Ensuring Fire Fighter Safety In Emergency Responder Scenarios

Fire and rescue personnel can face serious danger in a variety of situations but particularly when they find themselves separated from their colleagues due to circumstances beyond their control, or when they are off duty and respond in a personal capacity to an incident or are caught up in an incident.

Such situations can be found in fire and explosions in an industrial complex, a building or facility collapse when a demolition goes wrong, terrorist incidents, floods, war zones, aircraft crashes, multiple vehicle accidents, bush, forest and moorland fires, domestic and commercial property fires, and incidents at sea. They can also happen where emergency services vehicles – fire, police, ambulance, helicopter etc – are broken down or damaged.

Lone workers of emergency services are especially vulnerable because of the nature of their work and their precise whereabouts being unknown or unsure of by their colleagues or other service.

Duty of care

Employees of businesses benefit from duty of care legislation, where those businesses come under the jurisdiction of countries with such legislation or understanding and take action to protect their staff in potentially dangerous situations. Increasingly, that action includes equipping staff with people tracking apps that can provide true global coverage if required. Satellite trackers are used for areas where mobile phones signals are weak or non existent.

Many Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies are equipping staff involved in commercial travelling with a people tracking app from Vismo, and providing the same for staff who work in potentially hazardous work environments and terrorism and kidnap hotspots. A number of UN agencies deploy the app in war zones and areas adjacent to them.

Individuals, acting on their own initiative, also purchase the app and download it to their phone of choice. The principal users are employees of larger companies, however.

Where fire and rescue personnel do not have a people tracking app, the organisation in charge of them, or which employ them, are advised to refer to duty of care legislation [or the spirit of it in countries where the legislation doesn’t exist].

Examples of use

Although industrial accidents and other non terrorist incidents are ideal for the application of the app, terrorism has been the focus in the past 18 months or so. During the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a supermarket in Paris in January 2015, 90 people – some, buyers in retail on their way to China – in the French capital had the app on their phones and were given advice by text as to what was happening, the areas to avoid and what to do if they were close to, or caught up in, the incidents.

In the attacks on tourists at a holiday resort in Tunisia, also in 2015, when 30 British holidaymakers died from gunshot wounds, 27 people in the country had the app on their phones and were kept informed about what was going on and how to minimise risks to themselves.

At a multiple bomb blast and gunfire at an election rally in Baghdad in 2014, a team of journalists attending the event helped a colleague who had become separated from them and found where she was via the app. She was directed to safety via a crisis management centre that operates in association with employers, the app and Vismo. It’s one of a number of crisis management centres around the world that provides high level support to app users and information to their employers.

The centres keep employer organisations informed at all times, during an incident, about the whereabouts of their staff, including volunteers who work for them, and what is known about their safety and what is being done to reach an successful outcome.

The app was also in use in Paris in the attacks later in the year. including inside the Bataclan Theatre, where 89 people died and rescues services had a difficult time in their rescue bid due to gunfire. It was also on phones in Belgium when suicide bombers struck at Brussels Airport and the metro in the city in March 2016.

How it works

The app is downloaded and installed on BlackBerry, iPhone, Android and Windows devices and, for those areas where there is no 3G or 4G mobile phone coverage, on satellite devices.

If users want to let their whereabouts – and what their circumstances are – be known, they activate a panic button on their phone. Immediately, a covert recording is made via the inbuilt microphone in their phone and transmitted in real time to a crisis management centre, where it’s analysed along with any email, text and or voice message sent by the users.

In return, the users quickly receive advice and other information by text. The clearer the situation becomes to the crisis management centre, the more precise is the advice and information provided. In cases where a centre is aware of an incident before any individuals affected, it sends them an alert with information and the steps to take to minimise risk to themselves.

Each centre liaises closely not only with emergency services to share information, but with Vismo, whose servers integrate information received – after the panic button has been pressed – with the precise location [or locations if more than one individual is involved]. Each location is put into a mapping solution commonly used by emergency services, and the information received is shared among those services.

Search and rescue swing into action – or are able to become better focused if already underway – with two-way voice and/or text communication used wherever possible to keep the at-risk workers informed, and reassured that help is on the way as quickly as possible. In some situations an emergency evacuation of a building or area will be made or attempted, with at risk personnel being given precise information about what is happening including how the evacuation will be carried out and what they should do or shouldn’t do to facilitate it.

Features and capabilities of the app at a glance

  • GPS Tracking, giving regular GPS fixes of events and allowing a user organisation’s crisis management team to view current locations, historical trails, battery life and signal strength.
  • Incident Response, showing the most current position of employees in the vicinity of any incident and sends advice, by text, on what action they should take.
  • Geo-Fencing, enabling user organisations to set up “geo-fences” and receive text messages and email alerts when an employee moves into a high risk area or leaves a safe one.
  • Online control, enabling user organisations to manage the risk and safety of all affected emergency workers from one secure, central, online location.
  • Check-in/check-out, allowing personnel to register their arrival and departure to/from a location, via the app.

Optimised location accuracy while stretching battery life

Vismo was awarded a patent earlier this year for its technology for GPS tracking on mobile devices. The company previously had a patent pending and has now secured a full patent for its unique operation. The awarded patent, GB2470376, specifically covers the design behind the algorithms and innovative operations of the app to optimise location accuracy with minimal battery drain.

The algorithms use a combination of metrics from the phone, including speed of travel, GPS, network information and phone tower locations to determine optimal accuracy for locations without incurring the large battery drain usually typical of GPS tracking applications.

Critical to the approach is how Vismo utilises the functionality of mobile devices. The company minimises the use of navigational sensors by placing them into hibernation between pre-determined intervals and uses environmental information to quickly locate a device without lengthy GPS warm-up periods. Ultimately, this produces a chronological “trail” following a user’s location point-by-point on a map.

To conclude

Lone workers and personnel in emergency responder situations anywhere in the world can be helped – and reassured – through the use of a people tracking app. Using the latest technology to pinpoint the exact location of the user and extend battery life, the app as developed by Vismo could be viewed as a natural extension of the technologies already employed by fire and other emergency services to help the safety of their personnel.

For more information, go to www.vismo.com