Politicians will be familiar with the adage: ‘never waste a good crisis’ spoken by Winston Churchill. And typically, we don’t.
Australia is particularly well attuned to innovating from crisis – while most of the rest of the world plunged into recession after the global financial crisis (GFC) 15 years ago, Australia managed to avoid the headwinds and sustain economic growth – an achievement to which few other major economies can lay claim.
And while the current pandemic and associated state lockdowns are obviously having negative economic impacts, COVID-19 has also served as a springboard for innovation and growth across Australia. As the world becomes more digitised, we’re seeing Australia lead the way with incredible tech success stories such as Canva and Afterpay blazing the trail for Australian ingenuity.
One of the most promising areas for local innovation is applying digital technology to solve our greatest public safety and natural disaster challenges. Fireball International, for example, is developing satellite and sensor technology to detect embers before they become fires – when combined with dynamic mapping software and drone technology, this could help to prevent our most serious bushfires.
Meanwhile, Victoria Police is among Australian public safety agencies using automated number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to enable police to rapidly scan through thousands of number plates to identify dangerous and unauthorised drivers in real time.
And Australian start-up FiberSense deployed fibre optic technology in Melbourne’s CBD during the 5.9 magnitude earthquake, which showed detailed impacts from the earthquake, building-by-building. This home-grown tech can also be used to monitor gas, water and electrical infrastructure and quickly remedy issues before they become bigger problems.
Motorola Solutions and Goldsmiths University of London recently conducted an expansive study to explore innovation in public safety, and how citizens felt about it. The research captured the voices of 12,000 citizens and 50 public safety agencies, enterprises, and industry experts across the world including Australia.
The results showed 89 per cent of Australians (higher than the global average of 88 per cent) want to see safety transformed through advanced technologies. This is largely driven by our collective experience of the pandemic, where keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities safe has made all of us more aware of the need for more technology.
The research looks at how Australian and other world leading public safety and enterprise organisations are applying technology to overcome the pandemic’s ever-evolving challenges. Some examples include body-worn cameras on supermarket workers, advanced communications systems maintaining connectivity between frontline responders and back-office colleagues working from home and advanced video analytics technology being used to identify passengers with elevated temperatures before they board public transport.
In normal times, the process for procuring these kinds of technologies might have taken many months – but the pandemic challenged public safety and enterprise organisations to adapt quickly and move fast. That resulted in some technology procurements occurring in a matter of weeks and in some cases, just days.
Indeed, 72 per cent of Australian respondents in the research survey believe advanced technologies such as video cameras, data analytics, cybersecurity, and cloud are needed to address modern challenges.
Deploying these systems requires citizens to trust public safety providers to use these technologies appropriately. And that includes any ensuring that any private data used within these systems is protected.
Australians are willing to place high levels of trust in organisations that hold their information so long as they use it appropriately. In fact, at 81 per cent, we scored six percent higher than the global average of the 10 markets surveyed.
Australians have the right to expect technologies to be used in ways that are fair and transparent. Only then can organisations earn the trust and understanding needed to create a greater social contract with the community for the wider use and deployment of technology to keep them safe. This is particularly important as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) come to fruition.
Over two thirds of Australians also want a say in how these kinds of technologies are being used, believing their input can improve how it is used. It’s important that our emergency services, as well as other organisations leveraging tech for safety purposes, consider this and open a dialogue with citizens to inform safety technology decisions.
It’s clear that COVID-19 will drive long-lasting innovation across multiple industries. It has come at a time when there is a nexus between technology and growing recognition worldwide that safety should be a collective responsibility among governments, industry, and society.
Australia’s public safety providers and enterprises have earned our trust in delivering their services while keeping us safe. They also have the potential to take a leading role globally in the future of digital safety. In fact, they’ve already started.