COLLEGE STATION – GeoSuite?, a software application originally developed for the military, is the newest technology asset in the Texas Task Force 1 equipment cache. The digital tool was modified and customized for urban search and rescue operations by General Dynamics, and Texas Task Force 1 is the first urban search and rescue team to deploy it operationally.
The web-based application allows responders on the scene to provide critical data in real-time by touching icons that appear in the app on their cell phone, tablet or other mobile device. TX-TF1 used GeoSuite during its deployment to Moore, OK, in 2013.
“This is a game changer that ensures that critical information collected in the field is immediately in front of the eyes of those who need to see it,” said Texas Task Force 1 search team manager Susann Brown, who worked with General Dynamics and provided feedback to repurpose the military technology for search and rescue applications.
“It was hugely valuable in Moore,” Brown said. “For the first time, we could say with certainty that we know we searched 624 homes and the level of search conducted for each one. The team entered the data continually, so they never had to stop searching to record data on paper and call it in. That level of efficiency allowed us to move through the search area in Moore much faster. We were so efficient, we completed our assigned search area in one day instead of two.”
In the past, task force members would collect the data, make notes and then report the information each hour to the base of operations via radio communications. Someone would then enter the information in the computer database. “The paper system is fallible,” Brown said. “It’s not in real time and not visible to everyone.”
Since TX-TF1 deployed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Brown had been searching for a technological solution to the pen and paper reporting from the field. Brown believed there had to be a faster and more efficient method — one that didn’t take time away from the search operation to record and call in reports.
Then Brown saw a General Dynamics demonstration of GeoSuite a couple of years ago, and a light came on. She recognized that about 80% of the GeoSuite functions could be transferred from military operations to search and rescue applications. Brown worked with Brian Slaughter at General Dynamics and Dr. Robin Murphy of the EDGE Consortium at Texas A&M University to pursue the necessary adjustments and customization of GeoSuite to suit the search and rescue environment.
With the GeoSuite application installed on their personal cell phones or mobile devices, responders can enter information quickly as they complete a search by touching icons associated with a Google map of the search area.
“It’s easy to use, and color coding makes it easy to analyze outcomes in a rapidly evolving event,” Brown said. Color coding shows the various levels of destruction and colors change when a building has been searched or a victim has been rescued, she added. “It is easy to see any additional tasks that need to be completed and then send a message to the search team in the field.”
Information is stored in the cloud, accessed on a website and available in real-time. “You can see the data, if you have log-in authority, from anywhere you have web access,” she added. “It can also tie into the Web EOC program and could be linked with multiple response agencies. Reports summarizing the collected information can be created quickly.
“How it’s going to change our world is unknown, but we know it will change what we do,” Brown said. “We need to be flexible and forward thinking to apply it and to improve the efficiency and life-saving capabilities of what we do as a search and rescue team.”
About Texas Task Force 1
TX-TF1 is sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and has deployed over 90 times since 1997, including the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, Sept. 11th World Trade Center attack, and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike. In 2013, the team deployed to the West, TX, fertilizer plant explosion and the Moore, OK, tornado.
TX-TF1 can be activated by the Texas Division of Emergency Management or as one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) 28 sanctioned urban search and rescue teams. Members of TX-TF1 range from firefighters and medical personnel, to structural engineers, and come from all areas capable of reporting to College Station within a five-hour window. The task force consists of three separate units of approximately 80 members each. The teams rotate on a monthly standby, stand down or on call status.
Task Force Website: www.texastaskforce1.org/