As September 11th approaches, we remember and honor all the first responders who perished in the line of duty that horrific day in 2001. I remember being at the Clive Fire Station that day in Iowa, watching the horror unfold in New York. Sixteen years later, many advances in first responder technology have been specifically created to prevent injuries and reduce line of duty deaths (LODDs). As we remember this tragic day, we’ll delve into several pieces of technology that have been designed to improve safety for firefighters, EMTs, and law enforcement personnel.
Locate First Responders
One of the biggest public safety issues that leads to line of duty death is when agencies cannot track and find first responders on the scene. During the September 11th terrorist attacks, many first responders became lost in the rubble while searching for survivors and later died when they could not be located and extracted. While this problem is less common now, in January 2017, more than 20 firefighters became trapped in a burning building in Tehran, Iran and later died.
New technology has been created specifically to locate first responders no matter where they are. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab developed a new system called Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders or POINTER. The system uses magnetic waves to determine where firefighters are in burning buildings or other emergency situations, even when traditional GPS, radar, and internet fail to collect and transfer data.
Other technology providers are adding thermal imaging cameras into air packs to make it easier to locate victims and first responders trapped under a piece of furniture or rubble.
Tracking technology is being developed for law enforcement personnel as well. In June, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory tested a new app to track personnel in police cars by badge number.
As long as a cell phone is turned on, departments can use the application to find officers instantly. With this technology in place, police can avoid line of duty deaths that occur when an officer is in a dangerous situation and has trouble relaying his/her location.
Avoid Medical Issues
Another common cause of injury and line of duty death for emergency responders is medical problems. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 42% of fatalities in 2016 were caused by overexertion, stress, and medical issues.
Many providers are developing revolutionary first responder technology solutions designed to monitor firefighters’ vital signs in real time. Physiological monitoring systems are devices integrated into a first responder’s gear that monitor heart rate, breathing, and temperature.
Several products on the market aim to integrate physiological mentoring with radio and other communication systems. This way, these devices can alert commanders when first responders show symptoms of medical ailments, such as heart attacks.
Heart attacks are specifically one of the primary causes of firefighter deaths. To improve overall first responder safety, a variety of fitness and health apps have emerged to help firefighters, EMTs, and law enforcement stay in shape and make healthier food choices.
Another way public safety agencies are working to prevent overexertion is by scheduling staff appropriately to avoid overworking and allow time for rest and recovery. Staff scheduling software can notify commanders when a first responder has worked too many days in a row and prevent that person from being assigned on duty.
Improve Vehicle Technology
A large percentage of line of duty deaths for first responders occur during the transportation to and from an incident. Fire engines, ambulances, and police cars in involved in crashes every year, often leading to injuries and fatalities.
In 2017 so far, 38% of law enforcement line of duty deaths have related to transportation in some way, including 25% of LODDs which occurred due to vehicle crashes.
Many are working to improve mobile data terminal (MDT) technology and other vehicle-based systems to help emergency responders get to the scene of incidents quickly and safety. One way in which MDT software prevents vehicle fatalities is by providing the location and direction of travel of other responding units. This data can prevent crashes occurring among emergency response vehicles.
Many police cars are also outfitted with computer equipment to provide them with greater information about their surroundings and communicate with other divisions.
Several departments are deploying technology such as sensors that can automatically trigger vehicles to roll up windows and audibly warn officers when someone approaches the vehicle.
Access More Information
Another way that departments are using technology to decrease first responder death is by increasing the knowledge that public safety departments have about the incidents they respond to. With better data coordination, first responders can have a clearer view of incidents and make informed decisions on the ground.
Software company Dataminr has created a product to search social media channels for information about emergency situations and filter out posts about fake incidents. While dispatch and 9-1-1 are still the primary data sources for first responders, this technology helps them gain more information about ongoing emergencies such as natural disasters and large-scale fires from constituents at the scene.
Another tool improving situational awareness and providing essential data to first responders is the use of drones, or unmanned aircraft systems. Public safety agencies are using drones in a variety of ways to gain valuable data about structure fires and other emergencies. With aerial views and other capabilities, drones can provide perspective on real-time situations without putting firefighters in high-risk situations.
Check out our recent blog 3 Things Drones Teach Us About Public Safety Technology to learn more.
First responders are also gaining access to more information via specialized training technology. The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) developed a virtual training program called The Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment (EDGE) to help firefighters and police prepare for active shooter incidents.
These and other forms of first responder technology help public safety organizations manage and control situations effectively because they have access to critical information. With informed decision making, departments can prevent injuries and LODDs.
Overall, it is impossible to eliminate LODDs. However, many forms of first responder technology and other public safety initiatives are working to greatly decrease the number of injuries and deaths that occur on duty. With these measures in place, we can hopefully keep first responders as safe as possible considering the inherent danger of their jobs.
As first responder technology continues to improve, we look forward to the innovations and new products that will help first responders perform their duties as safety and effectively as possible. We at Adashi are always looking at new technologies to interface with our C&C product to benefit the incident commander. Please feel free to contact us with any ideas or information you think might be helpful.
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Sanjay Kalasa is the president of Adashi. He is also a current active volunteer firefighter/EMT at the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department in Maryland.