How mobile apps could help protect law enforcement

Wearables could help improve the operations of Customs and Border Protection, CTO Wolf Tombe said.

Imagine if, when a law enforcement officer gets shot, his vest could send out a signal telling dispatch where he’s been hit. Or, what if a sensor on an injured officer’s wristband could beam her vitals to EMTs en route to treat her?

It’s a future that Wolf Tombe, chief technology officer for Customs and Border Protection within the Department of Homeland Security, imagines for mobile applications in government: apps that build on consumer wearables in development that could help his agency better protect its agents.

“These technologies are out there,” he said at the MobileGov Summit at the Newseum Wednesday. They’re inexpensive and easily modified — and they’ll probably be better than what the request for proposals could yield, he said. “They offer the potential for real life saving.”

Typically when paramedics respond to a call, for example, they spend the first few minutes asking questions and taking vitals. But with data taken from a wearable, they could skip a step, Tombe said.


He added, “Minutes make all the difference between life and death.”

But Tombe said embracing mobility is also critical for day-to-day office operations. Indeed, he said he has a tablet that he can dock at a station at home or at work — “I’m always connected.”

Startup costs for any new tech framework are high, he said. But the long-term savings will dwarf those initial costs.

“Mobility is not a ‘nice to have;’ it’s a must-have. And we need to be smart about how we implement it,” he said at the event, produced by FedScoop.

But innovation in government applications won’t only come from agencies. People outside government have the potential to make it more efficient through apps as well, said fellow panelist Ted Henderson, founder of the startup Capitol Bells.


Henderson’s app reads the buzzers in the Capitol complex that tell lawmakers when it’s time to vote. It then uses that information to send out vote alerts to users. A former Hill staffer, Henderson said the app makes it easier for schedulers and other aides to track what is happening on the House or Senate floor so they can make more efficient use of their time.

His newest project, called Cloakroom, is a digital social network that lets Hill staffers anonymously talk shop. He said it’s an effort to break down communications barriers that have built up on the Hill.

Henderson said the volume of data released by the government gives civilians like him unlimited potential to help the government improve.

“I want to encourage a class of people – civic hackers – across the country” to tap that government data, Henderson said.

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