Corona Fire Department Enhances Situational Awareness with ATAK

The Android Team Awareness Kit was originally developed by the military for situational awareness and has been deployed by the Corona Fire Department as it responds to wildfires, search and rescue and other calls.

by Jim McKay / November 21, 2019
In this Aug. 9, 2018, file photo a wildfire in the Cleveland National Forest at a hillside near homes in Lake Elsinore, Calif. California homeowners may find themselves facing insurance issues even if they were not directly hit by this year’s blazes. The California Department of Insurance warned in January that the increasing number and severity of wildfires in the state were making it more difficult for homeowners to find and hold on to insurance. And now they say that recent massive fires may make the problem more acute. AP

The Corona, Calif., Fire Department has tapped into what has been largely a federal solution, deploying the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) to greatly improve its situational awareness and put crucial information in front of its first responders in real time.

ATAK uses the Android system to put information like video, mapping and location information on the Android mobile devices used by firefighters, providing real-time access to livestreaming cameras from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and possibly any other network of cameras.

“We have had a unique situation that we’re actually seeing more across the U.S., which is the desire to use mobile devices to enable better team communication in real time and ensure that applications that require robust processing have the ability to do that quickly and on the go,” said Reg Jones, senior director and head of public sector at Samsung, which supplied the Corona Fire Department with Galaxy S10 smartphones for firefighters and Galaxy Tab S4 tablets for commanders to run ATAK.

The tool was originally created by the Air Force to enable situational awareness for troops and commanders. The solution layers data from multiple sources and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) video onto a 3-D map that responders can see and edit in the field. 

“The things that are profoundly useful are different than we’ve experienced, like being able to draw a sharp line on a map and then broadcast that line to everyone else,” said Andreas Johansson, a Corona Fire Department captain. “Those persons or that group can then modify the line and republish it if they have better intelligence.”

The Corona Fire Department consists of seven stations and seven trucks, three platoons of firefighters, a battalion chief, a deputy chief, a fire chief and a third-party medical transport company called American Medical Response, plus four UAVs. The department responds to about 13,000 calls a year.

The city’s 911 calls go from a dispatcher through a CAD system, and firefighters access that data on laptops. Previously, each truck had one smartphone and firefighters had to rely on radio communications with other personnel on the ground for additional data. The information now is available, in visual form, in one place for everyone.

“Our biggest thing is dismounted locations,” Johansson said. That means when they leave the fire engine, say for a search and rescue, the only way previously to track personnel was by the location of the fire engine. The department, which is 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles, also borders a national forest and often is tasked to search for missing hikers or to extinguish wildfires.

ATAK and the Android phones and tablets allow personnel with those devices to be tracked and everyone to be kept in the loop. “What it does,” Johansson said, “is it pushes the position from the device over to the server so other folks can see those positions.”

Johansson cited a recent example of a hazardous materials response that occurred at night. The Army Corps of Engineers was doing some floodway reconstruction and had a leaky nitrogen cylinder, which was noticed by a construction guard. His position was a quarter mile away from incident command, and incident command was trying to figure out where he was when Johansson located him with his phone and ATAK system.

“I said, ‘I have my phone and ATAK,’ and so I immediately was able to go, ‘OK, I can see that position he’s in.’”

 

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