Integration & Interoperability on the Front Line

[acronym] magazine talked to Jon Hansen, as assistant fire chief in Oklahoma City during the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, Jon saw technology used in ways that, at the time, were somewhat novel for first responders – using CAD drawings for search, rescue and recovery efforts. Since then, Jon has seen technology, including GIS and CAD, be put to better use. Industry expert Jon Hansen knows a thing or two about managing in a crisis. As assistant fire chief in Oklahoma City during the April 19, 1995 bombing on the Murrah Federal Building, he saw technology used in ways that, at the time, were somewhat novel for first responders: using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) drawings for search, rescue and recovery efforts. Since that time, Hansen has assisted officials reacting to disasters in other places such as in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and in Florida during the 2004 hurricane season. And he has seen technology tools, namely geographic information systems (GIS) and CAD, be put to better use, but still not to their full potential.  While the Manager of Emergency Response Solutions at Autodesk, Inc., Caron Beesley of [acronym] online had the opportunity to speak with Hansen. Q. You have helped respond to many major crisis situations such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Are emergency responders taking full advantage of technology available today? A: Back in 1995, we had responded to large-scale incidents in Oklahoma City, but nothing that was of the magnitude of the Murrah Federal Building. That’s the first real opportunity we had to look at technology helping in our operations. Today, I’m not sure we in the emergency response community are seeking out and taking full advantage of technologies that will make our jobs easier and safer. It sometimes depends on the community and their level of funding. It seems that incidents on the local and national level are complicated than in the past, which just solidifies that we need to find an easier way to prepare for and manage them. CAD and GIS technology is available today, which will allow us to interoperate as a response community. We have to ask a tough question: “Are we as an emergency response community using technology to its fullest extent?” I don’t think we are. Q. Why is this? Is it because first responders are using different technology or because agencies don’t want to share data? A. It may be a combination of both. I’m not aware of a basic standard for GIS/CAD technology so Autodesk is actively involved in the Open Geospatial Consortium. This non-profit consensus organization will help ensure that GIS technology used by one organization will interoperate with technology offered by other members of the group. This promotes an open environment so that our technology can work together no matter whose name is on it. Because when the unthinkable happens to a community it doesn’t matter whose name is on the box; the system has to work and be interoperable because lives are at stake. At times you may have a city GIS office, a county GIS office, and a state GIS office that are somewhat reluctant to share information. In this day and time we need to work through those issues so we can arm our responders with the latest and greatest technology available. Having experienced this first hand, I know that when the unthinkable happens it doesn’t stop at city, county, or state borders. These borders make no difference to a natural disaster or terrorist attack. We have to be willing to share that data, that basic GIS and CAD information. So the win-win is we put GIS and CAD together and use that to plan/prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. Having that up-to-date technology will help ensure the safety of our response personnel and the lives of our citizens. “Today, I’m not sure we in the emergency response community are seeking out and taking full advantage of technologies that will make our jobs easier and safer.” Q. What will it take for emergency responders to fully embrace this new technology? A. It may require a change in their standard operating procedures. Emergency responders maybe have been burned in the past. They may have acquired technology that took too much time on the scene to use. It required too much computer-user interaction on the scene. It has to be an emergency response system that can be used every day. Not just one that is designed for large-scale emergencies. It must be extremely user-friendly and not put too many time demands on the user. Our solutions will help them plan/prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. When the unthinkable has happened you don’t have time to sit in a command unit, police car or a fire truck and spend a lot of time on a computer because you have to make critical decisions immediately. So technology that Autodesk and others put on the table has to be user-friendly, fast acting and extremely reliable because if it fails us then there is a good chance we will fail the men and women we are trying to help out of this situation. It’s every bit as important to have quality pre plans prior to the incident happening as it is to have quality responses. If you don’t have a solid planning process and haven’t practiced these scenarios you’ve developed you won’t respond to these incidents well. Q. How do Autodesk solutions fit into the emergency response arena? A. Autodesk offers interoperable CAD and GIS — seamless systems that allow you to see outside and inside the building so that we have situational awareness to make good quality life-saving decisions. Situational awareness saves lives. Knowing where our emergency responders are going, where they are at all times, and having information that’s inside and outside the building is essential. Oklahoma City is a good example of needing good situational awareness. Autodesk technology gave that to us in 1995. Now this technology has been improved and is readily available to emergency responders. Q. What did you learn from the Oklahoma City bombings from a technology perspective? A. In 1995, at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City we were operating in a large nine-story structure with pre-fire plans that our first responders had drawn on a piece of paper. On that paper were stairways, location of utilities — basic information. In a situation of that size, what that taught us is that it’s not enough information for us to sustain a long-term incident. So about day three, after we had rewritten our Incident Action Plan, a systems engineer with Southwestern Bell stepped up, and said: “If I can find these drawings on CAD, I think I can help you out.” We said: “What does Computer-Aided Dispatch have to do with this?” He replied: “I mean Computer-Aided Design.” Long story short, he found CAD drawings and produced large, detailed diagrams of each floor, what the structural loads were, and also incorporated data on last known location of victims based on exit interviews. It just was incredible information. Having the CAD drawings saved us a lot of time in terms of recovering the remaining victims. It also kept our rescue workers out of harm’s way by reducing the time they had to spend in the debris searching for the victims. Q. Is that when you realized how powerful technology can be in this type of disaster situation? A. We asked ourselves, “What if we had that information preloaded in our system where we had a combination GIS/ CAD system?” We could have identified critical infrastructure locations and got into the building and saved more lives. That’s something that I will always think about. When responding to those emergencies you have to have good accurate GIS and CAD data and it has to work together. The same exact CAD and GIS information that a fire chief needs to send fire fighters into a building, where is the hallway, where can they get trapped, is the same information a law enforcement officer needs when there is a hostage situation. Our emergency managers need the same information so they can plan evacuations and develop those disaster plans. Therein lies the interoperability. Now with the National Incident Management (NIMS) system we will be under an umbrella of central command so we will all be singing off same song sheet. Today there are a lot of solutions designed to help respond to large-scale incidents. We offer a system that you can invest in that will keep you out of harm’s way. This is a system not just designed for the catastrophe; it’s designed for every-day use. It’s just like in a sporting event; you play like you practice. So if you have a system you use every day that you’re familiar with, you will use it regardless of whether it’s a large scale incident or not. Q. What makes Autodesk’s solution stand out? A. Autodesk combines Computer-Aided Design and geographical information systems — above ground, below ground, inside and outside for total situational awareness. It’s user-friendly and incredibly reliable. It helps you plan/prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. It doesn’t matter whose brand of GIS you’re using; this system embraces it. It’s a seamless transition into the Autodesk emergency response system. So that men and women who worked for years and sunk a lot of money into a GIS system don’t have to redo it for it to work with Autodesk. It’s a system responders can use every day to help make decisions. When and if the big one happens they will have an emergency response system they are familiar with. We’re proud this system can be used every day by emergency responders to help protect the citizens in the community and create a safer working environment for all our emergency response personnel. Caron Beesley, Editor, [acronym] magazine Originally published in [acronym] magazine, Issue 3