By Doug Page
In the chaos created by a bomb threat, first responders need immediate information. Is the threat real? What's the blast radius? Where are evacuation centers? What schools, hospitals and critical infrastructure are exposed? What streets need closing?
What if all that information was available instantly on a smartphone, tablet or laptop?
Now it is.
The Department of Homeland Security and industry partner Applied Research Associates have developed a smartphone and computer app called FiRST (or First Responder Support Tools).
FiRST provides data directly to first responders to rapidly define safe distances, calculate damage and injury contours, suggest roadblocks and help determine whether to evacuate or shelter-in-place.
The app also provides geospatial information regarding potential injury, glass, or structural damage impact area.
"This app replaces a manual calculation of incident area on a map which takes about 20 minutes," said Christine Lee, R-Tech Program Manager for the DHS Science and Technology Directorate.
Lee said FiRST allows users to visualize the incident impact area, so they can make informed decisions on preparatory and mitigation actions, such as road blocks and evacuation in real time, until bomb squads or hazmat teams arrive. The view can be shared among other responders.
Lee said once a first responder enters a general definition and location of the bomb or hazmat incident into the FiRST app, results are instantaneous.
A roadblock analysis can be run to identify which roads should be closed. Google search features are available to identify and display locations where members of the public may be at potential risk.
FiRST also includes hazmat response information based on the Emergency Response Guidebook, which includes information on more than 3,000 hazardous materials.
In addition to providing health precautions and response guidance, FiRST also retrieves current and forecast weather to show downwind protection zones for more than 600 materials that are deemed inhalation hazards.
FiRST is available for iOS devices on iTunes and Android devices on Google Play, as well as ARA's website for $9.99.
The Windows version on ARA for laptops and desktops costs $129.99.
Lee said as of January, about 4,250 copies of FiRST have been downloaded so far.
"The hazmat version can be used by anyone but the bomb response app can only be accessed by official first responders such as police, fire, EMS, security officers and state and federal officials working incident response," she said.
About the author
Since leaving a withering aerospace engineering career in 1994, Doug Page has been writing about technology, medicine, and marriage peril from the Panic Room in Pine Mountain, Calif. He won a 2006 Tabby Award for a story titled "Life in a Disaster Morgue" that appeared in the January 2006 issue of Forensic Magazine. From 1998-2008 he was the Technology Correspondent for Fire Chief Magazine. Page is also a former contributing editor for Homeland Protection Professional and Science Spectra magazines.