The software helps train emergency responders by providing models that display what the scene of a disaster may look like.

Government Innovators

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is testing a new iPad application that helps train emergency first responders by allowing them to visualize what the scene of a disaster may look like following a catastrophic event.

FEMA officials and first responders tested the software--called Standard Unified Modeling, Mapping, and Integration Toolkit or SUMMIT--during the agency's National Level Exercise 2011 last week, according to Sandia National Laboratories, which developed the tool.

The tool is aimed at giving first responders a better idea of what kind of environment they will be facing before they enter a disaster scene--such as a bombed building--so they can learn to make better decisions, an emergency management official who took part in the exercise said in a statement.

"By having a graphical view of damaged areas, it's much easier to comprehend what's going on in the exercise and thus make smarter, firmer decisions," said David Moore, director of emergency management for Craighead County in Arkansas, one of the regions that participated in the pilot exercise.

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) provided funding and direction to build the software, while FEMA's National Exercise and Simulation Center provided support.

During the training exercise, first responders used SUMMIT on iPads to input details on buildings, infrastructure, and casualties to create models and calculations, while others in a control center used it in a more traditional desktop and screen environment to get a full visualization of the scene, according to Sandia. Working together with the visualization information allowed for better collaboration during the exercise, according to Sandia.

Unlike some modeling tools, SUMMIT provides a more user-friendly way to create visualizations that were specific to the exercises to help prepare "responders to work within a rapidly evolving, diverse, and multijurisdictional environment--often with limited or quickly changing situational understanding," Jalal Mapar, the DHS/S&T program manager who oversees the SUMMIT program, said in a statement. He said this has traditionally been a "major challenge" for responders.

Eventually, FEMA plans to make SUMMIT a standard tool for training exercises, Mapar added.

Federal agencies are increasingly using new applications on mobile devices such as iPads, iPhones, and other smartphones to more creatively use technology and give personnel new tools for performing their duties.

For example, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) recently tested iPhones and other smartphones to let agents in the field monitor surveillance video taken by IP cameras of drug trafficking and other crimes. The Army, too, is testing the use of tactical applications for soldiers in the field that they access on smartphones.

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About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributing Writer

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer, journalist, and therapeutic writing mentor with more than 25 years of professional experience. Her areas of expertise include technology, business, and culture. Elizabeth previously lived and worked as a full-time journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City; she currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, hiking with her dogs, traveling, playing music, yoga, and cooking.

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