When faced with large-scale disasters, emergency response teams need the most complete picture possible so they can respond quickly and effectively to these evolving situations.

By placing geospatial datasets (i.e. critical infrastructure), asset locations (tracked in real time), and communication into a shared, real-time view, every responder gains situational awareness of the environment immediately around them and beyond. In emergency response and management, this single, common view is called a ‘common operating picture,’ or “COP.” In recent years, rapidly-advancing, cloud-based, web and mobile software systems have dramatically improved the speed at which situational awareness can be achieved by the COP, benefitting response teams during disasters and emergencies.

Defining the Common Operating Picture.

Definitions of a common operating picture differ slightly, but its elements remain the same – the US Department of Homeland Security defines a COP as a “continuously updated overview of an incident” created from unifying data collected from integrated communication, information management, and intelligence and information sharing systems. The department also outlines the goal of a COP, which is “real-time situational awareness across all levels of incident management and across jurisdictions.”

The Government of Canada’s definition is similar, describing it as “an interactive and shared visual reproduction of operational information gathered from various sources that provides a common understanding of an incident and a response situation.”

Mobilizing COP with smartphones and tablets.

For COPs to be effective, users must receive access to reliable information and also have the ability to provide updates as the situation changes. The way users interact with the COP must therefore support a wide range of devices including computers, laptops, and mobile devices.

Smartphones and tablets are portable, accessible, and always with us, making them the ideal tool for collecting and accessing information in the field. Through smartphones, not only can responders share the data they collect with other responders, they can also receive real-time information from the emergency operations center (EOC), improving awareness on the ground-level. In the EOC, real-time information from the field improves situational awareness, and enables better, faster decisions regarding resource allocation and scale of response.

By using mobile devices to access and update the COP, the result is a more comprehensive picture that is easily available to all authorized responders.

Crowdsourcing data collection for emergency operations.

If desired, datasets can also be quickly captured by the public through crowdsourcing methodologies. In situations where crowdsourcing is suitable, it can quickly provide responders with a large amount of information regarding the current situation, including the distribution and magnitude of impact, and where needs are greatest. This can allow responders to plan and focus efforts on more specialized emergency management functions.

In June 2017, Emergency Management BC, the Central Okanagan Regional District, and the City of Kelowna used the Lightship software platform to build a crowdsourced sandbag inventory during spring flooding. Participants marked sandbag locations on a map while attaching photos and answering simple questions, including an estimate of how many sandbags were present at each location. The resulting dataset was referenced by emergency management personnel alongside other datasets, allowing both regional and provincial leaders to make informed, strategic recovery decisions.

Additionally, during the summer wildfire season, Lightship released a map combining publicly available wildfire location and perimeter datasets from the BC Wildfire Service with highway closure information from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. By simply combining these two separate sources of data, the public could track the current wildfire situation while staying informed of road closures affecting travel near affected areas.

Integrating communications with the COP.

Unifying communications in a multi-agency response is another significant challenge during critical events. Once decisions are made, it can be difficult to effectively communicate this information to responders from all agencies. A COP can include integrated communication tools to allow decision makers to immediately take action, sharing critical information with the responders. If responders are interacting with the COP on their mobile device, communication can be instant and seamless. Lightship’s COP integrates voice and text-based messaging to allow a seamless flow of information for decision making, communication, and post-event review.

Accessible on any computer, iOS and Android device, the Lightship platform provides emergency management agencies and local authorities the tools needed to aggregate and visualize information in order to make more informed decisions, take action, and share information with the public. With web-based and mobile COPs, organizations can ‘see everything, make better decisions, and act faster.’

Want to learn more about Lightship’s solutions for Emergency Management? Let us show you by requesting a demo.

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