Partnering to Improve Public Safety Apps

This is a companion post to the AT&T Developer Program blog.

Mark Reddish, Senior Counsel and Manager of Government Relations

For most people, a dead battery on our smartphone or slow download is just an inconvenience.  But imagine the impact of a dead battery to public safety professionals or the citizens they’re trying to serve during an emergency.  What about congested wireless data networks when seconds count?  APCO recognized that apps hold great potential for public safety and has been working to address these issues and ensure apps are as effective as possible.

For a start, APCO created the Application Community ( to facilitate collaboration and serve as the single trusted site for public safety apps.  As developers sought to have their apps included on AppComm, the need for evaluation criteria became evident.  Thus, APCO developed the Key Attributes of Effective Apps for Public Safety and Emergency Response to provide public safety professionals, app developers, and the general public with an outline of important considerations for apps that include public safety or emergency response features.


The Key Attributes include issues such as security, privacy, and data and battery efficiency.  APCO invited partnerships with a variety of stakeholders to address these items, which resulted in a collaboration with CTIA – the Wireless Association® – and AT&T to examine how apps manage data and battery usage.

The Application Resource Optimizer (ARO)

Understanding the importance of mobile app efficiency for police, fire, EMS, and other public safety officials, CTIA and AT&T offered to support APCO’s efforts to improve apps.  AT&T’s ARO is a diagnostic tool for optimizing mobile app performance.  It’s free for developers and can be used to improve app battery life, data usage, and responsiveness by pinpointing the source of wasteful data & power drains.  ARO analyzes “traces,” sample app activity, for 24 Mobile Best Practices to expose hidden problems in the code and provide clear recommendations on how to fix them.

APCO invited a few developers to participate in an app efficiency testing program using ARO with support from CTIA and AT&T’s experts.  Here are two examples of how apps were improved by these partnerships:


PulsePoint is literally a life-saving app, created by a non-profit foundation.  When someone in a public place needs CPR, the app “dispatches” nearby trained users and shows them the location of the closest AED.  These citizen and off-duty responders then initiate CPR and in some cases deliver a rhythm-restoring shock before first responders arrive, dramatically increasing the victim’s chance of survival.  When lives are at stake seconds truly matter.  Due to the always-on nature of PulsePoint, it’s critical that the app operates as efficiently as possible.

Using ARO to evaluate PulsePoint revealed that while the app was well conceived and engineered there were opportunities for improvement.  After ARO identified optimization strategies, the app gained meaningful network efficiencies.



STING is a situational awareness system with mobile apps that allow field units and commanders to share real-time location information, pictures, notes, and mission updates.  The majority of their users are law enforcement teams who perform a variety of dynamic operations (SWAT, Narcotics, Mobile Field Force, etc.), but they recently released fire and EMS versions of STING that are also in use today.

Data and battery efficiency are especially critical to STING for two reasons.  First, whereas consumers have access to power throughout most of the day, first responders in the field have to be able to operate for long periods without recharging a device.  The challenge is heightened because frequent GPS and compass orientation updates – important tools for STING – can drain the battery quickly.  Second, for security reasons, data is not permanently stored on the device so accessing photos and notes from the system requires a data connection for download and upload of information.  Together, these factors make STING’s data connections more important, which requires more intensive management of battery and data usage by the app.

ARO’s evaluation helped the developers ensure STING manages the GPS location and orientation acquisition appropriately while creating data connections and throughput as efficiently as possible.  STING is constantly evolving as features are added, new smart devices are introduced, and wireless networks improve; hence, ARO allows STING’s developers to continually evaluate new algorithms and architectures to optimize the system.  It’s now a tool they use regularly to keep the app running at optimal performance.


APCO has continued working with developers, public safety professionals, and industry experts to identify issues and work toward solutions.  (Learn more here.)

In addition to collaboration with developers and industry experts, input from public safety professionals is critical to app quality.  From identifying unmet needs to refining the user interface, anyone with experience in public safety communications, police, fire, and EMS has an important perspective to contribute.  When it comes to emergency response, there’s no substitute for first-hand experience.

Whatever your area of expertise, consider joining APCO’s efforts to improve apps for public safety and emergency response.  We’re always looking for public safety professionals who are willing to share their expertise and industry partners who can help us evaluate apps for security, efficiency, and other aspects of design.

Contact: [email protected]