Thursday, February 23, 2012

Recommended and Minimum Specs for Software: Knowing What You Need

Panasonic Toughbook CF-27
It seems that a great deal of our customers are in the process of updating the software that they utilize in their police cruisers or in their ambulances.  For some, this means an inevitable upgrade in computer systems as well.  But, lets face it, it might be time to upgrade from those fifteen year old Pentium III CF-27's and CF-28's anyway.

For those who are less than technologically savvy, understanding exactly what they need to purchase to adequately run the software they are looking to purchase is much like trying to read Greek or Latin.  It doesn't help that most software companies recommend that you purchase your upgrade computers based on the recommended specifications.  Recommended specifications are generally in-line with the latest and greatest hardware options available (such as i7 processors, 8 Gig of RAM, 1 TB hard drives, Windows 7 Professional, and so on).  You can't even purchase a brand new Panasonic Toughbook CF-31 with those specifications.  Those specs are generally only found in end-user laptops (such as a Dell or HP that would be purchased at a large retail store for home usage); laptops that you should never consider mounting in a vehicle.

Panasonic Toughbook CF-19
This is where it becomes important to also receive a listing of the minimum specifications for the software you are looking to purchase.  Although the recommended specifications may be similar to those listed above, the minimum specifications might only require a Pentium IV processor, 1 Gig of RAM, 5 Gig hard drive, and Windows XP.  And for those that aren't fluent in tech-lingo, the difference between the minimum and the recommended is huge!  It also gives the ability to purchase a wide array of refurbished Panasonic Toughbooks such as the CF-19, CF-29, CF-30, CF-74, or even the CF-52.

Once you have the minimum and the recommended specifications, you should talk with Toughbook salesperson or email them your the specifications.  From there, a reputable company will help you purchase what you need (not what they want to sell you), all while trying to stay within the constraints of your department's budget.  A good rule of thumb is to try to find a mid-point between the minimum and recommended specifications.  This will make your computers a relevant technology for a long period of time and that you should not have any issues with any upgrades that are required by your software company.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Toughbooks Are Tough

In the past few months we've written quite a few blogs about the toughness and durability of Panasonic Toughbooks.  Generally these blogs center around the factory testing and how well the Toughbooks hold up to water, heat, cold, and drops.  These tests all center around things that Panasonic expects to happen to a laptop, as people spill drinks on their keyboard, leave it in their vehicle exposing it to temperature fluctuations, and sometimes knock it off the table.  But, how well does a Toughbook hold up to things Panasonic doesn't expect to happen?

Can It Take A Bullet?
Yes!  Back in 2003, a Panasonic Toughbook CF-M34 actually saved the life of a US military member in the 82nd Airborne Division.  The soldier was in Iraq when he came under fire.  He was carrying the Panasonic Toughbook in his backpack.  A bullet struck his backpack, passed through the screen and the keyboard of the Toughbook, and lodged in the solid magnesium-alloy casing...saving his life.  As if that isn't enough, the unit still functioned...minus the screen and keyboard of course.

Forbes magazine also did a little testing of the Panasonic Toughbook against firearms as well.  They took the laptop to the Jackson Arms firing range in South San Francisco to shoot it with a Ruger Mark III .22 pistol from 15 yards.  They removed the battery to minimize the mess.  They aimed, and put a bullet through the laptop. Then they booted it up, and theywere able to log in. The screen had a hole in it, but was still usable. 

Can It Survive A Fire?
Yes!  There have been multiple reports of Panasonic Toughbooks surviving a vehicle fire.  A recent one occurred with St. James Ambulance in Missouri.  In February 2011, the St. James Ambulance District was called to a motor vehicle accident. While en route to the scene, they experienced some mechanical issues that required the driver to pull to the side of the road. At that time, they realized that there was a small fire under the vehicle.  That fire quickly spread to the engine and passenger compartments, where the Panasonic Toughbook CF-19 was located.  
After the fire was extinguished, one of the crew members obtained the Toughbook from the ambulance.  After letting the water drain, he hit the power button to find the computer was fully functional with a few minor exceptions.  “The exterior was melted and the case was cracked in several places,” stated Bryan Lambeth, EMS supervisor and paramedic for St. James Ambulance District. “I truly didn’t have high hopes, but I hit the power button and the computer fired right up!”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Company Spotlight: PepperBall Technologies

PepperBall Technologies was originally formed in 1996 as an engineering group of Jaycor (a defense contractor).  From the beginning they specialized in the development of guidelines for the employment of non-lethal technology in operations other than war.  In their efforts to develop a non-lethal weapon alternative for governmental agencies, they developed PepperBall.

Pepperball is manufactured and distributed as a less-than-lethal weapon for military, government, law enforcement, corrections, private security and consumer markets.  Major users include such agencies as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the US Border Patrol, and thousands of police and sheriff departments in major US cities.  They are the most widely recognized name brand and largest supplier of non-lethal PAVA-based launchers and projectiles.

PepperBall products include a full line of system launchers and projectiles for a variety of less-lethal applications. These systems allow military, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, security guards and other agencies to use a less-lethal approach to incapacitate individuals, disperse crowds or just simply gain compliance. For consumers, PepperBall offers several personal defense systems for your personal protection and to protect your family when safety is threatened. With over 15 million PepperBalls sold, PepperBall personal defense systems have been proven to be highly effective and safe with no reported serious injuries.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Toughbooks Aren't Just For Your Cruisers

Many cities and towns throughout the US (and the world) have both bike cops and motorcycle cops that assist with the patrolling and law enforcement of their area.  There is no reason that these officers should be any less equipped than their fellow officers who do their shift in a police cruiser.  They should still have the ability to run license plates, get information from dispatch, and run a license check.  Smaller models of Panasonic Toughbooks, such as the U1 or CF-19, make that a possibility with not much more than some simple mounting options.  Both are small enough and light enough that they do not put a strain on the bike or cause operation issues or difficulties for the driver.

Because motorcycle officers are generally used for traffic enforcement, it is important for them to be equipped with a mobile data terminal such as a Toughbook.  They deal with a large quantity of vehicles and persons, meaning that they have a high likelihood of coming into contact with a person who is wanted, driving on suspended privileges, or in a vehicle that falls within the guidelines to be impounded.  Not having a mobile data terminal significantly decreases their ability to check on these items.  Missing out on these various items can lead from something as simple as losing out on revenue for the city to inadvertently letting a wanted person continue to go free.

Check out how adding a Toughbook to motorcycles has affected the Tucson Police Department:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cameras for K-9's

Many departments have had a K-9 department for years.  They use their patrol dogs are used to find criminal suspects. They search buildings and open areas, track suspects that have fled from a crime scene and locate any evidence that a suspect leaves behind. They are used because with their keen sense of smell, a patrol dog can search faster, safer, with less manpower, and more accurately than officers can alone.

The New York Police Department has decided to use some members of their K-9 department a bit differently.  They are outfitting members of their transit bureau K-9 unit with infrared cameras to help the dogs and their handlers see what’s going on in the depths of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail system.

The infrared cameras are similar to the ones utilized by Navy SEALS during the raid of Osama bin Laden's compound.  In this case, however,  the camera systems are mounted onto a vest that is worn by the dog, with the camera filming from their back.  The camera transmits real time images to a monitor worn on the police officer's wrist, similar to an over-sized watch.  The cameras significantly increase the safety of the officers who work in the dark confined spaces of the subterranean metro system, as they allow the officers to follow their K-9 from a safe distance.  According to Lt. John Pappas, the leader of the transit bureau's K-9 unit, "The cameras can save officers’ lives by enabling us to see what’s down the field before we go there."

Each of the cameras is also equipped with a GPS tracking system and a dog collar that emits a light.  The GPS system allows officers to safely track a K-9 that is trailing a scent or in pursuit of a suspect.  While the light allows a clear field of vision for K-9's that are in dark spaces.

These K-9 camera systems will also be highly beneficial in the unfortunate case of a major accident or terrorist act.  Because the dogs are smaller, they are able to navigate into significantly small spaces.  With their keen sense of smell, they are also more likely to be able to locate survivors than officers who are simply looking and listening for signs of life.

At $9,000, each camera does come with a pretty significant price tag.  The city of New York purchased theirs with grand funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration.

More information about this article can be read at The New York Times website.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Even Dash-Cameras Are Going HD

A European research firm is pretty certain that the next version of dashboard-camera systems are going to be in HD.  The reasoning behind their findings is that as HD technology becomes more commonplace, the cost of manufacturing such cameras also continues to decrease dramatically.  Because of the significant decrease in manufacturing costs, it becomes affordable to begin marketing them towards police agencies throughout the world.

Currently, HD cameras make up less than 15 percent of all mobile video surveillance systems in the United States.  This is probably because of the fact that there is currently only one HD video surveillance system designed for use inside police cruisers.  That manufacturer is WatchGuard Video.  It is believed that due there will most likely be an increase in available vendors during 2012.

Most departments already have an dashboard camera system in their vehicles, and they probably don't see the point in making the upgrade.  However, it is definitely something that should be considered, as the quality of images recorded is significantly improved in comparison to the older model cameras most departments are still utilizing.

Standard In-Car Dash Camera

WatchGuard HD In-Car Dash Camera

The downside to the better quality is that it will also most likely mean a required upgrade in the mobile computers used in the police cruisers.  HD video requires significantly more storage space than standard video, meaning that departments would either need to upgrade their entire computer system or all of their hard drives.

 See what real officers have to say about WatchGuard video.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Keep Your Department (And Personal) Data Safe

It has been in the news a great deal lately about criminal hacker groups, such as Anonymous, penetrating the safeguards of the internal networks such as the most recent attack on the Boston PD.  When this occurs they are sometimes just disruptive and reroute web-traffic to an alternative website.  But sometimes, they are able to capture a significant haul of operational and personal information on the agency’s operations and officers.

Stop to think about what types of information you currently have on your work computer, then take a moment to think about what types of information various other members of your department might have on their computers.  If your network and computers were hacked, the information available to be downloaded would include duty rosters with officers’ names, home addresses and personal phone numbers, training bulletins, policy manuals, crime and incident reports, internal memos, and photos of evidence and crime scenes.

Stop to think again about the personal information you might have on your work computer.  Some Arizona State Police Officers had various personal information stolen from them last year in a hacker attack.  Some of the information included family photos, voice mail sound files, video clips, and personal letters.  One officer even had copies of his income taxes, meaning the hackers now have all of the necessary information to steal his identity.

A great deal of the information being collected during these hacks on police departments is being placed on the web, where it can be found and downloaded by virtually anyone.  And once information is on the internet, it is virtually impossible to remove all traces of it.

Sadly, the majority of the personal and sensitive information being collected during these hacking attacks could have been avoided if the officers and departments were following adequate measures to secure their data.

How can you help keep data safe:

  1. Personal information is for your personal home!  The network of your department is at a significantly greater risk of being hacked than your home network, so keep your private information at home.
  2. Keep classified personnel information off of the server!  Yes, your employer needs to have your address, social security number, and possibly even your banking information.  However, it should not be stored on the server where it can easily be accessed.  If it is on the server, it should definitely be password protected.
  3. Use a good password!  Hackers infiltrate through simplistic passwords such as the name of the town, last name, pet's name, or even 12345.  A computer program can easily hack these simple passwords in a matter of hours.  Choose a password that is difficult to break, by utilizing numbers and symbols.
  4. Think of your work computer and server like a newspaper.  Don't put anything on it that you wouldn't want anyone else to be able to read. 
Government agency networks are a prime target for hacker groups.  It allows them to disrupt the government while promoting their political agenda, often at the expense of the people whose information they collect.  Be sure to follow adequate measures to keep both your personal and your departmental data safe!

Friday, February 3, 2012

How To Buy The Right Mobile Computer For Your Department

Finally acquiring funding approval and/or grant approval is a major step in purchasing mobile data terminals, such as Panasonic Toughbooks.  For many departments, it's probably the part of the purchasing process that takes the longest amount of time.  Once you get the okay to start browsing vendors and acquiring quotations, how do you determine what to buy?  To point you in the right direction, here are a few tips:

  1. Learn the specifications of your software.  Whether you are buying new software or continuing to use the same programs, you need to know what type of hardware requirements it has.  Pay particular attention to processor speeds, minimum memory/RAM, and required hard drive space.  There is nothing worse then buying computers only to find out that they can't do what you needed them to.
  2. Don't forget about peripherals and software that you want to get later.  Are you thinking about adding an automated license plate recognition system in a year or two?  Get some general specification information from various vendors, and then make sure that what you are purchasing will be able to handle the add on.
  3. Determine exactly what you plan to use them for.  Are you looking to mount them in a vehicle?  Do you plan to use them to capture signatures?  Will you be doing a lot of typing?  Are you going to integrate your lights and sirens into the computer system?  Knowing the answers to questions such as these can sway you in the direction of just what Toughbook you should purchase.  For example:
    --If you are looking to mount the Toughbooks in a vehicle, you are going to want to stick with a fully-rugged model, such as a CF-30, as it will outperform a semi-rugged model.
    --If you plan to capture signatures on it, you might want to lean towards a tablet unit, such as the CF-19, as it will lay flay making signing easier.
    --If you plan to do a lot of typing, you might want to stay away from a tablet unit since they do not have a standard sized keyboard.
    --If you plan to integrate lights, you definitely want to go with a touchscreen unit, as it is easier and safer for officers to operate those systems on the go.
  4. Think about how long you need it to last.  Are you in the process of upgrading from a system that was installed back in 1992?  Is it likely that the units you are purchasing are going to need to last you another ten years?  You might want to look into purchasing a newer model of computer.  A newer (not necessarily new) model will have lower usage hours and will be compatible with newer hardware and software for a longer period of time.
  5. Get your money's worth.  In a previous blog article we talked about overall cost of ownership.  Be sure to take into account the failure rate and time that the unit you are purchasing will be out of service.  In that blog, it is explained that Toughbooks are actually more cost efficient that other brands of laptops for emergency services usage (including the supposedly "rugged" versions of Dell) as they are a higher quality unit with a significantly lower failure rate.
  6. Maximize your funding.  Many departments overlook refurbished Toughbooks, as they look at them at being used and therefore of a lesser quality.  When in actuality, refurbished Toughbooks are often in like-new condition.  Throw in a great warranty, and it's like buying a new unit without the hefty price tag.  Prices of refurbished units are generally 50-75% less than the cost of new units.  If your funding is sparse or you need a lot of units, you should look into purchasing a refurbished unit.  Why purchase one new Toughbook for $3,500+ when you can get three or more for the same price?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Toughbooks Increase Officer Efficiency!

Most police officers spend the majority of their time out on the streets and in their police cruiser.  Yet, a great deal of the paperwork that comes along with policing forces officers to be off the streets and away from their police car.  As any officer is aware, logging a crime report is a lengthy process that usually starts with a home visit. The officer then has to take notes in a notebook and then write up a crime report. Typically, the report is then taken back to the station, where is it typed up. This system is not only lengthy, but also prone to errors in typing and reading faxes.  Plus, it forces officers to be pulled away from their cruisers sometimes up to a third of his or her shift.

Panasonic Toughbooks are changing that.  Toughbook rugged mobile computers are already in use by numerous police departments across the country, and are proving to be a revolutionary resource to police; at a time when spending cuts are high, a device that enables the force to save time and money is invaluable.  When Toughbooks are equipped with a mobile-broadband device, the Toughbook enables the police force to operate a mobile office system.  When out on the road, officers can use it to access the same systems that are available in the office, so they can be alerted to incidents as soon as they are reported, and can therefore respond in the quickest time possible.  Being connected to the office also allows officers to process any paperwork directly from their cruiser, keeping them on the streets and prepared to go if another incident arises.

The Toughbook fits into a docking station or a vehicle mount. It can be easily removed, allowing the officer to take the computer into a witnesses home to document any notes directly into the system.

There are a great deal of options for departments to choose from when they decide to put a Toughbook into their vehicles.  It is highly recommended to opt for a fully-rugged version of the Toughbook, such as the CF-19, CF-29, or CF-30, a they are built specifically for the wear-and-tear that comes with mounting a computer in a moving vehicle that will be exposed to significant temperature fluctuations.

Cost of purchase is always a significant purchasing issue for departments, especially with the budget cuts they've had to face over the past few years.  Finding a reputable refurbished Panasonic Toughbook dealer can significantly decrease the purchase cost, usually at savings upwards of 75% of the cost of a new Toughbook.  It is important when purchasing refurbished Toughbooks to do so through a dealer that offers a substantial warranty.  Although Toughbooks are built for abuse, there are instances of hardware or software failure that might need to be addressed in the future.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How Tough are Toughbooks?

We've written numerous posts about how Panasonic Toughbook's are rugged, how they are significantly better than other brands of (supposedly) rugged computers, and even about some of the types of abuse that they can endure.

Have you ever wondered why?  Toughbooks go through extensive testing in the development stage.  Just a few of the tests that they endure are a water spray test, vibration tests, hot/cold weather tests, and hinge tests.  Panasonic has rigorous standards in regards to testing.  Units need to exceed the military specifications of these tests, meaning you are purchasing a laptop that will hold up to significant wear, tear, and flat-out abuse.

To see an inside look at some of Panasonic's testing facilities check out the following video.

As if Panasonic's testing weren't enough, many Toughbook owners feel the need to really put their Toughbook to the test.  A quick browse on YouTube will show you all of obscure testing methods that have been utilized.  However, the following video stood out to us, as it is one of the view videos where a Panasonic Toughbook has been immersed in water and blown-up...and (of course) it still worked like new afterwards.

Obviously, our refurbishing and repair technicians do not recommend dunking your Toughbook in water, blowing it up, feeding it to a tiger, or running it over with a car on purpose.  However, accidents happen, so why not have a computer that is prepared to handle them?