News Column

Laptops Mobile terminals to help connect emergency responders with incident data on the go

August 1, 2014

By Courtney Mabeus, The Frederick News-Post, Md.



Aug. 01--Frederick County Fire Marshal Battalion Chief Rusty Hahn touches a button on a steel-cased Panasonic Toughbook, and a map of a neighborhood pops up on the screen, complete with nearby fire hydrants.

In an era when almost everyone seems to own a smartphone, these laptops are expected to help streamline first responders' jobs by arming them with real-time incident and location data when they are on the move. Within months, the county will begin installing 172 laptops, called mobile data terminals, loaded with software called Mobile for Public Safety, in its major fleet apparatus, including ambulances, fire engines and trucks.

"There's house numbers," Hahn said, gesturing to the screen, "so every house number is in line, every hydrant is on the map. So when you're going to an event, it will put you right on the house that you're going to, and then you can zoom in, zoom out and look at houses that are close."

That information will also help arriving units determine where to set up, Hahn said. "They can see it, where it is, in relation to the incident they're going to."

The goal is safety and efficiency, county fire and rescue services Chief Denise Pouget said.

The terminals and the software will help further centralize a large department under one system by linking all major apparatus directly to the county's computer-aided dispatch system. Since taking over the department a year ago, Pouget has focused on upgrading systems to better track records management, training of volunteer and career personnel, and equipment inspections that she has said will increase accountability.

"When you come under one system and you can evaluate everything, everybody's equipment, where everybody is at," Pouget said. "It's about bringing them up to speed."

In addition to displaying maps, the software shows first responders who has been dispatched to a scene and which tasks have been assigned to whom. The software, Intergraph, will provide such information as the hospital a patient has been taken to and will allow crews to maintain contact with county communications on their operational status. Problems and updates to the map and with radio coverage can also be reported via the terminal, Hahn said.

County fire marshals, safety officers and battalion chiefs have used a similar version of Mobile for Public Safety, called iMobile, in their vehicles previously, Hahn said. That product, also developed by Intergraph, will no longer be supported by the company, he said.

County information technology and geographic information systems employees have helped configure the software to the department's needs. The software will continue to be updated with information including new roads and neighborhoods, and the operational status of hydrants, "pretty regularly depending on the need," said Stephani Stockman, a county software integrator.

Other area jurisdictions are already using similar software, Pouget said. The rollout is expected to cost about $450,000, she said.

Some county staff began training on the software this week and will work with the contractor on any additional updates, Hahn and Stockman said.

Pouget said use of the terminals could reduce radio traffic, which can cut down on confusion among crews.

John Neary, president of the Frederick County Association of Career Firefighters, said the terminals will end the need for a clutter of maps that can take up space in an emergency vehicle and create an additional hazard.

"When it comes to those terminals, it's going to be a great asset to the fire department," Neary said.

Such real-time information might have been helpful during the county's response to a January 2013 Myersville house fire that killed two small girls, Pouget said. An engine went the wrong way and got stuck turning around that night, delaying its response by as much as an hour, according to a post-incident analysis. Former division Director Tom Owens said following that analysis that officials did not believe the delay prevented rescue of the girls.

"Something like this strengthens the system," Pouget said.

Follow Courtney Mabeus on Twitter: @courtmabeus.

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(c)2014 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

Visit The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) at www.fredericknewspost.com

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Source: Frederick News-Post (MD)


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