In January 2019, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo declared a state of emergency in Newport County amid low gas pressures that left more than7,100 residents without heat. With below average, single-digit temperatures gripping the area, conditions were quickly becoming unsafe.
A gas outage, unlike a power outage, requires meters to be addressed individually in each home and business affected. As workers were addressing the situation, the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) began working with the Newport Fire Department and the Newport Police Department to organize wellness checks for residents impacted by the outage. Through the wellness checks, first responders ensured residents were safe and prioritized critical infrastructure for restoration.
RIEMA has been using FirstNet for roughly two years. The agency knew that as a subscriber, it could request additional resources from FirstNet as needed, and RIEMA contacted FirstNet for support in conducting the wellness checks. In response, the agency received fifty ruggedized handheld smartphones to use door-to-door, and Wi-Fi hotspots for use at the remote command centers supporting those individuals. The devices were shipped within an hour, and they were delivered to Newport the morning after the request was made. FirstNet staff arrived in Newport and assisted in setting up the devices, loading the appropriate applications and contact lists, labeling the phones, and deploying them at the command center.
In order to collect and share information quickly and efficiently, RIEMA and the City of Newport public safety partners used an application with geographic information system (GIS) mapping software to allow firefighters and officers to track the addresses where wellness checks had been performed, as well as indicate which residences needed assistance.
Through the GIS mapping application, those in the field could upload information to the cloud, where it was easily accessible to other personnel involved in the response, including personnel from the Rhode Island National Guard, emergency response personnel from the state emergency operations center, and decision-makers in the governor’s office. Since the application was running on FirstNet devices over the FirstNet network, officials were confident that the data was secure and only available to the appropriate individuals.
While conducting the wellness checks, first responders met with an elderly resident who noted that she was smelling gas. Because the information was being relayed to the command center in real time, officials were able to quickly evacuate the woman and address an open valve that was releasing gas.
“Without having the use of FirstNet and the FirstNet devices in Newport, it would have taken us hours to compile the data, relay it from one location to another, bring it in to the state emergency operations center, and then display it for the decision-makers,” explained Christopher McGrath, Operations Support Branch Chief at RIEMA. “Having that real-time access to data and the guarantee that we wouldn’t be interrupted by commercial network overloading in any particular area really made our response much more efficient.”
RIEMA will continue to leverage the GIS mapping app in emergencies such as search and rescue operations and weather incidents. It is a crucial new tool in their critical resource infrastructure.