Homeland Security and Public Safety

Pre-incident Software Equips First Responders With Critical Details

Howard County, Md., deploys software that electronically provides building data to emergency personnel.

 

The Howard County, Md., Department of Fire and Rescue Services is rolling out a program to standardize all emergency personnel — fire, police, emergency medical technicians, dispatch, mutual aid or other — on the same system where users access digital building plans that provide crucial information about sites before they arrive on the scene.

Last week, the county announced its implementation of the CommandScope All Hazard Pre-Incident Plan program, which will equip in-vehicle mobile data terminals and desktops back at the station with the same location data digitally, including maps, photos, floor plans, emergency lockdown procedures and hazardous material information.

It’s easier to get crucial mission intelligence to authorities countywide when the information is digital instead of paper plans in binders, said Steve Wilson, the fire department’s IT manager.

“Our goal was to put it where everybody can get to it, no matter who,” Wilson said. “If there’s an emergency at one address, and it goes 46 levels deep, we want all 46 of those responding companies to have access to the same information.”

A first responder with CommandScope can query building information by street or name, or click on an address. The program generates myriad information, including data on escape plans, maps, hydrant and sprinkler locations, hazardous materials, alarms and construction materials. Responders also update building information when they arrive and attach supporting material, including Word documents, spreadsheets, JPEGs and video files.

Storing the information electronically makes it dynamic, so it’s more convenient than redrawing printed plans and updating binders. “You’ve got complete access to all the information that’s been collected in the history of this building, and it may be just what we’ve collected on an inspection or as part of a routine site visit,” Wilson said.

This means that everyone — from the paramedic who first arrives to the cop who comes later to the dispatcher who has been standing by from the beginning of an incident — will be on the same page digitally. Chicago-based company RealView brands CommandScope as a central repository for everyone whose business is disaster management.

“It’s an all-hazards product,” said Dave Howorka, RealView’s executive vice president. “It can be used to provide building data to all of the emergency responders, because we know that every incident has multiple people responding, whether it’s a fire or a shooter, there’s some critical intelligence that’s needed in order for the responders to be effective.”

The county launched a pilot program earlier this year in a small number of fire stations to test the technology’s usefulness, and now it’s giving the go-ahead to the rest of the county to join in. More than 400 personnel have been trained to use the system already, but the program is still in its infancy, so Howard County will refine protocol as time goes on.

“We have over 6,000 buildings that have been entered into the database,” said Howard County Fire and Rescue Services Chief William Goddard. “We have all of our stations visiting each and every building within their area, making sure that we have accurate, updated information.”

Currently the system only contains business plans. Residential plans are on the way, but the Howard County administration will have to determine what information is appropriate to reveal without jeopardizing citizen privacy. Government leaders are currently developing policies and procedures for how to use the system.
 

Hilton Collins  |  Staff Writer

Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Emergency Management magazine.

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