September 20, 2022

White Paper
12 min

Better Decisions Improve Outcomes for Public Safety

In mission-critical operations centers, timely data and collaboration enhance decision-making.


A Growing Investment in Public Safety Technology

Citizens’ perceptions of safety, together with technology’s expanding role in improving public safety, have led state and local governments (SLGs) to a “watershed moment,” according to a 2021 global study. Most citizens want public safety to be enhanced by advanced technologies, while also expecting agencies to be transparent, trustworthy and accountable in their use of such tools. 

Citizens are “becoming more comfortable with public safety and enterprises using advanced technologies, including cloud-based solutions, video security and analytics, and sophisticated software, to combat new threats,” the 2021 report “Consensus for Change: Transforming Safety Through Technology” notes.

Meanwhile, public safety agencies have increased their adoption of tools — such as video surveillance, data security and analytics applications — that improve monitoring and decision-making. These are especially valuable in settings such as mission-critical operations centers (MCOCs). Such tools empower agencies to be proactive, not only responding to incidents and trends but also predicting risks that may lead to them. 

Data is essential to these capabilities and a fundamental input for daily operations, according to a survey of public safety professionals. Forty-four percent say data analysis is a “very important” aspect of their work, and 90 percent believe artificial intelligence will be important in their future work. AI applications dovetail with MCOC capabilities: Respondents’ current AI use cases include image and video analysis, event prediction, trend identification, voice recognition, public security, and automation.

As the pandemic highlighted, public safety crises require real-time information, as well as the ability to coordinate with internal and external partners and respond quickly to changing conditions. To meet these needs, many SLGs are investing in tools that enhance communication and collaboration and, in the process, improve situational awareness and decision-making capabilities. 

Increasingly, MCOCs are the method of choice for public safety agencies that want to stay ahead of evolving dynamics within their communities and leverage advanced technologies to do so.


MCOCs are central places where agencies can collect and analyze multiple streams of data and collaborate on timely decision-making — a collective, data-driven approach that enables faster, more effective responses.


Video walls, data analytics and visualization tools enable agencies to incorporate multiple data feeds, which improves situational awareness. Real-time data and AI make data analysis more insightful and actionable.


Agencies can design MCOCs to focus on crime, emergency operations, transportation or cyber intelligence. Fusion centers may bring together local, state and federal agencies to address issues spanning multiple jurisdictions.

The Evolution of Digital Transformation Efforts in State and Local Governments

As societies undergo dramatic transformation through technology, SLGs are discovering the power of data-driven decision-making. Agencies must marshal a continually evolving set of resources, deploy them quickly and effectively, and chart a course for optimal results, often in concert with multiple agencies. MCOCs facilitate and optimize collaborative analysis and decision-making.


SLGs that pursue digital transformation increase their ability to generate robust data, often through smart city technologies such as cameras and sensors. These are valuable inputs for MCOCs, which can then use analytics, visualization software and video walls to integrate and display multiple data sets and data streams.


Depending on the use case, MCOCs may incorporate a variety of sources into their analysis and decision-making, including databases, weather systems, social media feeds and traffic sensors. For example, public safety-focused MCOCs can enhance situational awareness for first responders through field reports, location data, gunshot detection systems and video surveillance.


Audiovisual solutions — video walls, connected displays and audio equipment — are core MCOC technologies. These provide a platform for the data analysis and visualization (powered by computers, servers, networks and software) that drive agency decision-making. Collaboration solutions support coordination and information sharing among onsite teams and remote colleagues.


MCOCs assemble people in relatively small spaces during high-stress situations. Proper design — of furniture, computer and video display placement, lighting, and other elements — reinforces the goals of the center and fosters efficient workflows. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends three classic layouts that prioritize collaboration, technical tasks and coordination of specialists.


Technology may power the MCOC, but people are at the forefront. MCOCs need multiple systems that let disparate teams communicate effectively with colleagues, including those at other agencies. Centers should have spaces for eating, breaks and other needs that can arise during 24-hour operations. Some may require executive office space.

Learn how digital transformation initiatives and investments can help launch or optimize data-driven decision-making for MCOCs.

Critical Capabilities for Mature Emergency Operations Centers

McKinsey identified six pandemic lessons to improve the effectiveness of emergency operations centers.


Define and establish early-warning systems that would prompt standup of a center. Early warning is essential for success.


Move the group into action, escalating activity based on clear, practiced protocols. Embed an experienced “red team” in the center to provide different perspectives.


Enable the center to be decisive, including a “plan-ahead team” that considers potential scenarios and identifies relevant data that would inform future decisions.


Develop the capability to coordinate and test quickly with external stakeholders. Establish channels for input and communications: meeting cadences, touchpoint frequencies and information access.


Obtain high-value, real-time data and the IT infrastructure that enables it. Build capabilities to integrate and simplify data, customize visualizations, and utilize decision-making tools.


Build out the team and protect long-term work quality by creating position redundancies and staff rotations. Use simulations to deepen team members’ capabilities.

Putting Data Together: Mission-Critical Operations Centers

MCOCs position agencies to leverage the time-tested “Observe, Orient, Decide and Act” model. As SLGs stand up or enhance MCOCs, the OODA framework provides a useful guide to evaluate technological needs and capabilities and ensure they align with agency objectives. Agencies should keep several important questions in mind as they implement the OODA framework.

Observe: How effectively do we observe routine, sensitive and fast-evolving situations? Can our backhaul support real-time collaboration? Do legacy and cloud-native applications drive decisiveness in the field? Does our security posture align with prevalent threats?

Orient: How easily and accurately can we extract insights from data? Are we using all potential inputs to obtain a complete, accurate picture? Can we simplify and improve guest access, two-way video streaming, whiteboarding and top-quality video?

Decide: How can we improve decision-making processes? What information can we provide to officers to improve public interactions? What impact will new or expanded technologies have on IT infrastructure? 

Act: Are we prepared to act fast enough to deliver positive outcomes? Can we fine-tune or accelerate our collaboration strategies by incorporating field data and other resources?

As SLGs build out MCOCs, they should consider several foundational technologies to power their capabilities.

The Power of Visualization

Large-scale video walls, a core feature of MCOCs, are typically more sophisticated and configurable than standard displays. For example, an agency could display weather data, real-time surveillance footage and environmental sensor data on a single screen. These displays, together with the video cameras feeding into them, also create different hardware needs, such as more robust computing, storage and network capacity.

Surveillance Systems

Surveillance systems include video cameras, sensors and visualization solutions. Automated license plate readers can check plate images against databases of stolen cars, warrants and suspects, and alert agencies accordingly. Gunshot detection systems use audio or video to help agencies determine physical locations. As these inputs feed into the MCOC, teams need appropriate tools to display and analyze the accompanying data.

Situational Awareness Tools

Public safety teams must be able to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time. Situational awareness platforms improve this capability by integrating data from sources as disparate as social media and 911 systems. Together with video walls, surveillance tools and analytics software, these platforms help agencies obtain a real-time, holistic picture of what is happening.

Advanced Technology Trends

Drones enable agencies to capture hard-to-obtain visuals and deploy thermal imaging while protecting personnel. To ensure compliance with aviation regulations, SLGs should consult organizations such as the National League of Cities. AI applications are also becoming more standard. Through cameras and other devices, AI can flag events for attention, such as large gatherings or a pedestrian leaving a suspicious object.

Clear Communication Channels

Technology is the backbone of the MCOC, but even the most sophisticated IT cannot overcome poor communication and collaboration — especially when multiple agencies are involved. Effective emergency communications are interoperable, reliable, resilient, secure, scalable and redundant, according to FEMA. Every component of the MCOC should optimize communication, including adequate networking and cybersecurity to keep information both timely and secure.

Physical and Data Security

Government data is a top target, especially for state-sponsored cyberattacks. Planners should consider potential vulnerabilities of the MCOC location and implement physical controls to limit access to authorized individuals. Hardened IT infrastructure, including firewalls and network segmentation, is a critical defense against unauthorized access, ransomware and interception of secure communications. Incident response plans should address recovery and continuity of operations.

Benefits of Expert Partners

SLGs often engage outside experts to ensure that MCOC technologies are appropriate to achieve the desired outcomes. CDW’s expertise in security, data centers, cloud computing and other areas provides the basis for strong partnerships at every phase of planning, design and implementation. CDW’s AmplifiedTM Security services include assessments of security needs and risks, gap analyses, and deployment of security solutions.

Start-to-Finish Services

CDW AmplifiedTM Infrastructure services bridge gaps in expertise, tools and resources to help SLGs implement the right solutions for specific MCOCs: networking, audiovisual displays, software and security. CDW AmplifiedTM Workspace services ensure that tools and workflows increase teams’ flexibility and efficiency while minimizing pain points. CDW Spatial Engineering services focus on physical design to facilitate optimal processes and results.

Find out how to plan and design an MCOC to ensure robust infrastructure, optimal efficiency and effective collaboration.

Better Communication Through IT

It’s not surprising that public safety professionals say their jobs are becoming increasingly difficult. They continue to face budget restraints and staffing limitations while encountering new challenges related to the pandemic, community relations and civil unrest. Among other solutions, technology has the potential to increase efficiencies, which helps to extend personnel resources and improve information sharing, which leads to better outcomes for communities and agencies.


The percentage of first responders who say that coordination among agencies is critical when responding to public safety emergencies1


The percentage of emergency responders who say their agency’s ability to collaborate in real time with other public safety agencies needs improvement2


The percentage of emergency responders who say lack of real-time collaboration technology is a barrier to collaboration among agencies2


The percentage of first responders who say the use of data for situational awareness has been a major area of technological improvement1

Sources: 1Verizon, "Public Safety Communications Survey," November 2021; 2Rave Mobile Safety, "Public Safety Trends: 2022 Survey Report," June 2022

Harnessing the Power of MCOCs

State and local government agencies across the U.S. have implemented MCOCs to handle a variety of public safety tasks. Use cases include:

  • Real-time crime centers
  • Transportation centers
  • Emergency operations centers
  • Fusion centers
  • Cyber intelligence centers
  • Joint task force centers

Case studies demonstrate the diversity of MCOCs and the ways IT is essential to the agencies that use them.

On the Move in Florida

The Florida Division of Emergency Management engaged CDW•G to develop a network design for a mobile emergency operations center (MEOC). The vehicle, a tractor-trailer rig with expanding sides, can house 40 emergency staff and provides video screens and full networking connectivity.

CDW’s engineering staff designed a robust solution that mirrored production network requirements and was consistent with platforms the agency already used. Components include network switching, internal/external wireless networking, a router and a firewall. The agency also deployed Cisco Systems’ Unified Computing System servers and storage, a Cisco Identity Services Engine appliance for identity management and VMware to run virtual appliances.

The MEOC allows the agency to be flexible and responsive in deploying emergency teams without compromising IT capabilities.

Dual Centers in Georgia

The Cobb County Police Department, which serves a large Atlanta suburb, engaged CDW to design a primary real-time crime center (RTCC) and a secondary emergency operations center near the Atlanta Braves stadium.

CDW’s work on the RTCC encompassed design and implementation, including deployment of a new system focused on active shooters. The RTCC also features a large video wall and an audiovisual solution.

The smaller, remote emergency operations center was initially planned as a security hub for the 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. When that game was moved to Colorado, Cobb County elected to proceed with the remote center and engaged CDW to design that center as well. For both centers, CDW also provided training for agency staff.

Making MCOCs More Versatile

Agencies can maximize their flexibility with:

  • Mobile MCOC: Mobile command centers offer the same sophisticated equipment as stationary centers while allowing agencies to situate themselves in the most advantageous location. 
  • Deployable MCOC: This “operations center in a box” model consists of infrastructure that is shipped to a site and ready to deploy, so agencies can set up and respond quickly.

Learn how a customized MCOC can help your state or local public safety agency achieve high-priority goals.

Story by Jason Schwartz, the senior manager for strategy and business development at CDW, where he leads the company’s state and local business development and capture organization, with a special focus on public safety. He is a 17-year veteran of the IT and government technology industries and continues to work exclusively with state and local governments across the country.

Jason Schwartz

CDW Expert
Jason Schwartz is the Senior Manager for Strategy and Business Development at CDW, where he leads CDW’s state and local capture and business development organization. He is a 17-year veteran of the IT industry working exclusively with government entities across the country.