Since the advent of smart mobile technology, its widespread adoption and rapid evolution, the way organizations manage their business has undergone an astonishing revolution: stakeholders now communicate and collaborate across platforms, devices, time zones, borders, and even oceans. Individual employees working remotely around the globe function as a cohesive entity; virtual organizations with true interoperability are now commonplace.
This revolution represents an exciting opportunity for first responders in the evolution of emergency pre-plans—the opportunity to leverage existing mobile technology and replace antiquated paper pre-plans with digital pre-plans delivered instantly to their smartphones and tablets.
Introducing the NFPA 1620 Standard for Pre-Incident Planning
Over 20 years ago, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued the NFPA 1620: Standard for Pre-Incident Planning. When the standard came into effect, it laid out requirements for the information that should appear in pre-plans. However, the reality of municipal budgets and staff shortages meant that no city had the resources to manually collect even the minimum data required and draw up the paper plans year after year. The technology that would eventually make this possible didn’t exist at the time.
So, for 20 years, first responders relied on outdated paper plans backed up by instinct to prepare them for emergency operations. As time went by, building construction became more complex, heightening the inherent risks of emergency operations. Add to that the fact that in most districts, the number of commercial buildings that must be pre-planned continued to grow. The trend toward municipal consolidations also introduced challenges in standardizing differing local practices. Today, it is virtually impossible for first responders to get by on paper and gut feelings.
Pre-Incident Planning +Smart Mobile Technology = a Safer World
Although smart mobile technology has for some time now been integral to our daily lives, many cities are still using pre-incident plans that only cover part of the NFPA 1620 standard, and are primarily in paper format. And despite the fact that the pre-plans don’t meet the entire standard, emergency response is still hindered by the need to prepare, maintain, reproduce, and access plans that for the most part reside in filing cabinets.
Smart mobile technology opens up a simpler and safer world for first responders. Smart mobile devices are an optimal medium to collect, present, and access pre-incident fire plans. With digital plans on smartphones and tablets, responders will be better prepared. They will instantly access building information en route to an emergency. They will benefit from interoperability between first responder groups. And they will be able to facilitate seamless voice and data communication between emergency responders, increasing the likelihood of achieving the requirements of NFPA 1710: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments.
Why Smart Mobile Technology for Pre-Incident Planning?
To paraphrase an old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand dispatched words.” Smart mobile technology has baked-in capabilities—camera, GPS, text, high-speed wireless connectivity, high capacity processor, and memory—perfect for building and viewing pre-plans, and all in a tidy little package. And when you add this smart mobile tech to other technologies such as high-powered servers on the cloud, security, and advanced databases, first responders will have more technological power in the palm of their hand than existed in a 1990s’ supercomputer.
What First Responders Really Want
We know the requirements of NFPA 1620, and we know that smart mobile technology offers the means to achieve them. But what about the first responders themselves? What do they want to see with respect to the presentation of building information? The content and presentation of building information on a smart mobile device still must meet the needs and preferences of first responders. Part 2 of this article, “Integrating What First Responders Want with Smart Mobile Technology,” will cover the results of a research project conducted specifically to collect data on firefighters’ preferences for digital pre-plans.