Integrated paging, mapping app unifies 911 call information
The technology, developed by firefighters, organizes 911 data under one network
By Cate Lecuyer, EMS1 Editor
While more first responders are turning to technology to manage 911 calls, record incident data, get directions to the scene, and locate the nearest fire hydrant or hospital, it may often require multiple mobile apps to accomplish all of the above.
Or does it?
Web-based software created by Fire Chief John Bohinc and Asst. Chief Steve Henniger of the White Valley Volunteer Fire Department in Murrysville, Pa. aims to “replace paper and pen” with ECM2, a system of unified programs that streamlines the process.
“There are a lot of companies that just do mapping,” Bohinc said. “There are a lot of companies that just do reporting. There are a lot of companies that just do notification. There are very few companies that do it all together."
There’s no lack of technology being incorporated into the field, and ECM2 is among the companies working on bringing it all under the same roof with a unified system from dispatching, to responding, to reporting.
Integration is key
The ECM2 Responder Packages include the 911 Emergency Call Manager, Data Integrator, Mobile Map and Station Manager.
The call information comes directly from a computer-aided dispatch system, or departments can use the ECM2 dispatching program. That call information is then sent through the Call Manager program, which alerts the responders' mobile phones.
The information also goes out to the Station Manager program so everyone at the station can see who's responding, and to the Mobile Mapping program for turn-by-turn directions, a map of the location, and several toggle-on and toggle-off map layers that include hydrants and pre-incident planning information.
Soon, that information will also go to a new NFIRS reporting system that ECM2 plans to release in early 2014.
“The report will be 90 percent done before [firefighters] even get back to the station,” Bohinc said.
The packages can be purchased together or separately, and annual subscriptions — which include upgrades — range from $600 to $2,800, depending on the size of the department and number of products.
Since the company launched in April 2010, approximately 140 emergency service organizations have signed on, with a large cluster in Pennsylvania and the rest spread throughout departments in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Colorado and Arizona. Departments in Connecticut will be on board soon, and there’s interest from some in Texas as well, Bohinc said. They average about four to five new customers a month.
“We get a department in a specific geographic area, they tell other departments, and it grows from there,” he said.
From the field
Nearby in Pennsylvania’s Frazer Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 2, Chief David Gould and his staff have been using the Emergency Call Manager since June. When dispatched, firefighters use their smartphones, or an iPad mounted in the truck, to find out the location, incident information and who’s responding.
“We used to have these big, thick books, and you’d have to try to find the street where they have the hydrant, whereas this is right on the scene,” Gould told the Valley News-Dispatch. “It’s an invaluable tool when seconds count.”
The system costs Frazer, which responds to an average of 200 calls annually, about $2,500 a year. The department paid $6,000 for three iPads mounted in the fire engine, brush truck and tower truck. A local Sears also donated a 40-inch T.V. that’s in the fire station where members can see the call information and who’s responding.
“There have been a few times prior to us having this that we’d have a truck rolling out of here with three people on it and then we have two people coming in the driveway,” Frazer Fire Engineer Jack Linderman, told the paper. “Now we’re able to see that this person is coming, what their estimated time of arrival is and we can wait.”
The app has also been used as a dispatch backup when the scanner feeds crash.
In Arnold, Pa., many firefighters opt to use the mobile app to have dispatch information sent straight to their iPhones in addition to their pagers, and Bohinc’s department simply eliminated the alpha-numeric pagers, which were expensive to maintain and for the most part went unused, taking up space on firefighters’ belts.
“But what they did always have on them, no matter, was a cell phone,” Bohinc said.
'We're the end users'
When it comes to figuring out what works in the field, members of Bohinc’s White Valley Volunteer Fire Department are both customers and beta testers. ECM2 is small company with about six full-time and six part-time employees, and the software developers work closely with the emergency responders.
“We’re the end users,” Bohinc said. “The programmers will put something out, and we’ll say this isn’t going to work.”
Clicking on a little checkbox on your iPhone may work sitting behind your desk, for example, but not so much when you’re bouncing along the road in a rig. Make the button bigger, Bohinc will say. Or add a slider.
“If it’s not working for me, nobody is going to use it,” he said. In that way, the technology is “designed by firemen, not by computer people.”
But when departments need troubleshooting, those computer people are never far away.
“I am most proud of our customer support,” Bohinc said. “We have teams dedicated directly to specific products. For example, if you have an issue with our iPhone app and sales cannot answer the question, you are referred directly to an individual that wrote the software for that app.”
The software is also designed through Microsoft, so when it comes to security everything follows the protocol established by Microsoft for web applications. Programs are password protected with only one username and password per account, and accounts are locked after five unsuccessful attempts.
“Basically we are similar to web accounts bank use,” Bohinc said.
He also wants to make sure departments are satisfied with the service, and offers departments a free trial.
“If they’re not happy,” Bohinc said, “we’ll walk away with a handshake.