IAFC, Partners Deploy Apps to Help Texas, Florida Hurricane Responders

As Hurricane Harvey slammed into east Texas and left devastating floods in its wake, the IAFC partnered with the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) to deploy an application (app) for use by a team from Florida sent to Texas to collect critical data to assist responders on the ground with their search and rescue and damage assessment efforts. The information was rolled into a “Commander's View Dashboard" to assist with real-time decision making on the ground.  

 The app was developed by IAFC, NAPSG and GIS partner ESRI, a world leader in geographic information system (GIS) technology. The team utilizing ESRI's Data Collection Apps Survey 123 and Workforce were designed to support the first responders in the field. An additional app was developed on the fly by ESRI and hosted on the Google and Apple stores to assist first responders in using the U.S. National Grid (USNG) system in accurate location reporting. This data is then transferred into the IAFC Tools — a suite of mobile and desktop decision support apps. This newly-developed USNG app serves as a cross-over tool to provide field teams the accurate location information they need to track responses. With a single tap on the screen, responders can copy the location into their clipboard. The Workforce App was used in conjunction with Survey 123 to provide real-time tracking of resources and to deliver missions to the teams in the field. These two apps working together support real-time transmission of the data back to EOC's and Command Centers for expeditated decisions. 

The tools include: 

  • A Statewide Emergency Response Plan-aligned Snapshot Damage Assessment Survey.
  • A Search and Rescue survey for responders to document victim contact, geo-locate rescues, and capture additional rescue or search needs.
  • A Patient Transfer Survey Tool that can support reunification and patient tracking.
  • A Mission Assignment Delivery tool to locate the closest unit to a mission.

Additionally, the survey tool supports accounting for numbers of rescues, types of rescues, and victim specifics. By using real time data collection, decision makers can see workloads and identify needs affected areas in near real-time. This allows for more efficient use of resources and better safety and incident management.  

“The purpose was to provide capabilities for individual responders to document individual searches, photographic, geo-coded information on victim contact and any other information that needed to be captured,” said Tommy Hicks, IAFC’s chief programs & technology officer and assistant executive director.  

Because of the pilot success in Texas, when Hurricane Irma was approaching South Florida days later, the Florida Fire Chiefs Association reached out to the IAFC to implement the app. The State of Florida wanted to use the Commanders View Dashboard as its state situational awareness tool. The IAFC and its partners deployed the suite of tools as a direct request from the Florida chiefs to the IAFC to assist with data collection using the IAFC Tools. 

The IAFC will continue to discuss with FEMA the value of this emerging technology for first responders. 

“We look forward to having conversations with FEMA post disaster to see how we can better collaborate on bringing technologies together into applications that benefit both the local and federal deployed resource,” Hick said. “We were excited that responders representing state, regional and local teams made up more than 300 users trained on the technology during the Hurricane Harvey and Irma emergencies.”

 Photo credit: 2016 U.S. Army National Guard.

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