Apr 20 2011

A Clean Slate

Tablet offerings give firefighters and EMS optimal choice of form factor.

May 2011 E-newsletter

Watchful Eye

The Panhandle's PRIDE

A Clean Slate

Designing Mobile VPNs

When it comes to tablet computing, Charles Albert believes variety is key. As chief of administration for the St. George Fire Protection District, an unincorporated area south of Baton Rouge, Albert supports a mix of slate tablets, convertibles and touch-screen notebooks.

"The common theme among the computers is that they condense all our data and only present critical information to first responders," Albert says. "This minimization also helps them retrieve data quickly."

The St. George Fire Protection District's 170 employees use a blend of Panasonic Toughbook CF-19 convertible tablet notebooks, General Dynamics Itronix GoBook touch-screen notebooks and Apple iPad slate tablet computers. 

Evan Halperin, an analyst at research firm Input, sees tablet computing as revolutionary for public safety. "It will make responders far more mobile and not keep them tethered to their vehicles," he says. As the market continues to grow, Archos, Asus, Cisco Systems, HP, Lenovo, Motorola, RIM and Samsung also have unveiled their versions of slate tablets.

Different Devices

The St. George Fire Protection District has a targeted use for each of its mobile computing devices. Fire inspectors use Toughbook CF-19s to conduct building walk-throughs and file completed paperwork in real time via in-truck wireless hot spots that send data back to the firehouse servers over a cellular network. Firefighters can call up building drawings, modify them or make notes, take the signature of the building owner or manager, and then store that information in the main database. "Being able to do all this in the field versus putting it on pen and paper and then entering it later saves a lot of time and avoids errors," Albert says.

The district reduces paperwork by using iPads to conduct hydrant inspections. Firefighters can mark hydrants as being "out of service," and that information is immediately stored and shared. In case of an emergency in that area, the fire department will know if nearby hydrants are functioning.

The GoBooks are used on board the eight-station fleet of 20 emergency vehicles to provide quick access to data such as dispatch, maps and building blueprints en route and on scene.

Albert says he's excited to expand the use of slate tablets as they gain more features, such as larger hard drives, more ruggedness and cameras. "Then they'll have enough power to tie into our GIS system and quickly access rescue hazards, fire hazards, chemicals, utility shut-offs and other key data," he says. The cameras would enable them to automatically attach time-stamped pictures of inspection violations, such as blocked fire exits, to their electronic files. He says the benefits of the slate form factor for firefighters are its light weight and long battery life.

Speedy Data Entry

At Tennessee's Sumner County EMS, employees use Motion Computing's F5 semi-rugged slate tablet computer for all patient documentation, says IT Manager Michael Cook.

For instance, paramedics across 20 ambulances enter all information about the call, including the originating incident; patient allergies, medication and complications; and the final destination, such as one of the 12 hospitals the organization serves.

2.1 pounds
The weight of Motion Computing's CL900 ultra-light rugged tablet PC

SOURCE: Motion Computing

Additionally, the Windows XP tablets reduce billing time from a weeks-long data entry process to an automated same-day cycle. Data from each call is automatically sent to a central database once the tablet is docked in a Wi-Fi hot spot in the ambulance.

Cook says he sees more potential for tablet computing, including being able to call up a patient's electronic health records and immediately identifying issues or supplying a hospital with a digital record of the information recorded during transport. "Electronic information is always going to be preferable to handwritten," he says.

Input's Halperin says public safety officials eventually will be able to exchange information via tablet, improving security and speeding emergency response times. For example, an incident commander will be able to hold up a camera to a scene and know where to station barricades, building exits and hazards. And he or she will be able to share that data with other personnel as they arrive.

More On