Flying Blind is Dangerous: Enhancing Situational Awareness During Emergencies

July 26, 2016

This blog is the latest in a series on 10 ways FirstNet will help public safety save lives and secure communities. FirstNet is developing the first nationwide public safety broadband network to provide first responders the advanced technologies they need to save lives and keep their communities safe. Whether it is a response to a structural fire, crime in process or medical emergency, the ability to share real-time images, video, or other relevant information will improve communications and response outcomes.

Click to Watch: Bret Daugherty, Adjutant General for the State of Washington, talks about the importance of situational awareness during a major emergencies, like the 2014 Oso land slide (Courtesy: Washington OneNet).

On the morning of Saturday, March 22, 2014, a devastating landslide occurred in Oso, Washington – a small community of 180 people located 50 miles north of Seattle. Forty-three individuals lost their lives to a force of nature that moved 18 million tons of sand, till and clay, according to The Seattle Times.

In the immediate aftermath of major emergencies, like the Oso landslide, a common picture of the unfolding event can help with response efforts. The FirstNet network will enable public safety to send text messages, images, video, and location information in real time. This data is expected to dramatically improve situational awareness and enable faster, more effective response to help keep our first responders safe and save lives.

The response to the Oso landslide was swift – public safety immediately joined together on the ground and by air. As with all major disasters, getting the full picture of a chaotic incident scene can be a challenge. General Bret Daugherty, Adjutant General for the State of Washington recalls getting the emergency alert.

“I looked at it – it was just a report from the State Emergency Operation Center (EOC) that we get all the time that said there’s been a mud slide up in Snohomish County,” Daugherty said. “The folks in the EOC didn’t really fully understand – none of us did – how bad this disaster really was.”

General Daugherty said first responders were so focused on rescue efforts that they weren’t able to relay back a complete picture of the situation on the ground. “We really sometimes are going off just a radio call or telephone call - trying to figure out and basically read into what has been spoken to us to get our hands around what a situation really is,” Daugherty added.

FirstNet will carry high-speed data, location information, images, and video that can mean all the difference when seconds count. Just as smartphones have created a new era of real-time information and connectedness for individuals, the FirstNet network, devices and applications will enable the collaboration the public safety community needs to save lives.

“Having FirstNet at the beginning of a disaster like [the Oso land slide], the first responders on the ground up there rescuing people would have had the capability to send data back to the state EOC,” Daugherty said.

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