The Impact of Mobile Technology on Firefighters and First Responders

By US Digital Designs Staff

Today’s mobile technology—smartphones, tablets and “phablets”—can you let you do almost anything. You can check stock prices, get instant news alerts, and post videos and status updates on social media. And, firefighters and first responders can even get mobile alerts when there’s an incident or emergency.

Yes, fire station alerting is going mobile. Customers of the US Digital Designs’ Phoenix G2 Fire Station Alerting System can now get critical and live-incident fire station alerting information—both at the station and on their mobile devices—to help reduce response times.

Fire Station Alerting Mobile Technology is Evolving
Many fire department “old-timers” will entertain some of their newer crew members with stories from long ago. They may talk about how firefighters had no modern computer systems for getting emergency alerts from their dispatch centers and how they relied on alerts from only via two-way handheld radios. Even worse, departments in rural areas often had to rely on dialup phones to first responders’ homes. That situation made getting alerts via handheld radios seem high-tech. Radios and computerized/IP fire station alerting is still very much a critical way to notify responders of an incident, but it’s time that departments get up to speed and make use of current technology.

As we all know, verbal communication is much slower than written communication and is subject to user error by first responders who are responsible for taking the information communicated via handheld radio and passing it on to others based on their recollection. Combined with modern dispatch and alert systems like the Phoenix G2 Fire Station Alerting System, smartphone and tablet technology applications can now provide instant verbal, written, and location alerts to multiple users, regardless of whether they are in the firehouse or on the road.

Fire Station Alerting Mobile Application Features
At US Digital Designs, we’ve stayed ahead of the curve in monitoring technology advancements and the impact they have on our industry. At present, although it seems as if anyone can put together an app and sell it via the Apple or Google online stores, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Many organizations want to be the first to market a unique idea and, as a result, have offered an inferior product.

We’ve given the concept of a mobile technology a lot of research and development over the last few years, to try and determine which features should/should not be included in such a product offering. We’ve also researched how to develop the back-end infrastructure so that it’s just as dependable as our in-quarters Phoenix G2 Fire Station Alerting System—no matter what country or state it’s being used in. After a thoughtful analysis, we worked with our clients to prioritize what they felt should be the primary functionality of any mobile offering:

  • The ability to receive simultaneous mobile alerts. Life is unpredictable and, more often than not, a first responder might have multiple incidents in which he is involved. An application that provides for concurrent alerts is critical.
  • Hearing the same tones as the station. In addition to visual alerts, the mobile application should also allow users to hear information, including tones, so they are privy to the same information available at the station house.
  • Hearing the same consistent automated voice (VoiceAlert) as the station. A predictable and easily comprehended vocalized delivery of the alert, no matter where you are, dramatically increases the accuracy and comprehension of the incident details.
  • Accurate online mapping. Interactive maps that can provide valuable information to first responders, such as current or historical alert/incident data, and integration with native device mapping applications for location and turn-by-turn navigation.
  • Alert format on mobile device is identical to that seen/heard in quarters. Parsed from the same CAD data and delivered with the same look and feel that the agency has previously defined provides greater consistency.
  • Ability to save and review specific alerts. This feature can “pin” specific alerts to review and assess at a later time.
  • Ability to go on or off duty. Nobody deserves rest more than off-duty emergency responders, so the G2 FSA App has a simple on and off switch to disable or enable push notifications.
  • Filtering notifications for a specific need or desire. Tailoring notifications (push and otherwise) to specifically match what individual users need to see and hear reduces the volume of necessary information.
  • Acting as (yet another) redundant means of alerting. A fire agency administrator or firefighter can be out of quarters, out of apparatus, and stuck with a malfunctioning radio yet still have another redundant means to ensure that the appropriate personnel are alerted as quickly as possible.

Benefits of Fire Station Mobile Technology Applications
There are many benefits our FSA Mobile application can have in our industry—not only to first responders, but also to affect the response rate for the department as a whole. Our personal top three include:

  1. Being able to receive dispatch alerts at the fire station as well as on the go. Alerts can be customized so that first responders will either receive an audio tone, a vibration on the phone, a visual text message or all three.
  2. Accurate directions to an incident. Using GPS technology and the device’s native mapping application, first responders can be provided with the quickest route—since seconds can determine whether someone lives or dies. Getting there as quickly as possible is imperative.
  3. Search and analyze functionality. This should include an easy-to-use search window within the app to find specific incident or alert types, unit assignments and other critical data for review.

As mobile technology continues to evolve at a lightning-fast pace, relying on smartphones and tablets will be crucial to dispatchers and first responders. Fire agencies must place themselves ahead of the curve and, if they haven’t done so already, ensure that their first responders have the mobile tools they need to make them more effective in their roles.

Do your first responders currently have mobile technology devices that they use in their day-to-day activities? Does your department provide smartphones to first responders? We would love to hear what you think about the impact smartphones and tablets have in your department.

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