A well-mapped response

Emergency preparedness software gives first responders a better view of the rescue scene with new mapping technologies

Hazmat preparation
     Then there are hazmat situations. to contend with.

     "Trained hazmat responders know how to implement a response plan and deal with an incident once they know and understand the problem in front of them," says Bruce King, CEO of AristaTek Inc., based in Laramie, Wyoming.

     "If they knew they only had to deal with five substances anytime they responded, their life would be simpler," he continues. "The problem is, they have to be able to deal with hundreds of thousands of different hazardous substances, and there's not much chance they're going to know the necessary information on all of these substances."

     Looking up information depends on the chemicals or agents involved, and might take more than 45 minutes to research, which can reduce crucial response time, says Tom Anderson, president/CEO of Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based First Responder Systems & Technology Inc.

     Software tools exist to allow first responders to quickly and accurately identify not only the substances involved in the incident but also what kind of action is required; in which direction to evacuate, if necessary; and how wide of an area to evacuate.

     John Moretti, former assistant chief for the 141-person, all-volunteer Manalapan (New Jersey) Fire Department, says they've been using a hazmat program for about six years now, as well as a navigation/mapping system software tool.

     "We have different areas in our township that are high hazard, such as a business that manufactures hair product supplies," says Moretti. "We've had to do many evacuations of this business; they've had at least three fires a year. We're able to determine which way the wind is blowing, the humidity levels and other factors and communicate these to the police department to coordinate the evacuation."

     Their system, which can be connected to the CAD, can run addresses, show the location and how to get there. It also provides details such as the location of water supplies, or any Tier 2 facilities in the area, along with information about the facility, says Moretti. For example, if there's a gas station located next to a house fire, responders will know if that station does automotive repairs or stores propane.

     GPS coordinates are also given by the mapping software for helicopter responders to quickly locate landing zones en route to motor vehicle accidents.

     This software enables rescue teams to pre-plan while responding to various scenarios, says Moretti. He adds that another particularly helpful feature determines the area hospitals and their maximum patient capacity.

     "The police department is talking about using this system, especially since they are on the CAD and this software ties in very nicely," he says.

From hazmat to hotel
     Hotel management teams are also finding that emergency management software has a place in their operations as well. Consider the historic, 611-room Davenport Hotel and Tower, located in Spokane, Washington. About two years ago, at the request of the U.S. Marshal Service, they installed mapping software, says Chris Powell, director of security at the hotel.

     During that time, Spokane was hosting the 2005 9th Circuit Court Judicial Conference, recalls Powell. The Marshals were in charge of providing security for all the senior federal judges staying at the hotel during the conference.

     "The whole hotel was mapped," says Powell, who participated in some of the pre-planning sessions. "We conducted drills with the police and fire departments. They planned out decontamination and staging areas and evacuation routes. Even the parking garage was mapped."

     This information is not only available to Powell and his security guards; it's also on the mobile computers of both the police and fire departments. Since the initial launch, they've done subsequent training with the police department and the hazmat team. And as Pegram discovered, Powell agrees this tool is also useful for addressing facility issues such as water leaks.

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