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New App Helps Emergency Volunteers Collaborate Better

CERTify mobile app enables CERT coordinators to organize and manage the day-to-day activities and data of volunteer emergency response personnel.

A new public safety mobile application may soon help emergency response coordinators stay up-to-date on their volunteer teams and improve coordination with other public safety groups.

Called CERTify, the app enables Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) coordinators to send messages and assignments to team members during an emergency situation. It also enables decision-makers to keep a closer eye on volunteers’ safety and rescue credentials, to ensure that their skills and certifications are current.

CERT training consists of instruction in first-aid, search-and-rescue, basic firefighting, and other basic emergency skills for citizens. The training curriculum takes about 30 hours to complete, and course materials are provided by the federal government. After training is complete, volunteers can form community teams and help first responders after a disaster.

But as neighborhoods change and people move away, it can be difficult for CERT coordinators to have reliable information about their team members. CERTify may help alleviate that issue.

Here’s how it works:

When a CERT coordinator opens the application, he or she will see a list of their CERT team members and what their respective training and skill levels are. The coordinator can enter tasks to complete and enroll members to cover those assignments.

A CERT member uses the app a little differently. They can use it to update their profile, which includes the ability to enter the recent training they have received. CERT members can also update their status on completing an assigned task.

The app was developed by Kumar Pandya, a participant in the AT&T Public Safety Mobile Hackathon, which took place in May and was held in Palo Alto, Calif. The competition featured more than 70 professional and amateur developers resulting in 11 apps that tackled various public safety issues.

Pandya had a basic idea of what kind of app he wanted to build prior to the competition. But it wasn’t until he met with some of the public safety representatives at the event to hear about the issues they were facing that he was able to solidify his plan and help CERT volunteers better organize their data. Pandya said the challenge was narrowing down the idea to something that could be demonstrated in 28 hours.

CERTify’s organizational and communication functions were something Pandya believed he could put together quickly that would show immediate value to the judges and first responders in attendance.

“I certainly appreciate them being there, and also guiding us and providing the real life use case around how they would use these kinds of tools,” Pandya said. “Without them, what we do would be less valuable.”

CERTify is not publicly-available yet, but Pandya hopes to have an official release date lined up soon. The app was built as a contest demonstration, but Pandya has loftier goals for the program. He’s currently putting together a larger project that will expand the app and hopefully make it useful for a broader array of government and public services.

To that end, Pandya is working on two or three additional features for the app that will increase its value. One of those add-ons he’d like to see in the future is a function that will allow users access to an emergency communications channel that leverages available networks if a person’s primary cellular network is down.

Further information on CERTify should be available later this year.

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.