I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a techie. If you need a fuel filter put on your 25 year old car or a travel trailer stripped and rebuild inside, I’m your girl. If you have a computer or technological question, forget it. So, like all good non-techie people, I have a super geek on my list of very good friends. Although I don’t have an iPhone or Android, I am familiar with the world of possibilities that exist within them; some actually more useful than say Angry Birds.
While I was in HazMat class our instructor showed us how to utilize the Department of Transportation Emergency Response Guidebook. As we studiously flipped through our books trying to match the symbols on the back of the truck shown on the slide, one guy shouted out the answer. Next slide, we flipped, he shouted out the answer. How was he so fast? He had the ERG app on his phone. He could just type in the numbers and the information popped up for him. Very handy for a responder who shows up first on scene and either has an out of date book or no book at all. When was the last time you didn’t have our phone with us? (Disclaimer: I still love flipping through the actual hard-copy of the ERG so I can see all the gnarly stuff being driven up and down our highways).
In another class, going over extrication, we found an app that showed a wide variety of makes/models of vehicles, areas to cut and areas to avoid cutting. There was even a more specialized version that just addressed hybrid vehicle extrication. So, even in my non-techie life, I have been made aware of apps that help public safety function efficiently and safely. Enter APCO.
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) recognized that technology is becoming more and more enmeshed with public safety being able to perform their jobs. Citizens are more tech savvy and companies are designing apps to meet the growing interest and needs of the public. Next Generation 911 (NG911) promises unprecedented need for public safety agencies to be on board with the services and products the community is already using. In recognition of these changes, APCO International designed a website “dedicated to public safety and emergency response apps for use by the general public, app developers, and first responders.”
APCO International’s Online Application Community, aka, AppComm is a collection of apps that numerous uses to the public and first responders. Apps have to be submitted by a member through the on-line process. Once approved, the app will be placed on the site under the appropriate category. Along with submitting apps, members are asked to browse through the listed apps and tell other users what you think about them. Members are encouraged to “tell us which one’s you’ve used, whether you liked it, and why.” A rate and comment feature allows you to let others know the good, the bad and the ugly of the apps. For example, one user commented on the ERG app, “Like some of the other reviews this could use an update with the latest information. I think looking more like the book will suit this app perfect…since mainly emergency personnel are using it.” AppComm makes finding appropriate apps easy by separating them into categories: Alerts, EMS, Fire, Police, Other and All.
A Look at the Apps
Browsing through the myriad of apps (currently there are 8 pages under All), there are some very interesting things on this site. There is an FBI Child ID app stating, “This free app provides a convenient place to electronically store photos and vital information about your children so that it’s literally right at hand if you need it.” I love the idea of a parent having identifying information such as height, weight, hair and eye color at their fingertips because I don’t know how many times I was talking to a caller who just didn’t know that information about their child. (Ok, most knew hair and eye color but height and weight were a problem).
Blueforce Tactical (BTAC) for Android also looks like a practical app. Written up as, “a patented mobile software application that enables the rapid formation of tactical teams and facilitates rich information sharing amongst team members using Android Smartphones and tablets brought to the tactical environment. The software enables shared situational awareness and extended presence of people, sensors, and services.” This app includes a secure information exchange between users using standard cellular, 3G/4G/LTE, WIFI, WiMAX, satellite, mesh and/or mobile ad-hoc networks. (It’s right about here that my non-techie brain starts to wander off.) Along with these two apps are dozens more that offer local and national utilization.
My Personal Favorite
Trying to wrangle my brain back from its technological fog, I decided to just browse the apps and find ones I liked. My personal favorite: Adopt-a-Hydrant. Being a volunteer firefighter who came from a very snowy region of the country (I now deal with rain not snow), I appreciated this app being among those chosen for AppComm. Adopt-a-Hydrant “maps the locations of fire hydrants so volunteers can find and dig them out during snow storms.” My techie friend’s favorites are Sting and Dragonforce. (He did provide a caveat that these would be pretty cool IF they worked well.)
One of the biggest issues users are expressing currently is that the apps listed are predominately local and would have no practical use outside that area. As more and more apps are added, this will increase the local apps but also those that have universal appeal and use.
Since its unveiling, APCO has gotten a lot of feedback indicating the need for such a website and the positive impact it will have. AppComm’s hope is that this website will be the “go-to” place for all public safety applications. Even as a non-techie, I think it’s a pretty cool site.