Ready to Roll

16 May, 2006 By: Michelle Nicolson

GIS-based Rapid Responder puts key information in the hands of those who need it in a crisis.

Sometimes out of tragedy comes clarity. The Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999 was that moment for Prepared Response. The company realized then that information was power, particularly in an emergency situation. So it began developing an idea to harness key information and put it in the hands of the first responders to a crisis.

The initial notion was simple: Make needed information easily accessible to emergency personnel responding to an incident or crisis. "We realized if we did this ahead of time, we would be in much better shape," explains Michael Brown, Prepared Response chief technology officer. The company quickly determined that the best way to achieve its goal of easy access was to put the information on a notebook computer so it could go anywhere.

Database-Driven Software
The result was Rapid Responder, a database-driven crisis management software system that contains vital information a first responder needs in an emergency situation. The laptop system relies on wireless communications to offer instant access more than 300 site-specific data points, including floor plans, fire suppression equipment locations, emergency action plans, hazardous materials locations, access and egress routes, aerial and geospatial imagery, interior and exterior building photographs, staging areas and utility shut-offs. It also offers real-time data sharing and coordination, on-the-fly reporting and law enforcement risk assessments.

Rapid Responder is based on a Microsoft SQL Server database, running on Windows and Internet Explorer. First Response recently added a GIS (geographic information system) component to the Web-based system that uses MapServer from the University of Minnesota to overlay GIS information on the documentation. Now police, fire and other first responders can view streets, pipelines, railroads or political subdivisions, for example, as layers on an interactive map. This GIS functionality allows emergency responders to create more accurate tactical preplans and respond faster and more effectively to a variety of emergencies, the company reports.

Rapid Responder displays a map of the area surrounding the White House in Washington, D.C., including roads and water resources.

Formats and Functions
Much of this data is readily available; however, the challenge is that the data is often in very different and sometimes inaccessible formats, Brown explains. For example, floor plans saved in a CAD format often require a user to have the original application to view and read the data -- and it's highly unlikely that emergency personnel will have quick access to the correct version of any number of CAD applications. So Prepared Response converts the CAD data to easily viewable files that the database can incorporate, typically JPG or GIF format. The database is indexed so all the information is presented in a helpful way.

Rapid Responder shows key details of the area surrounding San Francisco International Airport.

Schools, corporations and large facilities are now using Rapid Responder, the company reports. In fact, the system was recently put to the test when it helped school officials and responders resolve a student violence incident at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Washington. Using Rapid Responder, school administrators and law enforcement worked together to contain an armed student in 12 minutes. "You can't control what happens in your school, but you can control your response," says Walt Pegram, Spokane School District resource officer.

Brown says that some users are finding the product helpful in simpler ways, as well. Because many large facilities and organizations have special challenges when it comes to communication, some find the system helpful as a daily tool and use it to find contact information. "Some users think of it as a book of all knowledge," Brown says.

Indeed, the Spokane school district uses it for more than just crisis response. "There is nothing you cannot do with it," Pegram explains. "This is a wonderful program for everything, not just the active shooter scenario. We use it on a daily basis for general information."