A Necessary Amenity
Jul 1, 2007 12:00 PM
Technology is improving emergency preparedness by asking important questions before calamity strikes. Where is the natural gas shutoff valve? Where are the electrical breakers for this room? Who is the chief engineer? The answers to questions an emergency responder might ask in case of a crisis are now accessible in real-time at the historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Wash.
The Rapid Responder crisis management system was installed at the Davenport for a recent judicial conference that brought a long list of high-profile guests to the building — including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. If an incident had occurred during the conference, local police and U.S. Marshals would have known — within minutes, onsite or offsite — what resources, exit routes and personnel would be needed for the swiftest resolution.
The Rapid Responder is a crisis management system, developed by Seattle-based Prepared Response Inc. (PRI) that digitally maps and catalogs more than 300 data points for hotels, schools, public buildings and critical infrastructure, and makes the information instantly available in real-time to emergency responders. PRI has mapped all high schools and many public buildings across Washington and is now entering the private sector as businesses discover the benefits of “infrastructure intelligence.” Al Odenthal, assistant police chief in Spokane, Wash., is a big proponent. “The real advantage for first responders is I don't need to find somebody to tell me in words what the layout of the hotel or its rooms are, I can see that for myself, and if I need to make copies of that for tactical teams or observation points, I can do that in a hurry,” he says.
Spokane police and fire crews recently spent a morning at The Davenport Hotel running a simulation to test the Rapid Responder system. The simulation had a man with a gun in his room on the hotel's third floor. Responders were able to quickly get a handle on the situation. “If you're the person in that room next to the guy with a gun, you want police to find the answers quickly. You want this to be solved right away,” says Davenport Hotel Communications Director Tom McArthur.
The simulation also made a fan of Spokane's assistant fire chief, Brian Schaeffer. “It saves us time when time really counts. In this situation, it allowed our people to know, to the square foot, exactly where they were going, what they were going to encounter, how to take control of the building and how to manage the systems. All that information was available to us on the way to the call.”
Implementation of the Rapid Responder system starts with a walk-through of the property by PRI and host staff, taking digital photographs of the exterior, interior and all major access paths and facility systems. Additionally, information on staging areas, traffic patterns, helicopter landing zones and other similar information is included — even photographs of key managers and their after-hours contact information. PRI encourages hotels to involve their local first responders in asking questions and providing input, such as tactical pre-plans, for entry into the Rapid Responder system. The menu-driven, graphically-rich application presents the information to the incident commander on a response. The system is designed to be easy to use by both hotel security staff and first responders.
In the case of the Davenport Hotel, the implementation process involved cataloging data points about the hotel, including tactical plans, floor plans, satellite and geo-spatial images, interior and exterior photos, staging areas, hazardous materials locations, utility shut-offs and evacuation routes.
“Rapid Responder gives hotel operators and emergency responders immediate access to the information they need to tackle an emergency,” says Jim Finnell, CEO of Prepared Response. “The system can be adapted to any type of incident a first responder might encounter.” Hotel personnel can update the system continuously.
The system may be accessed via a password-protected wireless Internet connection, a laptop computer or mobile data terminal in a command vehicle, police cruiser or fire truck, or via a miniature USB storage drive for use on any computer. An incident commander, therefore, could access the system en route and develop a plan of response before arriving at the scene.
“We've taken steps in a tangible, physical way to make sure our guests are as safe as we can possibly make them,” McArthur says.
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