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How GPS Tracking Can Help in Emergency Service Response Brian Dziuk | Oct 27, 2020 4:50:40 PM

Emergency response services are called on to protect people in times of need. Few times are as dire as a major natural disaster. This is when police, firefighters, medical responders, and countless volunteer organizations are forced to push themselves to the absolute limits of their abilities to help others.

For example, natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes can create enormous challenges for emergency service response organizations, such as:

  • Finding and rescuing stranded survivors;
  • Making sure that emergency relief supplies get to where they’re needed; and
  • Providing life-saving aid to thousands of people—many of whom have just lost everything.

Aside from natural disasters, other emergencies, like the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can put sustained stress on emergency responders. For example, police may need to spend more time and resources enforcing mandatory curfews while ambulance teams respond to emergency calls from people who may or may not be infected.

To help make emergency service response work easier and alleviate the burden of maintaining public safety and order during national crises, many emergency response organizations and municipalities have turned to GPS tracking solutions.

Here are a few ways emergency services and disaster relief organizations can use GPS tracking to help people:

Protecting and Deploying Portable Equipment

Large-scale disasters like hurricanes can do massive damage to power systems across many miles of land—tearing down power lines, damaging transformers, and flooding or shorting out substations. This can leave thousands without power. Worse yet, hospitals could lose the power needed to keep the life support functioning for their patients in critical care.

Portable generators are often used to keep emergency equipment in hospitals running and to power lights and other equipment at evacuation centers. However, as important as these generators are for protecting lives, they’re also highly vulnerable. Generators can be damaged by storm weather and debris, suffer random malfunctions from wear and tear, and even be lost or stolen in transit.

The risk of loss is particularly great in storm-damaged areas where there is little local communication infrastructure intact. So, asset tracking solutions can be a very important part of emergency service response.

With GPS asset tracking for generators, light towers, and refrigerated trailers, relief organizations can keep tabs on where these large and costly pieces of equipment are at all times—ensuring that they are all at the right locations. Some GPS tracking systems can even provide remote diagnostics to let relief organizations know whether or not an engine is turned on or off, and other vital data to improve overall use and maintenance.

Setting up geofences to trigger alerts when equipment leaves its designated deployment zone can help keep them from being stolen—which is a very real concern during disaster relief efforts.

Improving Speed of Response

Time is often the most critical factor involved during an emergency. Every second counts in situations involving life or death. It’s not surprising that numerous countries around the world are taking advantage of GPS technology to improve emergency response times.

Identifying the Fastest Route

Traffic and hazardous road conditions can lead to substantial emergency response delays. Heavy congestion, lane closures, heavy use of emergency lanes, impassable roads, and adverse weather all contribute to delays that could result in someone’s death.

Using a GPS tracking system can help identify the fastest route to a destination. In fact, most have options that will provide live traffic updates. Traffic updates not only detail the fastest routes available, they indicate, for example, where accidents have occurred, and where slowdowns are happening.

Routes will be determined that help drivers avoid congestion, detours, or construction areas that will delay their arrival at an emergency scene. The information for a GPS navigation aid is provided from a variety of sources that give a real-time simulation of the current traffic flow. Rerouting possibilities are continuously available as the GPS live tracking system continues to receive and analyze traffic updates providing optimal routes to the destination site.

Spotting the Closest Aid Crews to Emergency Calls

Even with emergency evacuation warnings well ahead of a disaster, it is all too common for people to be trapped in the disaster zone. When calls for emergency aid come from a disaster zone, every minute counts. Finding the closest emergency service response team to the call can be difficult, however—especially when communications are spotty after a major disaster. Imagine if police, firefighters, and emergency medical teams were all communicating productively to improve response times. 

GPS can help dispatchers track emergency response services team locations in the field so the closest team to a call for aid can be quickly identified and sent to help. This helps minimize response times and increase safety.

There are a few ways to deploy GPS units to disaster relief crews. One way is to install GPS devices on crew vehicles. Another is to use GPS tracking apps on relief crew members’ smartphones so dispatchers can track each member of the team.

The advantage of using a phone app tracking method is that it can double as a way to communicate with aid crews in the field. However, vehicle-based GPS trackers may be a bit more powerful and reliable.

Either way, GPS can save time and lives.

Optimizing Emergency Response and Public Safety Patrol Routes

Aside from tracking where police, firefighters, and other public safety personnel are in the field, some GPS tracking solutions can help municipalities further improve coverage without spending extra on additional patrols by optimizing how people are deployed.

Using Color-Coded Aging Maps to Improve Service Coverage

For example, Rastrac’s StreetComplete software is a GPS tracking solution that allows users to create color-coded maps of their jurisdiction’s streets. As patrols are completed on certain roads, the color of the street will reset to indicate that it was recently patrolled. Then, as time goes on, the color can shift to show that another patrol is needed.

Municipalities can set whatever time limits and color codes they want. A common set up is:

  • Green for roads patrolled in the last 30 minutes.
  • Yellow for roads patrolled between 31 and 90 minutes ago.
  • Red for roads not patrolled within the last 91 minutes.

Using this information, dispatchers can adjust police, firefighter, and other emergency response patrols to ensure a more thorough and even coverage of their jurisdiction with fewer public safety officers.

Improving Emergency Vehicle Maintenance

Vehicle maintenance is equally important for ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles (or any other emergency vehicle). Without maintenance, vehicles may break down on the road. Obviously, this would be bad for anyone being transported during an emergency.

So, one of the most important emergency vehicle best practices to follow is to ensure that all ambulances receive regular preventative maintenance. There are several reasons why your medical transportation fleet should use a preventative maintenance plan, including:

  1. Extending the Lifespan of Emergency Vehicles. Fixing smaller problems before they can become critical issues helps to reduce wear and tear as a whole—extending the useful life of the ambulance.
  2. Reducing Your Fuel Costs. Well-maintained engines and fuel systems are more efficient and have fewer leaks. This contributes to improved fuel efficiency.
  3. Minimizing Repair Expenses. Fixing smaller issues proactively is typically far less expensive than major repairs. You can also avoid towing and extra service fees for recovering broken-down ambulances from the roadside.
  4. Improving Safety for Emergency Vehicles. Sudden failures of crucial components can be extremely dangerous—even at low speeds. Preventative maintenance helps avoid unexpected failures so ambulances, fire trucks, and patrol cars are safer to ride in.

Enforcing Safe Driving Practices for Emergency Services

Because time is such an enormous factor in determining patient survival rates, there is a strong temptation for ambulance, fire truck, and other emergency vehicle drivers to go too fast when transporting someone to critical care or an emergency services call. However, high driving speeds can actually put emergency responders and others at an increased risk of injury or death.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2017, speeding was a major factor in 9,717 traffic fatalities—roughly 26% of all traffic fatalities that year. Vehicles traveling at high speeds are harder to control, and slight deformities in the road have a larger impact on fast-moving vehicles than slower-moving ones.

So, it’s best to enforce a safe travel speed for ambulances, fire trucks, and patrol cars in the field. While training is very helpful for getting drivers in the habit of keeping to strict speed limits, you may need to provide some additional controls to prevent problems in the heat of the moment.

One way to enforce safe travel speeds is by using a speed limiter device on ambulances and fire trucks. These devices can keep the emergency vehicle from going above a set safety limit. However, this might not be ideal for emergency vehicles traveling to the scene of an emergency.

Also, they may be wholly unsuited for use in police patrol cars, which may need to keep pace with a speeding driver.

Another tool for enforcing safe driving speeds would be GPS for emergency vehicles. With GPS tracking, dispatchers can monitor an ambulance, fire truck, or patrol car’s speed—allowing them to send reminders when drivers are going too fast.

Additionally, you could track all of an emergency responder’s driving habits and provide feedback at set intervals to curtail bad driving habits like:

  • Hard braking
  • Rapid acceleration
  • Sharp cornering
  • Staying behind the wheel for too long

Keeping an eye on these habits not only improves driver safety for emergency vehicles, it can also help to improve fuel economy by reducing wasteful behaviors that burn gas (slamming the gas, excessive idling, and the like).

Use Case: Enforcing Curfews During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that COVID-19 can be spread through contact with infected persons or their respiratory droplets (which are created by talking, coughing, or sneezing). The CDC also notes that “COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.”

To help limit the spread of coronavirus, many municipal and state governments started issuing stay-at-home orders to their citizens—closing nonessential businesses and encouraging people to avoid crowds and maintain social distancing guidelines. Curfews have even been enforced in some municipalities to prevent people from spreading the infection further.

One use for the StreetComplete solution is to improve the patrol patterns of police officers enforcing anti-COVID-19 curfews. By making sure each street is covered, curfews can be maintained more easily—helping prevent the spread of the virus.

On the whole, GPS tracking can be an invaluable tool for saving lives following a natural disaster, or any other emergency situation. By taking advantage of live location tracking, geofencing, remote diagnostics, and other features of GPS, relief organizations and emergency response organizations can be more effective and efficient in their quest to help the victims of a natural disaster.

Ready to learn more about how GPS tracking can be used for emergency response services? Reach out to the Rastrac team today to get started.

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