How Modern Communications Technology Makes You and Your Community Safer

by trenzpruca


English: Coachella Valley © 2004 Matthew Trump

English: Coachella Valley © 2004 Matthew Trump (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earthquake Preparedness, First Responders and Limited-Access Hybrid Communications Systems

“Articles about advances in personal electronic devices often seem focused on frivolity–playing games, seeing where your friends are eating dinner, and watching DVDs–but the real news is that these technological advances also provide valuable tools for personal and public safety.” — From a personal communication with Ruth Galanter, former Los Angeles City Council member.

A few days ago the Smart + Connected Communities Institute referenced a Berkman Center paper regarding Lessons Learned from the Great Earthquake. Included in the lessons learned was the significant effect on recovery created by destruction of or damage to electronic and other data caches. The paper urged, among other things, creation of a collaborative network to protect valuable information infrastructure in a crisis.

On September 12, 2012, California’s Seismic Safety Commission along with its technology partner Seismic Warning Systems Inc., took the initial steps to install such a system to deal with the needs of first responders to earthquake disasters in the highly seismically active Coachella Valley in California.

The system requires placing sensors every 6-12 kilometers or less along selected faults. These sensors will analyze p-waves (nondestructive waves that precede the more destructive waves in earthquakes) and, following detection of large earthquakes, send alerts to devices in major-emergency response facilities such as fire stations, public health facilities, communication facilities and the like. The devices, in turn, will pre-operate those essential functions often damaged when an earthquake hits, such as opening fire station apparatus room doors, turning on lights and displaying warnings of public safety and utility dispatch monitors, closing off gas mains, turning on emergency electric generators and so forth. Furthermore, it allows emergency services personnel to receive the early warnings by PA systems in their buildings to allow them to begin their preparation to respond to the event. Early warnings can also be sent to emergency personnel through their personal communications devices. (Variations of this system protecting individual buildings and related sites have been installed in several places around the country, including, for instance, on the Cisco corporate campus in San Jose, California and its day care center as well.)

In addition, as the Japanese study recommends, mechanisms for protecting the data in major data centers can be installed that automatically trigger data-saving measures and customer-transparent operations, such as switching over to redundant systems. Key personnel can then be notified that such operations have begun so they can take whatever additional actions may be required.

These types of pre-disaster management triggering systems, when combined with personal communication technology, could be called “limited-access hybrid communications systems.” Access could / would be “limited” to a particular set of users (e.g., executives, emergency personnel, facilities managers). “Hybrid” in the sense that the mechanical / electrical systems and the communications systems are intended to operate in tandem. (Of course, one could argue that a mapping application used to find driving directions becomes a hybrid system or perhaps a “mash-up” when the user jumps into his car and drives to his destination–or uses GPS while driving–but it is difficult to classify the user as a member of significantly limited user group…. Anyway, if anyone has the need for a better definition and has some ideas about it, I am all ears.)

Another example of a somewhat similar of system but focused more an individual property and personal security would be those home and facility security systems that notifies security personnel and the property owner via their mobile devices if something on the property has gone amiss — such as a break-in, a fire or even an appliance left running while an owner is on vacation — and allows for the remote operation of various systems on the property from the mobile devices.

Many medical and emergency public service personnel today carry smart phones, pads and notebook computers containing applications that assist them in carrying out their duties. Although they are clearly trained in the skills required for dealing with emergencies in the field, the amount of information required to manage complex modern emergency field equipment and execute the various protocols for dealing with the variety of medical issues they may confront while dealing with the other effects of the crises, (e.g. fires, structural stability and the like) makes reliance on human memory for procedures and protocols unsatisfactory, if not downright dangerous. The time pressures these individuals work under makes referring to handbooks and texts unwieldy and time-consuming even if they were able to carry around all the volumes required to cover every eventuality they may meet.

To deal with this problem, applications have been developed covering a host of those emergency protocols and procedures. These are not simply informational applications, like for example a handbook digitalized on to a smart phone, but often are applications capable of guiding and responding to the emergency personnel’s real time needs during operation of the equipment and execution of the protocols that may be necessary to save a life.

For example, the American Heart Association has produced a number of applications carried by many emergency services and medical personnel that contain protocols, procedures and check lists for operation of appropriate equipment and treatment of cardiac problems in the field. Many more applications like this exist and their number is increasing, especially in emergency medical and disaster prevention and recovery activities.

This appears to be a growing and welcome phenomenon. In fact, I recently heard that there may be applications under development by several international organizations that could assist medical personnel in treating biohazards in the field to stem their spread across national boundaries.

As Ruth Galanter mentions, discussion about modern mobile communication devices and their associated applications often focus on social media, games, and other ways to simplify some daily activities even if they do not necessarily simplify daily life itself. But the ability of these devices — often used in concert with various Internet applications–to extend the range and efficiency of various critical, disparate systems — some hard-wired and some virtual should not be overlooked in community planning to address community development and maintenance needs. No longer just an issue of budgets, personnel and existing infrastructure, community and emergency response planners need to ask also if application of modern communication technology can make whatever it is they are trying to prepare for simpler, quicker, cheaper and more effective.

When the forest fire advances on your house and you are packing the car to flee, you really won’t care about playing games! You will want the Fire Department rushing to your aid and the comfort of knowing they know what to do when they get there. Technology can take care of this.