Posted by Sponsored Post Posted on 28 July 2023

Why First Responders Need Handheld Computers

Traditionally, law enforcement agencies, as well as first responders like firefighters and EMS workers, have relied solely on handheld two-way radios for communication. These radios operate on VHF and UHF frequency bands. 


Although these radios started out analog, today, they’ve been upgraded to digital. The main benefit of a digital radio is being able to encrypt the transmissions so that personal information can be shared.


Despite this technological advance, having a digital two-way radio is no longer enough for EMS workers, paramedics, police, and other agencies. Today’s first responders need handheld computer devices to maintain control and order in situations where they’re called to help. While traditional two-way radios serve essential functions, handheld devices can make up for what even the most advanced digital trunking system lacks.


How can first responders use handheld devices?


Portable computers, like the Zebra handheld devices, give first responders a reliable method to communicate with each other during emergencies without having to lug around a digital radio. They also provide access to more features. Workers can easily coordinate with dispatchers, discuss patient needs with physicians, and connect with hospital staff.


When first responders have a rugged handheld device built specifically for their needs, they can help people faster and more efficiently. Portable devices made for EMR workers and paramedics are more durable than standard smartphones, and they will generally survive drops, shocks, and minor impacts. These devices are also waterproof and can be used while wearing gloves.


Another benefit is that handheld devices can provide access to data and other resources via the internet. You can’t do this with a two-way radio. For example, medical personnel can access patient records and medication lists for patients with one of these devices. They can’t do that with their personal phone because of data privacy laws. Some handheld computers can even create high-quality thermal images for pre-diagnostic purposes and to document injuries.


Digital two-way communication systems don’t need to be replaced, but a handheld device can be an excellent supplement – especially since not all workers have access to a two-way department radio. Even if everyone had a radio, in a crisis involving multiple agencies, digital and analog radios create more problems than they solve.


Standard radio communication is a challenge for first responders


The ability for agencies to communicate with one another while responding to emergencies has always been a challenge for law enforcement, medical personnel, and other first responders. When mutual aid is requested, every available agency will respond, but that doesn’t mean they can communicate with one another.


Most of the time, messages have to be relayed manually and this can really hinder the integrity of the response. Without direct and instant communication between agencies, the result is chaos, confusion, and sometimes danger. 


For example, on 9/11, 343 firefighters died in the World Trade Center buildings because the people giving evacuation orders didn’t have radios on their frequency.


Why is radio communication a problem?


Agencies operate their communications systems on different frequencies and that means they can’t use their radios to speak to each other. Radios are built to transmit and receive communications over a specific frequency band, and won’t pick up or broadcast to any frequency outside of that range. This is why EMTs tend to have upwards of eight different radios in each ambulance – they need a separate radio to respond to calls from each main agency.


Although it makes communication hard, it’s not practical for everyone to be on the same frequency. Most agencies are territorial over their frequencies because sharing the same band with other agencies would make it harder for them to do their job. There would be far too many transmissions to ignore, and the chatter would be nonstop.


A crisis isn’t the only time communication is needed


Although major situations are one example of a situation that requires fast communication, first responders, like EMS workers and paramedics need reliable communication around the clock. They need the ability to connect with other doctors, emergency room physicians, surgeons, hospitals, dispatchers, and anyone else who may be involved in managing an incident response. A handheld device is perfect for this purpose.


Communications improve with handheld devices


When first responders have access to a handheld computer, communications are direct, quick, and thorough. The best part is that workers can use cloud-based applications to access patient data, upload images to document injuries, connect with hospital staff, and coordinate with each other from anywhere. They don’t have to give up their two-way radios, but a portable computer will make their job a whole lot easier.

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