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Google +, A Step in the Right Direction?

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The tones hit just as the battalion chief is pulling into the station from a morning of station inspections.  “Battalion 1, Engines 1, 5, 7, 14, Ladder 4, Medic 16, Safety 1, Training 1….. Unknown type fire in a building, 54715 Easton Way… Baker Electronics… Respond on Tac 3… Time out 1145 hrs.”

“Go figure” she says to herself as the rig heads south towards a large column of brown and gray smoke looming in the distance.  “Dispatch from Battalion 1, I have a large loom up… add two more engines, fire staff officers and the investigation unit to this alarm”

Shortly, Engine 7 arrives;  “Engine 7 on scene of a 250’ by 500’ concrete tilt-up industrial building. Heavy smoke showing from the roof and loading dock doors on Charlie side.  Employees are evacuating…. Sprinkler system sounds like it is activated… Engine 7 is establishing Easton Command.  Command post in the Alpha side parking lot. Engine 5, supply the sprinkler system…more to follow”

Battalion 1 thinks to herself “Good job 7’s”. Obviously, this isn’t going to be a quick attack fire and the company officer knows he needs to set up command and start deploying units for an “all-nighter”.

Battalion 1 pulls up next to the Engine 7 officer.  “Whaddya got Cap?” … The officer quickly notes the sprinkler system is working hard to control a very hot and large fire in the middle of the complex, Crews are working to access the fire through various loading doors and taking care of injured/exposed employees.  “I should have traded shifts”, she notes quietly to herself as she assumes Easton Command.

She  calls for a second alarm, EMS strike team, the regional hazardous materials response unit and anyone else she can think of,  and begins working the command board.   Somewhere in the middle of this “fog of war”, the plant manager reports in, dropping off their thick inventory book of chemicals stored on site,  saying that a metal cutting machine had malfunctioned, igniting a large pile of aluminum and magnesium metal shavings. Compounding the problem, lots of different toxic chemicals in various amounts, including potassium cyanide, arsenic pentafluoride and arsine are stored inside.  “Whoah, this is a game changer!”

Time to pull the plug... “Easton Command to all units operating on Easton… I am declaring this a defensive fire”.  All units withdraw and stay out of the building.” 

As Division Supervisors redeployed units per the new strategy, Easton Command was already thinking ahead.  “Should I shut down the sprinkler system to avoid runoff?… Geez, where the hell is the Haz Mat team?”   A quick call to dispatch revealed the team was drilling in another county and would not be on scene for another 45 minutes. “Perfect….now what?  Google it?”

Hmmm…. Hang on…. Maybe not such a bad idea.  Last year I wrote a guest blog highlighting the need for open architecture platforms to assist Incident Commanders in managing emergencies.  Google’s recent release of Google +, Google’s new social networking service designed to rival Facebook created quite a buzz among techies.  Although released to only select few- like half the planet – it is being touted as a significant improvement in connecting people in a more relevant way.  I have been playing with it for a week now, and I agree. A few initial thoughts;

  • It’s clean. Emergency responders live by the K.I.S.S. principle. The look and feel is simple and easy to understand and navigate.  Plus, no Farmville or ads (yet).
  • You control your messaging.  You can easily control who sees your messages and the messages you want to see by creating “Circles”. Circles are contacts grouped by interest/relationship to you.  I envision emergency responders and agencies creating circles of key contacts they can quickly tap to provide advice and support during crisis.  (Note: the comment thread format is clunky in the initial release.)
  • Hangout. Perhaps the feature with the greatest potential and serious cool factor for us emergency response types.  You start video/audio streaming, and invite others to join in. Up to 10 people can join at a time, and the interface is pretty slick. I see potential to use this feature to stream video of emergency operations, allowing those invite to observe and provide advice/assistance. What would be really cool is having the ability for other response supervisors to stream video through smartphones on what they are seeing.  As an Incident Commander, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to see the conditions on the back side of the building.

Returning to our regularly scheduled emergency;

The Easton Command Aide radios the responding Haz Mat Team Leader; “Easton Command Post to Haz Mat 1, we’ve started a Hangout.  Login to discuss.”  Within seconds, Haz Mat 1 is seeing the event from four different video angles in real time, and discussing options and next steps with Easton IC.  Initial mitigation tactics are agreed upon and started long before he arrives.

I’m not naïve enough to assume Google + won’t suffer the same fate as Google Buzz or Orkut.  Only time will tell.  Regardless, the barn door is open and the concepts introduced should be exploited.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Jeff Phillips

    going to need a new column on the 205 – circles

About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.