Emergency Response Experts Trial New Disaster Management Services at TSSG

SOCIETIES Final Disaster Management trial at TSSG, WIT.The TSSG-coordinated SOCIETIES project[1] organised a user trial, featuring a number of emergency response services at WIT’s Carriganore Campus on Tuesday 11th February. Members from An Garda Síochána, the South East Mountain Rescue, Waterford City Fire Department and the Irish Civil Defence participated in the trial and their feedback to the research scientists who had developed the Disaster Management services, and to the project, was very informed and useful.  The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate some of the SOCIETIES project’s final prototype services designed for Disaster Management, and to carry out focus group discussions with participants who are experienced in that domain, to garner expert insights on the developed technologies.

Two key services were shown to the trial participants:

1)     The GeoFence tool has been designed to draw polygons on a geo-mapping tool and then by associating users inside that polygonal area to their mobile devices and context data the tool dynamically creates ’communities of interest’ for these users. This allows command centres to easily visualise the affected areas and to efficiently manage resources to help the victims most affected.

2)     The iJacket/iDisaster service. This service is composed of two parts. The iDisaster tool allows coordination team leaders and rescuers in a disaster situation to easily communicate and share resources with each other. While the iJacket embeds wearable communications technology actuators (e.g. LCD display, loudspeaker, vibration) into the fabric of the rescuer’s jacket, so as to free them from the burden of reaching for hand-held devices.

The method of evaluation employed was the Focus Group method [2].  Participants were divided into two groups. The GeoFence service was presented in one room with one group, while the iJacket/iDisaster service were presented in another, with the second group. Each demonstration was followed by a focus group, in total each session took one and a half hours duration. Following the first session, each group then switched to a different room to view the demonstration of the service they had not already seen and to participate in a second focus group. Four data sets were captured in total, two for each of the services, which allows for compare and contrast analysis between the groups.

The emergency response experts engaged fully in the focus groups discussions. They shared their initial impressions of the presented technologies with anecdotes and reference to their real world experiences, and gave serious consideration to the questions raised by the researchers. They provided a number of ideas for improvement and also some concerns. With regard to the GeoFence service, some of their ideas included the use of the technology to locate the nearest heart defibrillator to someone suffering a heart attack and to then locate the nearest qualified person to operate the defibrillator. Another idea was to advertise areas of safety as well as danger and to manage victims to locate their nearest escape routes. A key concern though was how to prevent nuisance usage of the technology from the creation of false alarms (i.e. GeoFence spamming).

The emergency experts varied in their opinions about the potential usefulness of novel wearable computing (iJacket) and team service sharing (iDisaster) technologies, but in general agreed that getting more information to the operational bases was definitively an asset. However, when it comes to the first responder on-site, it is considered important that he receives short, concise and relevant information. They expressed positive opinions about making it easy for rescuers to receive information through hands-free devices but were sceptical about the added value of collecting (personal) information from rescuers on spot. It was suggested that biometric medical devices might be valuable for accessing status information about affected persons for sharing with remote qualified medical personnel. The potential for first responders to employ wearable computing sensors to enhance situational information, through sharing video, weather, altitude, and temperature data with an operational team leader was considered highly valuable. Clarity about the security boundaries of any shared information remains significant for acceptance. First responders emphasised the need for sensitivity about sharing some information, especially regarding affected persons, during operations, and felt the wearable technologies could support this requirement for discretion. Some first responders also indicated that there is a culture of some informal private communications within teams, which plays an important role in the team members supporting each other. Some participants stressed that the trained, known human professional, and voice communication, was irreplaceable. Robustness, reliability, network stability and security, and battery life were all factors broached in the focus group sessions. Overall, there was an interesting mix of scepticism and excitement about the possibilities that these novel technologies bring.

This was the final user trial for Disaster Management prototypes developed during the SOCIETIES project, which has organised nine user trials for three different user groups, throughout the project lifetime, demonstrating the project’s commitment to considering human factors in the creation of social and pervasive technologies. This sustained user engagement, testing the projects value proposition with real people, was mediated with a variety of participatory methods; and through the design and development of third party services running on the SOCIETIES platform. These services enabled people to discover, connect and organise across communities, thus experiencing some of the innovations feasible with novel social and pervasive technologies.

In this particular trial, the scientists found the discussions with the Emergency Response experts particularly rewarding, as it validated that although some improvements were needed, their GeoFence and iJacket/iDisaster technologies did appear to provide added value to the disaster/emergency response domain.


[1] SOCIETIES website: www.ict-societies.eu

[2] Richard A. Krueger & Mary Anne Casey (2000). Focus Groups. A Practical Guide for Applied Research (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications