Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 15, 2011

There’s an app for that.

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on February 15, 2011

One day last year, Richard Price and a few co-workers from his agency’s information technology (IT) group were eating lunch at a deli. He heard a siren and briefly wondered where the emergency was.

The siren got louder and closer. In a few minutes, a fire engine pulled up and parked in front of the deli. That’s when Price — who is the fire chief for California’s San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District — learned the San Ramon engine was responding to a cardiac arrest call next door to the deli.

Price was on duty, in uniform, with a defibrillator in his car. One of the people he was eating lunch with was a paramedic. The emergency was a few feet away, but no one knew until the engine showed up. (Price carries a pager, but he’s typically not notified of medical emergencies.)

Cardiac arrest means the heart stops beating. Once that happens to you, you have about 10 minutes to live. After that, there is very little chance you’ll survive. Each year, over 300,000 people in the United States die from sudden cardiac arrest. Many of those people die needlessly. But even with all the advances in medicine, national survival rates are still less than 8%.

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) buys time to allow paramedics to arrive and provide advanced care. Survival rates can exceed 80% when CPR is performed and an automated external defibrillator (AED — a small machine that shocks the heart back into normal rhythm) is used in the first few minutes after a cardiac arrest.

Price was very bothered he had no idea there was someone just a few steps away from him who needed help. He promised this would not happen to him again, or to anyone else in his community. He spent the rest of that afternoon with his IT staff brainstorming and drawing diagrams on deli napkins

The result of that incident is an iPhone application — called Fire Department — that gives regular citizens the chance to provide life-saving assistance to victims of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. The application helps dispatch CPR trained citizens to cardiac emergencies occurring nearby.

Here’s how it works: Once you download the free iTunes app (available here),  you can be notified if you are near someone having a cardiac emergency.  Notifications are made — the same time paramedics are dispatched — to people who are CPR trained and who  indicated they are willing to assist during a sudden cardiac arrest emergency.

The notifications will only be made if the victim is in a public place and only to potential rescuers who are in the immediate vicinity of the emergency. The application also directs the citizen rescuers to the exact location of the closest public access AED.

Currently the application only works within the San Ramon Valley fire district, in California. But Chief Price eagerly wants to share the application “with other communities around the globe.”  The current version works on the iPhone. Price’s agency is developing versions for other smart phones.

You can see a short video explaining the app at the end of this post. You can also go to http://firedepartment.mobi for more information.

The first time I heard about the app, the public safety group I was with — while strongly supportive of the idea — had several questions about potential downsides and liabilities of the application. Price convinced the audience that his agency was entering this new dimension of citizen engagement with its organizational eyes open. They have considered the potential benefits against liabilities and are willing to accept the risks if it means saving more lives.

What is the connection between the Fire Department app and homeland security?

If homeland security has to do with “all hazards,” then surely there must be room within the enterprise for an idea that can help reduce some of the 300,000 deaths caused each year by sudden cardiac arrest.

As importantly, Fire Department is one more example of the importance of a surging technology that can sling angry birds into enclaves of thieving pigs, or overthrow a dictator, or save the life of a heart attack victim who did not have to die.

I wonder what else the technology can do?

Here’s the video that shows what the San Ramon Fire Department did with it.

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Comment by Nick Catrantzos

February 15, 2011 @ 11:54 am

This is an idea of supreme value for homeland security. It epitomizes the creation of something up till now missing between practitioners and members of the general public: opportunity for peer-level, substantive engagement. Applications like this enable competent, convergent volunteers or just good citizens to add value without being relegated to the useful idiot status inseparable from stereotypical HS exhortations. You know the latter by their characteristic trumpeting in falsetto of the essential role the public must play while, a moment later, in basso profondo, the same broadcast warns the lay observer to keep a respectful distance and leave matters to the “professionals” — who may or may not arrive, and may or may not tell you what they did (or did not do) with your contribution.

Few things could be more important to homeland security writ large than the viral propagation of this idea. Thanks, Chris.

Comment by hgrattan

February 15, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

Our problem is to learn why, given one hundred different innovations concieved of at the same time -innovations in the form of words, in mythological ideas, in industrial processes, etc.-ten will spread abroad while ninety will be forgotten.
-Gabriel Tarde, 1903

Diffusion of a practice involves:
1. The Innovation;
2. Communication from One Individual to Another;
3. Adoption in a Social System;
4. Adoption Over Time;

Social media apps and especailly facebook and twitter adaptation defy conventional slow and steady innovation adaptation.

Homeland Security policy makers and practicioners are watching and learning and in the case of “Fire Department” are adapting. As is the case of military practicioners in the field, homeland security practicioners at every level use what is available to them.

Look in near-every emergency response vehicle and you will likely find a practicioner with a (personal) multi-app-phone that facilitates, amongst other things, emergency preparedness and response. And, as I have observed, as the younger people come into the field, the more widespread the practice.

Due to my recent adaption of multiple social medias, I have experienced information-overload and have recently cut down the number of apps I use and have unfriended a friend or two. I wouldn’t want to miss a CPR-like call.

As Chris indicated, social media was instrumental in the Egyptian Revolution, which so far has remained peaceful and does offer hope. My most sincere prayers to Egypt and the region and perhaps humanity. Over a year ago, socail media made inroads in Iran, but petered out. I know that the youth of Iran and elsewhere were and are watching Egypt.

To Nic’s point, emergency responders, typically, are grateful and do acknowledge good samaritans that render assistance to the fallen.
In some cases, emergency responders have been discourteous to good sams (thats what we call them). Some emergency responders could use a lesson in manners –so could some good sams. The bottom line is impact and not necessarily intent; in some cases if your not helping -your in the way. Somewhere and perhaps in kindegarten we were taught manners and the begining of civics.

Is there an app for civics?

Bravo Zulu to the Fire App

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 16, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

Great post and comments.

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