Elly Yates-Roberts |
It’s no surprise that technology has great potential to support public safety, but bringing innovation into emergency situations can be challenging. Currently, information is shared via paper-based tools, radio communications, and divided into silos that don’t easily enable sharing.
Technology ineffectiveness is also a major challenge. Since technology is constantly shifting, many tools can quickly become obsolete. They can be expensive to readapt to meet current needs, so they end up in storage, where they are unable to provide the necessary aid. Organisations currently developing solutions in this area must understand the reality of field situations and ensure their tools evolve with emergency responders’ needs. Solutions must be designed for complex and dynamic environments, collecting and showing valuable information in the simplest way possible to enhance coordination effectiveness.
Enter Unblur. Via the European Innovation Council, the European Union has provided us with a grant as part of its first dedicated funding round for Green Deal start-ups. With this support, we are working to create the first intelligent assistant for front-line commanders to help them operate more safely and in a more effective way during emergencies. We will do this through our incident management software, Iris.
We have started a pilot programme for Iris in which we are collaborating with first responders. Through it, we aim to jointly develop and update new functionalities to ensure the best usability and deliver real value for emergency services across Europe. Front-line workers have the opportunity to not only access the latest technologies, but also directly influence how the technology should work.
Iris is already being used across the UK and Spain in real-life emergency situations. However, this project’s culture revolves around continuous evolution, and this is where the co-creational role of first responders comes into play. Officers in the field work closely with our product team, for example by testing new features and prototypes in controlled, simulated scenarios and participating in feedback sessions that allow us to transform first-hand experiences into new functionalities.
“This platform provides an unprecedented level of situation awareness for our crews,” said Steve McLinden, senior fire officer and digital programme manager at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service. “It also allows sharing of real-time information in a very easy manner with all participants. The Unblur team has been excellent, supporting us to discover what we needed and designing the product with a very strict end-user approach, that is intuitive and very easy to use.”
Ultimately, the pilot programme also aims to serve as a networking platform so that public safety bodies around the world can share experiences and knowledge.
Most notably though, Iris is a solution to help emergency services organisations understand and use the data available to them. During an emergency, first responders are saturated with unfiltered information rapidly coming from multiple sources. As such, decision-making, team coordination and crew safety becomes more difficult. Iris will address this data saturation to help first responders make faster and safer decisions in the field.
The solution lays out all the relevant data needed to increase situation awareness on every stage of an incident. It integrates with building safety data, 3D models and visual tools for incident management. It provides automatic incident briefs using text-to-voice technology, can automate reporting and enables users to create customised tools.
But once all these cutting-edge features are available, what do our users do with them? Usability is as important for Unblur as the development of the technology itself. Understandable, easy-to-use features can change the outcome of an emergency situation and the way emergency services relate to technology altogether. Being able to transmit instruction through voice commands, for example, enables users to save time and dedicate their attention to more pressing scenarios.
Iris also leverages machine learning capabilities to truly modernise emergency services operations. The intelligent command centre can help responders make decisions more quickly by suggesting recommendations based on processed field information. Its algorithms process and categorise officers’ expertise and different incident outcomes to produce new possible protocols to support tasks during an emergency.
Irene Schreiber is the head of communications at Unblur
This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.