Product Focus: Emergency Response Tools

Emergency response agencies across the nation implement the latest technologies.

by / July 31, 1997
Rising waters overflow stream and river banks, masses of mud slide over freeways, and snow piles so high, it causes power outages and forces road closures. Last winter, dozens of news reports told of families stranded or left homeless, property wrecked and muddied by flood waters, houses crunched by fallen trees, and pets and livestock abandoned by owners forced to evacuate.

With all of the subsequent cries for help from victims of floods, blizzards, hurricanes, fires and earthquakes, emergency response agencies had to be on alert and well-prepared. Many agencies rose out of the chaos and helped increase public confidence. One such agency was the California, Office of Emergency Services (OES) which successfully responded to the Sacramento Valley floods of '97. One of the heroes that shined during this tense situation wasn't a person, but a system -- the Response Information Management System (RIMS), which consists of 10 to 15 servers, 500 to 800 PCs and multiple, redundant communication networks.

"The most important function of an emergency response organization is being able to coordinate, allocate and move resources to get help to those who need it as fast as possible," said John Bowles, chief of the information branch of OES. "Technology helped us to do that."

RIMS is an example of how technology, correctly applied, helps government agencies effectively respond and manage emergency situations. Agencies who haven't put an effective system in place, or who are looking to upgrade or expand an existing one, will be overwhelmed at the many products available. All one has to do is perform a Net search and plug in the words "computer-aided dispatch" and "emergency response" to uncover literally hundreds of companies and products. So here is a rundown of some of the latest products and techniques helping to save lives.

Take Note
Lotus Notes -- a component of the OES RIMS system -- is a pro at helping agencies manage and coordinate workflow during emergencies. The program's interface makes information easy to find and accessible on the fly by allowing users to point and click to retrieve data. It integrates information from a number of sources, allowing agencies with different applications to share information within the Notes system. It also combines information from desktop applications, relational databases, legacy systems and the Internet.

In an emergency situation, users who deal with hundreds of resource requests simultaneously are able to use these tools to respond, manage and coordinate requests faster and more effectively.

The program also makes it easy to automate business processes, because it's a distributed knowledge system. It features tools to build workflow applications that route information and store content and logic of the work. During an emergency, proper workflow management allows users to send resource requests automatically through a standard process and reduce processing time.

The database gives users the ability to assemble, manage and share compound documents. Information generated from the Internet, relational databases and legacy systems can be integrated into a Notes document. Users can also embed objects, sound, video and data in a document. Teams can then quickly communicate and share knowledge. This also provides accuracy, as a team can determine what occurred during an emergency effort and a chronology of events -- a clear historical record of when actions were taken.

Lotus Notes also offers dozens of other features that help teams create applications to suit a particular disaster, design applicable time reporting, fiscal tracking, inventory management programs and more.

For further details, contact Paul Christman, state and local sales manager for Lotus, at 800/346-1347.

Hit The Spot
For up-to-the-minute overhead images for use during fires and floods, Spot Image offers an array of system services to provide assistance. Spot satellite programming services feature mapping production and updating, cropping patterns, digital elevation models, contour lines, slope and insolation maps and more. The satellites keep a constant eye on the Earth's surface from its orbit more than 500 miles overhead. For example, after a fire, Spot can provide rapid response imagery to help officials map out the extent of the damage by providing an image that might show the area covered by a fire scar.

Users can select Spot's programming service by purchasing different packages, which include red, blue, stereo and turnkey services. Red service provides users with exclusive rights to the number of imaging attempts needed for the person's studies, situation analysis, monthly reports on imaging attempts and more; the blue service is used for non-urgent requests; stereo services is for acquiring Spot stereopairs or stereoscopic coverage of broad areas; and turnkey services offer hands-on services for single images or an entire project.

For more information, contact Spot Image Corp., 1897 Preston White Dr., Reston, VA 22091. Call 703/715-3137 or send e-mail to

Public Safety and More
International Public Safety (formerly Intergraph Public Safety) has long been a provider of emergency response systems to state and local governments. It offers a wide range of applications, from I/Management and Reporting System (I/MARS) to I/Calltaker, and from I/Dispatcher to I/Computer Aided Dispatch system (I/CAD).

I/MARS allows users to extract data from various systems and turn that data into information. It can assimilate data from a variety of sources in existing systems and integrate it with the I/MARS programs. In turn, this information can be presented in many forms, including charts, maps, graphs and reports. When an accident occurs, reliable information about the time and place of the incident can be provided for informed decision-making. This information can then be compiled and used for analysis. For example, although you cannot predict when a specific accident might happen in a traffic intersection, you can use the system to calculate the probability of it happening on a specific day at a specific hour.

I/Calltaker performs call-taking and incident-entry functions in all public safety dispatch environments. I/Calltaker allows each agency's communication center to customize forms to accommodate its own way of gathering and reporting data. An on-screen form shows operators what information to record while the automatic number identification and automatic location information program takes data from the Enhanced 911 telephone database and loads it into the form. Some of its other functions include event location processing, customization of event types, areas for dispatchers to make remarks associated with the emergency and the ability to check the location of the event.

Considered the hub of Intergraph's safety solutions, I/CAD helps dispatchers make better judgment calls when dispatching resources in an emergency. It features incident entry, two-way communication with mobile resource units in the field, and provides a single system to store, use and report information including addresses, incident histories, hospital downtime and unit activities. It also features fully interactive maps that include information on streets, highways, building blueprints, HAZMAT flags, fire hydrants, power lines, rivers, lakes, railroad lines and more. An operator can query the system and route units to locations by the shortest time, distance, fewest turns or intersections and other criteria.

For more information, contact International Public Safety at 800/345-4856 or visit its Web site at

Calls From The Field
Communication is probably one of the most important elements in any emergency situation. Emergency crews have to be able to call in and get accurate directions during a crisis. This is why a top-notch, reliable cellular phone is crucial during disasters of any kind. Perhaps one of the most popular cellular phone product lines comes from Motorola. It offers an extensive line of cellular phones to meet a variety of needs, including the StarTAC 8600, the Profile Series 300, the Secure Clear models 3325 and 3367, and the Populous.

The StarTAC 8600 is a wearable model that weighs 3.1 ounces and offers an answering machine/voice recorder function. VoiceNote provides up to four minutes of record time and acts as a kind of voice memo system. It also features two removable Lithium Ion batteries for 51 hours of standby time, a VibraCall alert feature to receive incoming calls, a headset jack for use with an optional headset and a portfolio of accessories.

The Profile Series 300 features an enlarged, two-line display that uses graphic elements such as dedicated battery and signal meters. It also features nine Turbo Dial locations, a headset jack, data capabilities and a car kit. It boasts up to 70 minutes of talk time and 12 hours of standby time with a Nickel Metal Hydride battery. For added security, it can be programmed with a PIN code for markets that offer this service.

If security is a concern, check out the Secure Clear models 3325 and 3367, which offer caller ID and call waiting to identify incoming and outgoing callers. These phones feature backlit display and keypad; a 20-character, two-line display that shows name, number, date and time; 50 caller-ID records; and 25-channel automatic scanning.

Motorola's latest addition to their cellular family is the Populous, a slim phone that weighs just 8.2 ounces and runs off a NiCd battery pack. It features a large keypad, colorful display, simplified programming, nine selectable ringer tones, TurboDial keys, a built-in battery meter and fraud protection. Other advantages include a charging time of 1.5 hours, 180 minutes of talk time or 30 hours of standby time, the ability to use four standard AA batteries and more.

For further details, contact Motorola Cellular Subscriber Sector, 600 N. U.S. Highway 45, AN482, Libertyville, IL 60048. Call
800/331-6456 or visit its Web site at

Michelle Gamble-Risley is the publisher of California Computer News. E-mail:

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