New Innovations in Emergency Response

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Responding to emergencies quickly and efficiently is a challenge that communities have always faced. Thanks to emerging technology, it’s becoming easier for responders to assess threats, share information, and plan emergency responses. Many of the latest innovations in emergency response are poised to revolutionize the way response teams analyze events and coordinate their activities, while others are dramatically changing the way everyday citizens handle emergencies.

Smartphone Access to 911

Dialing 911 is supposed to be simple, and it’s something that children should learn to do as early as possible in the case of an emergency. While smartphones and technology have improved and simplified many types of emergency response, they may have made things more difficult when it comes to these three numbers.

Not all innovations are as sleek and simple as one might expect. Smartphones are a prime example. Though they have evolved to include advanced security features, they’ve also put some extra barriers in place for children who need to access emergency services. Today reported on a study by Rossen Reports where children were asked to demonstrate what to do in an emergency. Smartphone in hand, only one child could do it.

Make sure everyone in your household knows how to access the emergency keypad on your smartphone. If you have a passcode on your phone, you can use the emergency setting to bypass it and make critical calls, including those to 911. Show your children how this technology works so this innovation doesn’t end up slowing them down.

Automated Wildfire Protection Systems

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA), between January and April 2017, 52,903 wildfires burned over 2.4 million acres, representing the most wildfire activity seen since 2000. Wildfires can be devastating, but the new Roof Soaker system proposes a solution that would give landowners an innovative way to respond to the threat.

A patent is in place for this yet-to-be-manufactured system. It has an infrared tower that detects wildfires up to 50 miles away and alerts both property owners and emergency responders. It contains piping filled with water or fire retardant that can be sprayed over an area of 30 feet around the structure. Well-placed roof soakers can ease some of the strain of detecting and dealing with wildfires for emergency responders.

Geographic Information Systems

Geographic information systems (GIS) have extreme value for emergency responders. This analytical mapping technology helps them understand where hazards are located, how many people are affected, and what response is needed. Susan L. Cutter, a Carolina Distinguished professor of geography at the University of South Carolina, explained the usefulness of GIS to Emergency Management magazine, saying, “GIS models and simulation capabilities enable decision-makers to both exercise response and recovery plans during non-disaster times and also understand near real-time possibilities during an event.”

Cutter explains that GIS systems can offer critical social data to help emergency responders and public health leaders understand a population’s vulnerability to an emergency event. She also notes that “Steps are being made in research circles to utilize ‘citizens as sensors’ to create a more realistic real-time picture for situational awareness to aid decision makers.” As in many areas of technology innovation, emergency management is seeing the evolution of systems that can turn big data into actionable information. In this sector, the details can literally save lives.

Intelligent Street Lamps

Though street lamps may seem like an unlikely tool for emergency management and response, the innovative design of Intellistreets lamps gives seemingly ordinary lighting a powerful new layer of functionality. These street lamps are equipped with environmental sensors that detect hazards like rising water levels, strong winds, high temperatures, and lethal gas. They are also equipped with 180-degree cameras that offer a real-time look at pedestrian traffic and developing situations.

Emergency management teams can use these Intellistreets lamps to respond to threats and communicate essential information to citizens in the area. The lamps illuminate in four different colors, so area management can use them to indicate warnings, danger, or the safest escape route. Concealed speakers make it easier to make critical public announcements and a double-sided LED banner can display alerts.

With these powerful street lamps in place, emergency responders can gather essential information about threats and communicate with citizens at the street level before they’re able to arrive on the scene.

Interoperable Communications Technology

On the scene of a disaster, emergency response teams can swarm in from many different sources. Interoperable communications technology helps keep these teams in communication to streamline their activities and provide the best response possible in a hazardous situation. Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies is developing a device known as iDAWG (Intelligent Deployable Augmented Wireless Gateway). This technology facilitates machine-to-machine communication.

iDAWG can capture and share transmissions from multiple devices, so police, firefighters, EMS teams, municipal authorities, and others can communicate seamlessly. This can provide an essential bridge between traditional and non-traditional responders, acting as a signal repeater for everything from CB bands to private cell phones.

Emergency Communication Apps

Widespread smartphone adoption makes these devices the ideal means for communicating emergency response efforts with the public at large. A PEW Research study revealed that 68 percent of smartphone owners use their devices to follow breaking news events at least occasionally. Seeing the potential in this trend, FEMA has developed an app that helps to communicate critical information to at-risk populations.

Through the FEMA app, users can receive weather reports, locate emergency shelters, and even upload their own photos of a disaster to help responders better understand the threat. The app offers tips for handling over 20 types of emergency situations and disasters.

These new and innovative response tools can help public health experts act quickly in the event and aftermath of an emergency situation. If you are interested in the public health implications of subjects like these, consider a Master of Public Health Online at Keck School of Medicine of USC. This master’s degree in public health offers concentrations ranging from biostatistics and epidemiology to health services and policy, so you can customize your education to suit your passions in the field of public health.