The Covid-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the way that we think and feel about safety. Recent research led by Goldsmiths, University of London, reveals new expectations across the British public.
At the time of writing, it has been 25 months since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic. While restrictions in the UK have eased, the experience of the last two years continues to influence our attitudes and behaviours towards safety in ways that we could not have thought possible.
When we entered the first national lockdown in March 2020, there was a shared awareness that our personal choices and behaviours could have a far-reaching impact on the collective safety of our local community. Yet many of the restrictions introduced to protect us have become deeply ingrained habits that are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. For example, using hand sanitiser, wearing face masks in congested areas and making more thoughtful decisions around our social interactions when we are unwell.
As well as new behaviours, there is a tangible shift in UK attitudes. The pandemic caused many people to reassess their personal priorities and, in the process, redefine their expectations and responsibilities for safety – not only individually but also towards the organisations that are responsible for keeping us safe.
Recent research conducted with Goldsmiths, University of London, explored this further as part of a unique global study of 12,000 citizens across ten markets. It set out to understand how people feel about the role technology plays in keeping them and their communities safe, and investigated how the global pandemic impacted the use of technology across the emergency services.
The results were startling, revealing that 95% of UK citizens want to see public safety transformed through the use of advanced technology. Put simply, the pandemic caused the British public to reconsider what it means to be ‘safe’.
A new mindset for public safety
When a crisis occurs, our emergency services take immediate action to keep us safe while maintaining essential functions and adapting to any new challenges and requirements. This was evident throughout the pandemic when many UK fire services extended their responsibilities to support local communities, protect vulnerable people and bolster resources across other emergency services where needed.
This approach was mirrored by fire and rescue services from around the world. The pandemic tested their adaptability, requiring them to respond to new demands, safety guidelines and ways of working. As well as traditional duties, firefighters provided essential triage and became a valuable link in the chain of emergency medical response. In many cases, that meant many organisations accelerated their planned technology roll-outs against a rapidly evolving landscape.
At the same time, technology adoption and reliance were growing exponentially among the British public. The circumstances surrounding the pandemic – not least the extended amount of time being spent indoors – amplified the dependence on technology to stay connected and access vital services. Our personal experience increased the expectation for the UK’s emergency services to have access to similar (if not better) technology and tools.
This expectation is reflected in Goldsmiths’ research which highlighted that 72% of UK citizens say advanced technologies, such as video cameras, data analytics, cybersecurity and the cloud are needed to address challenges of the modern world. Similarly, 76% said emergency services should be able to predict risk, a task that can be supported by these types of technologies.
Prior to the pandemic, many of the UK’s fire and rescue services were already in the process of modernising their organisation through technology innovation – another trend reflected worldwide. The adoption of video security, data analytics and software applications has been steadily increasing over recent years, helping to support safety while enhancing productivity and operational efficiency for enterprises and emergency services alike.
When the pandemic arrived, it was the ultimate stress-test of all the technology choices made to date. When a firefighter arrives on the scene, the immediate priorities are to assess what has happened, who is injured, the presence of toxic gas, electrical wires and other hazards. If the supporting technology is posing a distraction or complication, then it is not doing its job.
The unique challenges posed by the pandemic made any technological shortcomings even more stark. This led to accelerated innovation. Implementations that would have typically taken years were delivered in just months, weeks and in some cases, days. In the United States, the Boston Police Department adopted a broadband push-to-talk service in just 72 hours, rather than the one year originally scoped. This instantly enabled essential front-line workers to stay connected to and supported by back-office functions working from the safety of their homes.
Trust and transparency
With new technology being implemented more rapidly into public safety environments, more questions have been asked about the required level of public engagement and understanding required to approve of its use. The research with Goldsmiths highlighted that the British public want and expect safety technology to be used in transparent, fair and inclusive ways and for the benefits to be clearly understood. In fact, 78% of UK respondents say they are willing to trust the organisations that hold their information, so long as they use it appropriately.
When the public understands and trusts both the technologies being used and the objectives of service providers using them, they also become more willing to share their own data. This results in the creation of richer pools of shared data and, ultimately, solutions that enable better outcomes for safety overall. However, more public engagement is needed to increase understanding of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI). At present, 49% of UK respondents say they would trust AI to analyse situations of threat, demonstrating a clear need to increase understanding and acceptance of its use.
A new era for public safety
The last two years have highlighted the need to look at things and respond differently – from assessing risks and better predicting areas of operational disruption, to evaluating and integrating the right technologies to support safety. It also reinforced the need for better communication and collaboration with communities to secure support for the expanded use of advanced technologies.
Another way to consider it is as a ‘watershed moment’ that triggered a broad consensus to make our world safer – a world in which safety is not the responsibility for emergency services alone. The majority of people are now prepared to do more to keep themselves, their families and their communities safe. Working together, this presents a unique opportunity for public safety in the UK and for all of us to emerge stronger from the pandemic than when we entered it.
For more information, go to www.motorolasolutions.com/consensusforchange