App speeds up emergency response

Last updated 05:00 29/03/2014

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A new app developed by the Marlborough District Council has cut the administration work of its building inspectors by 20 per cent and will be invaluable in a disaster.

The council's geographic information system solutions architect, Grant Carroll, developed the application after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and refined it after trialling it during last year's Seddon earthquakes.

It enables field crews to supply information quickly to emergency command centres so areas of injury and damage can be identified quickly, making faster, better decisions directing staff and resources.

The app also enables building inspectors to do all their work online and file it into the council's systems.

Council building control group leader Bill East said building inspectors had used the first version of the application during the Seddon earthquake.

"In Christchurch, inspectors would come back every day with thousands and thousands of documents for someone to try and sort out. When you're in a disaster, that is the last thing you need."

This system "pushed" the reports automatically into the council's system where they could be accessed by anyone needing information about those buildings. In a disaster, that would mean the information would be available quickly.

Mr East said the app saved building inspectors 20 per cent of the time they used to spend entering reports after inspections.

They had gone from using a dicataphone which was then typed up by a secretary, given back to the inspector for editing, photographs added, and then saved, to the electronic system that saw inspectors record the inspections on a form, which saved into council files and updated the property records.

"Now we just synchronise."

Mr Carroll developed the mobile application, ERBA or Emergency Response Building Application, to run on council iPads or other tablets and tap into cloud systems. An emergency command centre can access the data on a desktop, tablet or phone regardless of location. "It's going to enormously speed up the information flow and help controllers make fast, accurate decisions about allocating resources."

Mr Carroll said while Marlborough had isolated pockets where crews were sometimes out of cellphone range it had been possible to fine-tune the system so that data could still be captured and relayed when back in range.

Council chief information officer Stacey Young said the Marlborough District Council was talking with other councils interested in sharing use of ERBA. "The council has been using GIS for a number of years and now we are really hitting our stride in extending the use of the technology. With the tools now available, we have everything we need to create mobile applications, capture critical data and forward the results to the right people in near real-time."

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- The Marlborough Express

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