I love technology and applying it to the profession of emergency management. I think one of the most exciting developments in technology is the recent proliferation of tablets. Whether you like Android, Apple, or Windows, there is an option for pretty much everyone. I started using tablets for emergency management at the start of my career, and I’ve used Android, iOS, and now Windows 8. The development community are coming up with excellent applications that aid public safety professionals for all three platforms.
I’m currently using a Dell Venue Pro 11, which runs full Windows 8.1 (not Windows RT, which runs on a limited number of devices and does not support legacy programs). Despite some glaring technical issues with this device, I love having a tablet which runs a full range of productivity tools. I can have Cameo and MARPLOT (two tremendous free tools emergency managers should be using), as well as ESRI GIS tools and advanced productivity software right in my hand.
I like where technology is taking the profession of emergency management. It places libraries of technical data right in the palm of your hand. It makes managing incidents with tools like GIS mapping and resource management databases easier. It allows data to be collected, manipulated, and disseminated much more quickly. It allows crowdsourcing of situational awareness through social media. The conversation once centered around how emergency managers would use these tools. Now the issue is how these new technologies are forcing emergency managers to adapt. Technology moves at a rapid pace, and you either get pushed ahead or you fall woefully behind.
The utility of the iPad directly correlates to the apps used. I had a few dollars left on an App Store gift card, so I spent the balance on two emergency-management centric apps. These are digital versions of two valuable references that are familiar to most first responders.
The first is the Emergency Response Guidebook (.99, Gary Huntress). This is an iPhone only app, so it will not run full screen on the iPad without the blockiness of the 2x feature. This is an electronic version of the reference document that many first responders use on a daily basis when responding to the initial phase of HAZMAT incidents. You can search by chemical name, which makes finding the information you need during the crucial first moments of a HAZMAT incident faster and easier. The ERG app also features initial response guidance and placard information and diagrams.
The second app is also an electronic version of a familiar HAZMAT reference guide. NIOSH Chemical Hazards ($2.99, Random Support) is an electronic version of the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Safety. This is a valuable reference for the later phases of an incident. Like the ERG app, this lets you search by chemical or trade name as well as synonyms and CAS or RTECS numbers. One feature I like is that you can add substances to a “favorites list,” so you can rapidly reference commonly-encountered substances.
These apps place a lot of valuable information into my hands in a rapidly accessible format. When used together, they provide information that can guide all phases of a HAZMAT response. If you’re an emergency management professional or first responder that uses an iPad, then you need these apps. Both are highly recommended.
As many of you know, I am an avid iPad user. It has revolutionized my incident management process. It is really an all-in-one incident management toolkit. Here is a quick walk through of how I might use my iPad on an incident scene.
I arrive at the incident scene, throw on my vest, and grab my iPad and install the Bad Elf GPS. I open Documents to Go and load my incident report form. I familiarize myself with the incident by being briefed by the current IC (believe it or not, emergency management does always need to be in command of an incident). I begin filling out my incident report on the iPad.
I will also grab the coordinates and create a quick location map using the Bad Elf GPS and an offline navigation app (right now I am using Topo Maps).
This is certainly not high-powered GIS capability, but it is a way to get a quick map of the scene. You can add additional pins to the map to denote additional information if necessary.
Should the event grow in complexity, I have the entire set of ICS forms that I can use to set up and document a formal command structure. This allows me a great deal of flexibility in managing both small and large scale incidents. And I’ve failed to mention the obvious access to Email and to documentation on the Internet. With access to cellular data from my phone or a mobile hotspot, I have an entire library of information at my fingertips. And I can file my incident report or send detailed sit-reps right from the scene.
There is no doubt that the iPad is a revolutionary incident management tool. I’m not planning to pick up the iPad 2, though the front and rear-facing cameras would add even more versatility to this tool. And yes, this post was drafted completely with my iPad :)
I’m sorry that it’s been a while since I posted part 1 of the Bad Elf GPS review. I finally had a chance to use the Bad Elf GPS today on an incident scene. I was called to the scene of an abandoned “shake and bake” meth lab. As part of my reports, I need to obtain the coordinates of the incident. I had previously used the Bad Elf and updated the satellite data using the app from the app store, so the acquisition did not take long. I have an older Magellan handheld GPS, and the Bad Elf GPS seems to be more accurate and acquires a signal lock much more quickly.
Coupled with the ability to use the Bad Elf with an app like Offline Topo Maps, this definitely provides a powerful new tool for my incident management toolbox.
There was a nice suprise waiting for me this afternoon when I got home from the Basic EOC Training in Ashland–my Bad Elf GPS! I snapped a few pictures of the unboxing, but performance testing will have to wait until better weather. Until then, here’s a few pictures of the Bad Elf GPS.
When the weather clears and I have some free time, I will take the Bad Elf out and test it. Feel free to leave your questions in the comment session and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.
With mobile data connections becoming ubiquitous, it is only logical that more of the more of the tools used by emergency management professionals are hosted “in the cloud.”. In addition to Dropbox, there are a couple of other web-based tools I use. The Kentucky Divison of Emergency Management has proven to be extremely proactive in implementing cloud-based storage. We now use Sharepoint (okay, it’s not really “the cloud,” but it works that way for end users) as a standardized document management solution to share information between the local and state levels, as well as a way to share information with our peers. The implementation has been seamless and it puts a powerful new tool in our hands.
I am also awaiting the roll out of WebEOC for all local users. Some local directors have it now, but the solution in place is hosted and administered by public health. KYEM is going to host it for local emergency management directors in the near future. Again, this will put a powerful information sharing and collaborative tool at our fingertips. And as a techie, I have to admit that I am extremely excited!
How do you use cloud-based computing in your EMA? Feel free to share your best practices or your concerns.
After an unscheduled and unexpected hiatus, I’m ready to start posting regularly again. I apologize for my absence.
The iPad has become one of the most powerful tools in my Emergency Management Agency. It is an essential part of my workflow. There is an interesting accessory that I’m looking forward to trying–the Bad Elf GPS. This little dongle gives any iPad GPS capabilities. The Bad Elf is backordered, but I have my name on the waiting list. I would love to score a unit to test and review. Paired with an offline topo map viewing app, this could become a very powerful tool for search and rescue. When I have more information, I will pass it along.
It’s been a little over a week since my iPad arrived, and it has proven to be an indispensable tool. Does it do everything a notebook can? Not quite, but it does the 75% of the most common tasks that you would use a notebook for and does them well. I’m looking forward to using in the field and I’ve already been designing the workflow I will use.
The usefulness of the iPad is determined by the Apps you use. I have downloaded a few that I think will be useful for emergency managers. These include Dropbox, which creates a 2GB storage space in the cloud that you can access from just about any Internet-connected device through an app or a web browser. This allows you to easily sync documents between machines and you can even set up a folder to be accessible by others.
Another app that I have been using extensively is Penultimate
(Cocoa Box Design, $3.99). This app let’s you take handwritten notes. I’m using a Griffin Stylus along with my iPad for quick note taking. It’s not quite as seamless as an experience as using a tablet PC with an active digitizer, but Penultimate features a palm rejection feature which largely eliminates stray marks caused by resting your wrist on the screen. Highly recommended.
Since my incident report and other forms are in Word format, I needed a way to work with them on the iPad. Documents to Go Premium for iPad (DataViz, $14.99). This app let’s you edit Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files and view PDF documents. It preserves most advanced formatting, so forms should work and look the same way on a notebook or desktop. Documents to Go also integrates with Dropbox, so retrieving or saving files to the cloud couldn’t be simpler. If you’re going to get some serious work done, you need Documents to Go.
In the next few weeks I plan to try out a new service called ProntoForms with my iPad. Prontoforms allows you to create forms for collecting data and syncing it with a database. This could be a real breakthrough for my workflow. I’ll check it out and report back soon.
If you have any questions about the iPad or how I’m using it, feel free to post a comment.
I picked up an iPad (32 GB Wi-fi) and I’m really enjoying using it so far. It’s lacking a few of the features of my perfect device, but it’s a very good tool. The screen real estate is great and the battery life is excellent. I look forward to using it as a tool to improve my emergency management program. More to come soon!