A Common View: Facility Managers Share Building Data with Emergency Responders

Private facilities can share building data with public safety responders via a common dashboard, providing key situational awareness in an emergency.

by / October 3, 2013

In an emergency, information is only useful if it’s available quickly. A new tool called CommandScope enables public-private partnerships that give first responders better, faster information during emergencies. The tool is being used in universities, hotels, hospitals, office buildings, and condominiums around the country, including the DoubleTree Hotel Fort Shelby in Detroit, and Loyola University Chicago.

CommandScope is an emergency pre-planning database with a simple dashboard that allows users to view key areas of a building in real time. The data can be viewed by building managers, and shared with police, fire and SWAT teams for use during an emergency.

The DoubleTree Hotel Fort Shelby has not yet needed to use the system in an emergency, said General Manager Shannon Dunavent, but it saves the hotel money on insurance and gives her peace of mind.

“It’s a great opportunity to secure our building in a way that we see everything at a glance,” Dunavent said. “It’s very easy to use; it gives the schematics of our building, and where everything is from a life safety perspective.” Having all the information in a simple, intuitive interface also allows public safety officials to find the critical information they need quickly, she said.

The initial input was fairly easy, she said, and the cost and upkeep is “minimal.” Aside from the initial deployment costs, Dunavent said, there’s not much else to pay for since the annual fee is offset by the money the hotel saves on insurance.

At Loyola University Chicago, the health sciences division has installed CommandScope and the health system is now installing it as well, according to Steve Bergfeld, vice president of strategy and planning. “What the product gives us is a planning tool that helps us not only internally, but if it’s used effectively, provides a wonderful support feed for first responders,” he said.

Bergfeld pointed to the university library’s false floors as the kind of architectural data that first responders would have instant access to in the event of an emergency. That kind of data would be useful in any number of emergency situations, he said, including shootings, fires or natural disasters. “All the shutoff valves are clearly labeled; fire hydrants are clearly labeled, so it takes a lot of the guesswork out for both first responders and our own facilities team, securities team and emergency management,” he said.

The people at RealView, makers of CommandScope, sent a team to help set it up, Bergfeld said, and though he wasn’t personally involved in the process, his engineers found it to be a relatively simple process.

Public and private entities need to operate as a partnership when it comes to public safety, he said. “If the communities don’t adopt the technology, then we’re just wasting our time. I mean, it’s a nice tool to have internally, but the beauty of this is the technology is shared between the community public and the private sector and the information is shared and accessible,” he said.

The old way of doing things is to keep all a facility’s information in a large three-ring binder somewhere, said David Howorka, executive vice president for RealView, and such binders rarely get used, let alone updated.

Starting four years ago, he said, RealView began to borrow heavily from gaming when it came to user interfaces. “That’s been our focus going forward,” he said. “How can we keep improving upon our program so it’s user-friendly, easy to use and intuitive like a game would be?”

On a large portfolio, the tool can cost as little as one cent per square foot, according to Howorka. “It’s tough to put a value on a life,” he said. “We can certainly monetize the value of an office building or a hotel or a hospital, but this is probably the cheapest insurance policy that anybody could ever invest in."

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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