, to develop a process for discussions and decision-making in the foundation to be created and the practical use of information. Smith said the partnership looked at IT funding and decided to “dissect” where the infrastructure was going and how it could be used more efficiently and effectively. An IT person was designated to work with the police department and funding was obtained for the steps to begin.

A migration process was set in place in which the key stakeholders were identified, a timeline set, and key milestones plotted. Several patrol officers were invited to talk to the planners about needs, then detectives, administrators and command level personnel were also given the same opportunity. Cloud computing seemed to be the best solution to the needs of the department. Applications and data sought were “put into the virtual world,” and the process took about a year to complete—even though the department wanted it “right away,” Smith said. IT put in the safety foundation needed for secure computing and communications.

Private clouds were needed to house department information and to work in “a virtual access portal,” he said. Expanded capability for smartphones, tablets and laptops was included. “It was retrievable and that was what we wanted,” Smith said of the security portal and the way data could be accessed. IT personnel were comfortable with the security.   

To interact with other agencies, e-mail them, and exchange files, a public cloud was needed. A “drop box” proved not to be secure, so Smith said access to a public cloud was useful, but it needed security, too. “We’re still walking through this process,” he said. The department continues to explore options, but has already saved significant amounts of money with cloud computing. There are still gaps and some security needs, but the process has begun and is proving workable and thrifty, he felt.  

“There are still many questions out there and we recognize we haven’t met the ‘end state,’” Smith said, but the money saved can now be invested into other areas of the department’s needs and there is more money for hardware and software, computing devices for MDTs, and the structure to support and update communications via laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices. The department is not yet using all the capability cloud computing offers, but it plans to move forward. 

Laurence Russell said computing has moved from mainframes to mini-computing and cloud computing is going to dominate the scene for many years. Cloud computing is high on the list of technical priorities for many public and private entities. “It’s multi-tenant, has automatic upgrades, is pay as you go, and it’s in real time,” he said.   

Cloud computing can run five times faster and at half the cost, and the “subscription” to cloud services takes care of any needed updates. “A small department can do the same as a large department,” he said, and cloud computing is a sustainable, eco-friendly technology that offers what agencies might need.

As to the cloud’s safety and security, Russell said if it is done right, it can be secure. 

Frequent security audits can be done. Professionally engineered, installed, and maintained cloud computing can provide a stronger methodology with professionally managed quality. He added, “Desktops are a thing of the past and rapidly becoming so.”

He recommended that when considering cloud computing, look carefully for certified service and a professionally run data center. If possible, visit the data center to see its access control, how servers move in and out, and how privacy and security are maintained. He added that the agency ask how often audits are done, and what the business’ continuity plan is for future service by the company or its successor in cloud computing.


Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2014

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