Will Tablets Change Emergency Services Forever?

By: Amanda Crum - July 19, 2012

With technology advancing at such a rapid, incredible pace, it seems inevitable that particular facets of life as we know it will absorb certain aspects of it; and with items like tablets becoming less expensive every day, they appear to be the first things every company wants.

The benefits of businesses using a tablet greatly outweigh those of using a desktop or even a laptop; lightweight, compact, and relatively affordable, they offer ease of working while traveling, while at the same time providing a much-needed message to their clients that they are on top of technological trends, which can be extremely important for a company’s reputation. Schools are also getting into the act, in part because tablets offer students a way to learn that is in keeping with the fascination of today’s youth with tech gadgets; in short, it makes learning more fun, which means students tend to have a higher success rate in class. But tablets like Apple’s iPad also offer more than 15,000 learning-based apps available for download, an invaluable resource for teachers.

Do you work for a school or business that has integrated tablet use into everyday operations? What are the successes or failures you’ve experienced? Let us know in the comments section.

The latest use for tablets involves emergency services, a fascinating and complicated step that has seen its share of pros and cons already. In the high-pressure, fast-paced world inhabited by paramedics, firefighters, and medical professionals, the use of a tablet could turn out to be either a game-changer or a huge failure. One emergency service–Muskogee County EMS in Oklahoma–says that for now, the iPad is in the early stages of changing the way they do things for the better.

The service currently has 20 ambulances in its fleet, all of which feature an iPad enabled with a program called Geosafe. The program allows the emergency call center to relay information to the vehicles, depending on which one is closest to the area. Chad Cox, an IT specialist for the service, described how it all works.

“The Geosafe software pulls data from the Call Center’s CAD system and displays certain call-related information onto the iPad: times, patient information, alerts, etc. On the iPad, Geosafe overlays the ambulances positions onto the stock Google maps and also transmits that same information back to the Call Center; the dispatchers have a desktop version of Geosafe, where the dispatchers can see the trucks moving in real time,” he told WebProNews.

Because communications are so much more enhanced with this system, it could revolutionize the way emergency calls are handled and responded to.

“Dispatch is able to see the trucks in real time so it makes it easier for them to dispatch them to nearby calls, further shortening the medics response time to a scene,” Cox added.

Cox also says that Geosafe is working on a weather map, which would enable paramedics to see any inclement weather coming their way. The only potential glitch in the system is that Geosafe may be buggy when faced with Apple updates, especially when they switch over to using their own map system; however, Cox says they have been assured that any iOS updates won’t affect the software.

So far, so good. But while some nearby cities have begun to catch on to the iPad trend for emergency services, not everyone is so keen to jump on board. For one thing, some towns don’t have a big enough emergency service to make it cost effective or entirely necessary. But there’s also the question of feasibility for other branches of emergency response; for instance, for as helpful as the tablets are proving to be in ambulances, they might not do so well in fire trucks. One major concern is the extreme temperatures a fire engine endures; unlike an ambulance, which doesn’t sit idle for very long, a fire truck sometimes sits for several hours in the heat while a fire is battled, something which would cause a tablet to power down or even malfunction. Also, there’s the added hazard of firefighters throwing wet gear around in the truck, which could damage the screen. The biggest issue, according to a firefighter’s post on Firehouse.com, is that a touchscreen doesn’t mesh well with a vehicle carrying up to 50,000 pounds of weight bouncing around at high speeds.

However, some stations are having success with tablets inside their units; the trick is to find the right software and, as with any digital device, handle it with care. A firefighter posted his comment on Firehouse.com regarding tablets:

We have had our Motorola Xyboard 10.1″ tablets in our trucks for about a week now, and everything is running great. For starting we simply used Google maps to map our calls which gave us the option to either type the address or speak it to the tablet, which is much easier. Today we began using software from Chirange Technologies and it is some very sophisticated software which actually surpasses our needs. As for mounting, we purchased mounts from Padholdr, which is by far the best tablet mounts on the market. They are beefy and well made so I don’t ever think of the tablet falling out. The mounts consist of a U shape, where the tablet slides down into the mount when in the truck and easily removed by simply picking the tablet up and out of the mount. One thing I need to find is a way to integrate CAD to recieve calls automatically vs having to manually input every call.

It looks like the technology could certainly be of great benefit in the longrun to medical services, depending on the software used and whether or not it’s financially feasible for smaller companies. The more success is found, the better chance tablets have of doing for emergency services what the CB Radio did for them in the 70’s.

When asked whether tablets are a passing fad or something that will stick in his line of work, Chad Cox said he thinks they’re here to stay.

“Right now Geosafe for the iPad is in its infancy and has so much potential to grow into something bigger and richer,” he said.

Do you think your local EMS should spend the money to install tablets in their vehicles? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section.

About the Author

Amanda CrumAmanda Crum is a writer and artist from Kentucky. She's a fan of Edward Gorey, Hunter S. Thompson, and horror movies. You can follow her on Google:+Amanda Crum

View all posts by Amanda Crum
  • Peter Hutchison

    I am an IT support volunteer. We have a tablet but it doesn’t know I exist. The touch screen just does not work. I have to use a keyboard and a mouse to do anything with it. I am not alone in this, others have the same problem.

    The touch screen in my GP’s surgery, which we use to sign in, works just fine.

  • http://www.blueflux.eu Martin

    Just commenting on the hardware. This would be a good opportunity to make some kind of durable hardcase for the touchscreens.
    I mean even in an ambulance it’s bound to take a few knocks over a long period of time.
    With the right screen protector and stylus they should last. My stuff gets knocked about before I’m due for an upgrade and that’s just in my living room!
    As far as software goes, if your relying on the equipment in life saving and emergency situations then implement guarantees, like available back ups on board and a trained member of the team on board.
    A lot of people get stuck just by going a little further than regular use of computers.
    I think it goes further than just having an iPad on board.

  • http://www.sem-advance.com Clint Dixon

    Actually firetrucks are typically a bit back from a blaze unless a hook & ladder. Not evey truck needs a tablet.

    There are typically only two people in the cab of a firetruck, so not much equipment would be thrown on the tablet.

    Otterbox protects my iPhone I am using excellently, I am sure they can protect any tablet if they want.

    A lot of calls for which firefighters are called out, do not involve battling a blaze, so heat fatigue is probably less of a concern than might be thought.

  • Nick

    We already have a system like this in UK ambulances…fully live and dispatch can see exactly where all vehicles are and see closest vehicles, re-route etc. Its called Terrafix… UK ambulances would not benefit from this…we are already this advanced…

  • http://www.csrschoolindia.org Lajapathi Vasanthi

    We are using laptops for the past four years in the class rooms. Children bring laptop every day to school. They do not have books and all their home works are done online. Laptops are loaded with ebooks Teachers connect their laptop with the students during the class hours and teach. We are thinking of the possibilities of using Tablets. If we can get a good price for our children from a reputed company, it will be wonderful

  • http://www.ericom.com/mobile.asp?URL_ID=708 Adam

    It seems like hardly a day goes by without someone coming up with a new use for tablets. Once you get past the harsh working conditions factor, tablets are a natural solution for emergency services. Besides the dispatching scenario, it’s possible to install RDP clients and use tablets to remotely access Windows applications like patient information systems.

    For example, Ericom’s free AccessToGo RDP client allows tablet users to connect from iPads or Android tablets to Windows applications running on remote PCs, Terminal Server and virtual desktops.

    When connecting to graphics applications like maps, photos and even medical images, it’s possbile to accelerate the RDP connection by using AccessToGo with Ericom’s Blaze server.

    Visit http://www.ericom.com/mobile.asp?URL_ID=708 for more info.

    Yes, I do work for Ericom

  • Teroni

    Why do they think that iPads would be the best tablet for this? Wouldn’t the freedom of android’s OS be better for customizing the experience?

  • Charles H Small, PdD

    For tablets to be applied in mission-critical field situations such as the aforementioned emergency services, as well as field repair technicians, field engineers, and on-site architects and project managers, there will have to be developed a field-repairable, “Toughbook” version of the tablet. For starters, Aopple products consistantly rank the lowest in repairablity according to wefixit.com. Sending a broken tablet back to the maker and waitng for it to be returned is ok for consumer appplications but not for mission critical one. Secondly no tablet that I know of will even pass the civilian drop and water-resistance tests, let alone MIL-SPEC 803. None are water-resistant or shock-resistant that I know of. All have problems being read in direct sunlight. And a 10-hour battery life (Li-ion batteries loose 40% to 60% of their capacity during their 30year life before failing altogether) is not sufficient for field operations. Just where is a paramedic going to find a recharging socket during a mountain rescue? As for ruggedness and field repairability (just where is the battery compartment on YOUR tablet?), I suggest checking out the One Laptop Per Child design to get an idea of what I am talking about.

  • http://www.made2dream.es Francisco Martínez

    Desde la experiencia del terremoto de Lorca 11 mayo 2011, están trabajando en una aplicación para tablet y smartphone que permitirá la gestión integral de la emergencia.
    Collective Intelligence for cooperation in natural disaster – the Lorca earthquake experience SGE 2.0.
    This application is the result of the work of a multidisciplinary group of volunteers located in the heart of the municipal emergency management of the Lorca earthquake disaster. This group worked intensively during the first 10 days following the seismic crisis of May 11th with the aim to coordinate the assessment of risk and damages. This work was essential to restore the “City of the Sun” to normality. Following the advice of the Lorca City Council this team of multidisciplinary professionals collected all the documentation and experience generated during the emergency in order to improve and optimize the municipal management of the disaster and to prevent injury and to optimize costs. After nine months of research “made2dream” has reflected all the experience of the Lorca earthquake in a 2.0 tablet or smartphone tool that will bring to Lorca and to any interested Municipality, a new way to improve the management of emergencies and the recovery of cities affected by natural disasters.

  • ohm

    You should see App from Russian Emercom spasatel.mchs.ru

  • http://online-backup.stocklii.com Stocklii Domains

    What we must bear in mind also is that when a new item is getting more and more users, this makes it cheaper but most of the case at the same time a new item more efficient is created by the same company or by one of the company’s competitor and this new item gains the same audience as the former .It was blackberry now it’s tablet next it will be…

  • Josh Keeling

    That Chad Cox guy is a pioneer in his field. A visionary for the ages.

    • Jake Smith

      It sounds like Mr. Cox is in tune with the changing climate of technology and the implementation of it to every day functions of EMS workers.

  • Just another Adam

    Why is everyone making such a fuss about a tablets battery life or its use in the field/out of the truck? Why not just plugged the thing into the truck so it is being charged the whole time it is in there? And, why would you need to take it out of the truck in a fire and rescue type situation? Do you see firefighters saying, “hold on guys, you sprayed my clip board, now my paper is all wet.”? No. Things that don’t need to be in a hazardous environment (tablets or clip boards) are left for later. Plus, has no one heard of the life cases that ARE water and shock resistant? If you’re gonna nit-pick tech, at least be up to date on the tech that’s already solved potential problems.