Experts say taking a few minutes to plan ahead for emergencies at home can save lives.
But it’s another thing when there’s an emergency in a multi-floor hospital full of patients, staff and hazardous materials.
Plans for safe disaster response in hospitals — or schools, factories and high-rise buildings, too, for that matter — need to be more involved.
Belleville’s Memorial Hospital decided last summer to adopt CommandScope, a software program that digitizes building information for use by staff and first responders in emergencies. When it’s fully implemented, hospital staff and first responders will have immediate touchscreen access to information previously stuffed sheet by sheet into huge binders.
“You get to put all that information in, pre-loaded, and share it with your firefighters, police officers and other emergency services,” said Philip Pugh, emergency management director for Memorial. “It gives them access to time-sensitive, emergency-essential information.”
“We have sick folks, people in surgery, people with major injuries where they can’t move. If we had to do a full evacuation of the multi-story facility, that’s very difficult. It has to be coordinated. You can’t just say ‘Everybody leave now.’ You can’t do that,” Pugh said.
Building floor plans, entries and exits, locations of electrical lines and fire sprinklers, which rooms contain hazardous materials and even how long certain parts of a building can withstand fire are included in the plans. Authorized users also can tap into a facility’s security camera feeds.
Having all that more readily at hand, Pugh said, allows hospital staff to help direct emergency responses more efficiently when the difference in the time it takes to leaf through hundreds of pages in a binder and to touch a few buttons on a tablet could save someone’s life.
Are they all up to date? Are they in sync? Which file is it in? I’ve got it on a thumb drive, but which one do I want? Do I need to look through a list?...It becomes a bit of a management nightmare. It’s just easier if the information is there, boom, I tap the screen.
RealView account executive Len Karson
Chicago-based RealView created CommandScope. According to RealView account executive Len Karson, building information is plugged into RealView’s secure server. Updates are automatically pushed to anyone with login access to the software. In the event that Internet access is unavailable, the emergency plans are still available because the most recent updates are downloaded directly onto whatever devices are used.
From there, local first responders can download the most recent updated plans from facility staff onto the laptops or tablets used in the field.
Karson said that beats spending critical time thumbing through physical copies of plans when time is of the essence.
“Are they all up to date? Are they in sync? Which file is it in? I’ve got it on a thumb drive, but which one do I want? Do I need to look through a list? It becomes a bit of a management nightmare,” he said. “It’s just easier if the information is there, boom, I tap the screen.”
“It’s a real easy and intuitive program so it doesn’t require a lot of training. It’s fast and easy,” Karson added. “It’s a repository to centralize all the details so that emergency personnel can respond with knowledge rather than trial and error.”
In other words, he said, it brings emergency response into the 21st Century.
“What I see is what you see and vice versa is really important during an emergency. It’s vital to ensure everyone’s on the same sheet of music,” Pugh said. “Prior to this, we weren’t using stone tablets and chisels, we weren’t that far behind, but it was a lot of phone calls, sharing information. You’d have to walk someone through, bring out a physical map if you had one.”
We have sick folks, people in surgery, people with major injuries where they can’t move. If we had to do a full evacuation of the multi-story facility, that’s very difficult. It has to be coordinated. You can’t just say ‘Everybody leave now.’ You can’t do that.
Philip Pugh, Memorial Hospital emergency management director
Pugh said once staff at Memorial’s Belleville site master their use of CommandScope, they’ll use it for the new Memorial Hospital East in Shiloh as well.
Staff at Belleville’s St. Elizabeth’s Hospital have also looked at CommandScope and software like it, according to facilities manager Tim Claxton.
“We’ve looked at CommandScope at a system level,” Claxton said. “We’re still looking at it. The nice part about a software like that is it combines everything into a nice database management tool.”
Currently, Claxton said the hospital’s incident command team members are issued laptops and keep emergency plans on thumb drives.
“It works really well. What we have works very well for this,” he said.
Full implementation of CommandScope is expected at Memorial as soon as July. By then, local first responders will have access, too.
Belleville Fire Chief Tom Pour said he hasn’t seen or used the software yet, but he imagines it will make emergency responses more efficient.
Currently, site information necessary to respond to emergencies at the hospital or any other building is recorded by firefighters conducting fire inspections, Pour said.
“I think that would be a little bit more efficient,” Pour said. “(Hospitals) are so much more advanced over a basic office. The more detail they put in (the plans), it’ll help.”
I think that would be a little bit more efficient. (Hospitals) are so much more advanced over a basic office. The more detail they put in (the plans), it’ll help.
Belleville Fire Chief Tom Pour
Pour recalled a hazardous material situation in a hospital operating room a few years back. “They had security that led us to where we needed to go,” he said. But with detailed floor plan and hazardous material information at firefighters’ disposal via software like CommandScope, crews could potentially know how to get somewhere and know what awaits them there before arriving on scene.
“For us, we went to digital fire inspections in 2008 where we were using laptops to do inspections,” Pour said. “It’s the next progression. Technology is very efficient when it works.”
So what’s next?
It could be augmented reality, where users can “walk through” a digital replica of a facility via a laptop, tablet, smart phone or virtual reality goggles.
“That would be nice,” Pugh said. “We’re getting to that point. We can do a lot of things in the virtual space.”
He said that, for a cool $250,000 plus a yearly fee, some companies can produce digital 3-D mock-ups of real buildings that can be used for emergency planning. That’s much higher than the 1 cent per linear square foot it cost to adopt CommandScope.
Belleville Memorial, Memorial East and four other buildings the hospital controls cover almost 1.2 million square feet.