Technology when applied to many processes can help them become more efficient. The spreadsheet is a simple example of an application which not only boosted efficiency; it allowed businesses to play our numerous business scenarios in real-time. Being in the media business back when we used to call it publishing, I have never ceased to be amazed at how computers changed the face of mailing lists, invoicing, printing through desktop publishing and eventually even article and blog distribution through sophisticated content management.
In some applications technology not only saves money and increases productivity but it can save lives as well. Those are the most interesting to me as I don't get to cover them that often.
Recently I caught up with Larry Mark and Geoff Giordano who I most recently knew because of their engineering work at predictive dialer company SER which is now part of Siemens Business Communications. Most recently the pair have founded a company called Spotted Dog Technologies which is a cloud-based first-responder automation system allowing people in such roles to receive immediate and actionable information about the circumstances regarding critical events in a holistic fashion which affords them the opportunity to make immediate decisions based on real-time information not previously available.
One area where Spotted Dog is particularly useful is in volunteer fire or medical situations. There are approximately 26,000 fire stations in the US and between 70-80% of firefighters are volunteers. Without the latest technology, firefighters are notified of a fire via a one-way radio and they then get themselves to a fire station where they suit up and then jump in a truck and leave for the fire.
What can happen however is that they go to a fire and aren't aware of whether they need a tanker truck to supply additional water. They further aren't aware if a few firefighters will be showing up a few seconds after the truck has left.
Geoff Giordano of Spotted Dog Technologies Explains how his company helps first responders (Apple link)
By using Spotted Dog which costs $80/month and requires Internet access and a flat screen TV, firefighters coming to the firehouse can see a Google Maps image of the location of the fire as well as push pins which represent nearby water sources. They can further see a list of who is on the way to the station and determine how much time is needed until they arrive. If one straggler is 30 seconds away, someone can grab their gear and put it in the truck and they can jump onboard when they get to the station.
Obviously putting out fires is a time-sensitive business and I am not a firefighter and am subsequently not able to answer the question regarding what a 30 second delay means to potential victims. Giordano on the other hand has been a firefighter his entire adult life and tells me the additional manpower you receive by waiting briefly can be critical in saving lives and putting out fires.
Typical view in firehouse - notice ETA of firefighters, location of fire and fire hydrant as denoted by green arrows added by me
The way the system works is as follows... Firefighters have a speed dial number they call when they leave for the fire station and once they dial-in an Asterisk-based IVR system prompts them to determine how long it will take them to arrive. Prompts can be something like:
- Press 1 if you are coming from home
- Press 2 if you are coming from work
Another situation where this sort of solution comes in handy is mutual aid where nearby towns pool resources and rely on one another for equipment. With city and state budgets stretched thin you can understand why minimizing the burning of diesel fuel because less trucks are used per fire can be a good thing. And this doesn't even take into account the reduced liability exposure and potential accident damage associated with large trucks running red lights. Moreover, it is worth taking into consideration that the cost for a pumper is $400,000 and a tanker costs $230,000. As Giordano explains, an axe can cost a few dollars but a firefighter axe which is effectively the same can cost ten times more because of the liability associated with the designation.
Other benefits of such a system have to do with accountability and ensuring you know who came to the station and went to the fire - so you can make sure they get back safely.
Being web-based can have advantages as commanders and other authorized users can see the status of the fire crew as they head to a fire from anywhere. In addition, we can expect software soon which will work with the GPS in smartphones which will make sure the system becomes even more accurate in terms of location detection.
Firefighters can try the service out for free for two months before signing up and to me it seems like a no brainer that the system can pay for itself in reduced diesel fuel alone. Then again there is the potential to save lives which of course is invaluable.