Recent data shows that extreme weather is on the rise — the World Meteorological Organization reported the number of disasters increased by a factor of five in the past 50 years. While public safety and utility organizations spend time preparing for potential disaster response scenarios, no one can predict the exact course an emergency will take. Regardless of the situation, reliable communication and seamless data collection are key to maintaining an organized response, especially as it often requires collaboration across multiple groups, including police, fire, EMS and utility teams.


Connected rugged mobile solutions play a crucial role in response efforts given they can withstand harsh environments all while providing strong connectivity for communication and the ability to power advanced technologies, like drones and thermal cameras, to support cleanup and rescue missions.


Leveraging Reliable Connectivity 


The primary use case for mobile devices among first responders has always been communication. Fire and police teams typically arrive first on a scene and call for EMS response as needed. They also collaborate with utilities professionals to restore services once the scene is safe. The ATAK program, a free government-funded software that lets multiple agencies connect in real-time, has become increasingly popular among police and fire departments for coordination because they can request support from responders in nearby municipalities and even those off-duty in the area.


Powering real-time communication requires mobile devices with strong connectivity. Compatibility with priority networks, like AT&T’s FirstNet and Verizon’s Frontline, is critical to ensure that first responders always have a reliable connection. When called to a scene, mobile devices powered by these networks enable EMS teams to consult with doctors and deliver real-time care even in remote areas. Likewise, in congested cities where multiple agency personnel could be gathered in a single place, it’s easy for traditional networks to become overwhelmed, causing services to stall. Devices that can connect directly to first responder networks enable police, fire, and EMS teams to maintain verbal communication via phone, share data in real-time, and stream video.  


First responders should also seek out devices equipped with dual-SIM, so they can access multiple network connections should the services of one provider go down. The ability to mesh devices is also crucial, especially for firefighters responding to wildfires. The feature enables firefighters to share their signals with other firefighters who could be up to 100 yards away, ensuring first responders can communicate even if one device isn’t able to connect to the network. Additionally, rugged mobile devices with a powerful antenna offer a stronger signal and can often pick up more networks than a typical consumer device can.  


Beyond connectivity requirements, first responders and utility teams should ensure they deploy rugged mobile devices that can withstand harsh environments for extended periods of time. Whether it’s the high heat after a wildfire or the severe cold after a winter storm, mobile devices simply need to work despite the weather or situation first responders find themselves in. Similarly, in the event of gas leaks, ANSI 12.12.01-2000 Hazardous Locations certification ensures the device can be used safely in potentially explosive environments. Response situations can also extend from hours to days, so devices with long battery lives and the ability to hot-swap batteries are also helpful in ensuring the connection is never lost. 


Clear and reliable communication is one of the most important elements of an effective disaster response plan, and the right rugged mobile solutions give first responders the power of connectivity at their fingertips.


Powering Advanced Technology for Data Collection


Collecting data and insight on the impact of a disaster is another critical way connected mobile devices contribute to an organized emergency response plan.


To enhance situational awareness, first responders leverage drones to survey the damage, prepare response efforts and make sure the area is safe to visit. Rugged mobile devices play a crucial role in powering these drones, as they offer a strong network signal and daylight readable screens that help ensure clear navigation even in the sunlight.


More public safety agencies are also leveraging GPS technology to help survey after a storm. The right GPS software paired with a rugged mobile device can help pinpoint the exact location of an individual who needs rescuing or identify household objects according to the home they originated prior to the storm. Pairing the GPS and mobile device with 3D modeling software can help streamline the process even further, enhancing accuracy by giving first responders a scaled digital representation of a location.


Additionally, firefighters leverage devices with built-in thermal imaging cameras that detect infrared radiation emitted from heat sources. These devices enable them to identify hotspots where a fire may be spreading and locate individuals who need support.


When the situation is ready for utility workers to enter the scene, data plays a key role in organizing and prioritizing response efforts. Data collected through mobile devices can help identify where trucks are located in relation to down power lines to determine where crews will be able to have the greatest impact.


The Future of Emergency Response


As technology continues to innovate and give first responders the ability to accomplish more at the point of service, it becomes crucial to support emergency personnel with the right mobile solutions to help power advanced technologies and ensure that the response efforts are as organized and efficient as possible.