Mobile Backup: 10 Apps for the Public Safety Professional
By Giles Hoback, III, faculty member, Emergency and Disaster Management at American Public University
At some point in our careers, we have all had to call for backup. Now getting information and electronic “backup” is much easier with the widespread use of cloud computing, smartphones, and apps tailored to specific functions. Below are 10 public safety electronic resources and apps that can be handy in a variety of situations.
Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders (WISER) is a mobile library of response information. It is like having a bookshelf of HAZMAT and substance identification tools, including radiological sources and for specialized issues (such as meth labs), in your device. It includes GIS support for map overlays, triage tools, response guides, and peer-reviewed information. WISER is also available as a desktop application.
Homeland Security Information Network (HISN) is a web based platform that is a trusted network for responders to share information related to incidents, analyze data, provide briefings, and send alerts. This platform requires approval and a secure sign on because information is shared at the Sensitive but Unclassified level. HSIN aids in multi-agency communication and productivity and includes secure messaging and Adobe Connect. The program can be used on mobile browsers but is more user friendly in a full browser.
- Red Cross (apps for flood, earthquake, hurricane & tornado)
The American Red Cross has a family of mobile apps, such as Hurricane by American Red Cross that allow responders and the public to track storms or other disasters, find shelters, locate family members, and create emergency plans. The apps also have check lists, flashlight/strobe light, and audible alarms. Users can set up personalized alerts, monitor other locations, and interact with social media.
- Outbreaks Near Me
This app was designed by HealthMap, a team of researchers, an epidemiologist, and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital. This tool allows a user to see all current disease outbreaks worldwide. The app can focus information to a user’s specific area and alerts can be set up. The app is specific to disease outbreak monitoring and real-time surveillance of emerging public health threats. There is also a reporting feature that allows users to update outbreak information, make new reports, and review official statements. This app is also available in a web based format.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mobile app was designed to have uses in an all threats/all hazards environment. The app has a reporting feature that is useful to first responders collecting incident information. A responder can take geo-tagged photos of an incident and upload them to a map so they can be reviewed by others. The app also has real time tracking of open shelters and FEMA disaster recovery centers. In addition, the FEMA app has response and recovery tips, a tool for applying for assistance, and a tool to help build an emergency kit and set up emergency meeting locations.
- Operation Predator
This app was designed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to inform the public and other law enforcement agencies about suspect child predators and fugitives. The app has social media interaction, a tip submission tool, the ability to set up alerts about wanted predators, and additional resources about ICE and its global partners in the fight against child exploitation. Currently, this app is only available through the Apple App Store but it is in development for other smartphone platforms.
A great majority of public safety agencies have a Twitter account to connect and share information with partner agencies and the general public Many members of the public also use social media during incidents and natural disasters to get information, locate family members, and pass on incident related photographs and information. Public safety professionals can monitor impacted areas for critical needs, disseminate statements, and interact with their jurisdiction and response partners. Twitter has been on the forefront of emergency communication discussions during recent large scale incidents, such as Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon terrorism attack.
- National Weather Service Mobile Weather
The National Weather Service offers web based information optimized for mobile web browsing. Although this is not a traditional app, the functionality and user value cannot be underestimated. Users can track storms, get detailed forecasts for a specific location, utilize radar and satellite imagery, view alerts and forecaster reports, and send weather reports via Twitter. All of these capabilities are useful to track weather issues, develop short-term emergency plans, and inform the public. The National Weather Service also has a standard web based format.
- See Send
This app was designed by My Mobile Witness to help the public, first responders, and law enforcement intelligence centers connect in support of the “See something, Say Something” campaign. Public safety personnel and the general public can send photographs and suspicious activity reports to their local law enforcement intelligence center. The information is automatically routed to the closest center by geo-tagging the information as it is being reported. This system does not replace the ability to contact law enforcement directly for emergent information but adds in another level of reporting functionality for less urgent reports. The system also allows intelligence centers to create and send specifically targeted outbound alert messages to application users within customizable geographic areas.
- Disaster Alert
The Pacific Disaster Center developed a very robust mobile multi-hazard monitoring application. The app provides users with near real-time access to data on active hazards globally—showing events that are potentially hazardous to people, property, or assets. This tool has a lot of detail specific functionality. There is a zoomable map with incident icons. The icons provide quick view information and details with links when opened. The app also has the ability to push real-time notifications.
Each of these can be used across public safety disciplines and all have functional applications across multiple hazard/incident scenarios. These applications are in widespread use and have feedback capabilities, with regular programming updates.
Best of all, the apps in this list are all free and only a few require a user account for access.
Mobile networking and social media have enabled our high demand for instant information and it has pushed public safety technology into new frontiers. We are able to exchange information, gather intelligence, collaborate on incident responses, share resources, and maintain situational awareness and readiness like never before. With each new challenge and multi-agency response, new tools are created and platforms are updated. We are always looking for ways to improve our current capabilities and make the next response effort more efficient. It is important to constantly look at issues both regionally and nationally so that we can provide backup to each other with a wider reach, and in turn we will have more support to help us get by.
What other apps or resources to you use? Anything you think should be added to this list?
About the Author: Professor Giles Hoback serves as adjunct faculty in the School of Public Service and Health at American Public University. He has more than 20 years of experience in public safety and is a retired Lieutenant (O-3) with the U.S. Coast Guard. His experience includes tactical law enforcement, emergency response, incident command, anti-terrorism, narcotics, and homeland security. He has held leadership roles, written training and response plans, is a firefighter with advanced training, and a member of the International Association of Emergency Managers. His passion for serving others is matched only by his passion for training and educating others to do the same. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter-@PublicSafetyEDU.