GPS Helps First Responders Rule the Road
System to provide special vehicles with specialized data.
First responders can’t always use the same apps the general public depends on to get to their destination by the fastest route. Commercial apps may not factor in delays such as weather events, traffic accidents or the size and weight of their vehicles.
To address first responders’ special needs, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and partner Azimuth1 LLC are developing QuickRoute, an app that uses GPS and routing data to provide turn-by-turn directions. Not only will the app warn responders of hazards along the route but also leverage additional data streams that will offer emergency personnel greater flexibility when time is of the essence.
QuickRoute takes into account the capabilities of different vehicle types such as required turn radius or bridge and tunnel clearance as well as their unique ability to use lights and sirens to clear paths and avoid signals. Other data sources, including weather patterns, traffic and transit schedules, and local jurisdiction rules such as right-of-way and private access roads, are also factored in, giving responders the quickest and safest route to the scene.
“There’s a tremendous need for an application like QuickRoute,” says Justin Green, battalion chief, special operations, Fire and Rescue, Loudoun County, Virginia. “It sounds very simple to go from point A to point B, but there are many factors that impact a first responder’s route. What we’re focusing on here is a lot of that information that we don’t have ready access to, such as traffic conditions, roadwork projects, weather impacts such as flooding or snow, or accidents that other agencies may report that we don’t hear about.”
In April 2019, S&T and Azimuth1 field-tested QuickRoute with first responders and transportation stakeholders at a DHS federal law enforcement training facility in Maryland. The test plan, designed by S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory, had participants evaluate QuickRoute in several staged response scenarios, including medical emergencies, accident response and fire calls. Hazards included weather events and roadway challenges placed along the routes.
During the trial, responders were tasked with using the app to navigate through simulated lane closures, drive the wrong way down a one-way road, cross over road dividers and enter a roadway via an exit ramp. Along each route, the app sent alerts about road or weather conditions that could hamper a timely response and suggested alternate routes to more immediately direct their specific vehicles to the simulated emergency scenes.
Evaluators provided valuable feedback about additional app features, integration with computer-aided dispatch systems, and alerts and notifications that Azimuth1 will soon integrate.
The QuickRoute team continues to refine the app’s back-end system, which features after-action reporting functions that display paths taken and other key routing data that agencies can use to calculate time saved and advantages and disadvantages of particular routes. Responders will be able to compare routes QuickRoute calculated with the routes civilians regularly take.
A report of the findings from the April 2019 QuickRoute operational field assessment will be posted to the S&T website, and the QuickRoute system itself—the app and a desktop version—will be available for purchase during the second quarter of 2020.