July 02, 2012 -- Events immediately following a natural disaster are often chaotic and frenzied as time and resources need to be quickly allocated and dispatched to areas hit the hardest. Being adequately prepared and provisioned is essential – depending on the type and severity of the disaster, it may take 72 hours or more for help to arrive.
In Hawaii, State Civil Defense (HSCD) leads the islands in disaster prevention, protection, and rapid assistance. One of the challenges that HSCD faces is to quickly and accurately document the magnitude and impact of a disaster event, as well as to verify if supplemental Federal assistance is required. The ability to recognize the scope and severity of an emergency accurately and quickly, and allocate or acquire limited resources is essential for the safety and health of the citizens impacted.
Many states are still conducting damage assessments using pen and paper, requiring someone to transcribe information manually to a database or to be compiled manually into a briefing. This manual process is not only time-consuming; it results in data-entry mistakes during re-entry. Ironically, requirements to work longer hours to complete assessments can result in more fatigue, which leads to even more mistakes in the data-entry process.
HSCD as well as emergency services offices and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in disaster response need easy-to-use, secure, and reliable data gathering tools that are integrated with backend analytical and reporting systems.
HSCD selected Oceanit, a 27-year-old local science and technology firm to develop a solution. Using federal funds secured during a competitive bid process, Oceanit developed MERCI (Mobile Emergency Response and Command Interface), a mobile device application that allows responders to collect multiple geo-tagged data types (text, photo, video) and securely upload the information to a server where data can be analyzed in real-time at an emergency operations center (EOC).
Other benefits include:
- Utilizes FEMA damage assessment forms or custom forms to fit special requirements
- Links geo-referenced photographs, videos, and assessments
- Auto-populates data fields for property re-visits
- Contains built-in reports and queries to calculate real-time damage estimates
- Map interface displays different types of assessments and damage spatial distribution
- Operate the private iPhone app on secure communication channels and in 'local' mode when wireless communication infrastructure is unavailable
- Improves resource allocation and route planning
- Provides an easy and intuitive data entry platform via the iPhone and iPad
The introduction and use of MERCI resulted in immediate, tangible benefits for HSCD. The most immediate benefit is a time-savings per inspector of 3-4 hours per day. During historical incidents, inspectors were getting burned out from working long hours in the field and spending more time back in the office re-entering data. Inspectors would spend an 8-hour day collecting information then another 3-4 hours back at the office organizing photographs and re-entering data into the database. In addition to the time required for addition data entry, inspectors were more susceptible to fatigue and burnout, which could lead to data-entry errors and a loss of efficiency and productivity.
HSCD now saves approximately 12.5 person/days during small incidents, 25 person/days during medium-sized incidents and 45 person/days during large incidents. This equates to a cost-savings of between $20,000 and $30,000 per month during a disaster.
“Results are immediately available online... MERCI provides new, never before available collaboration and accessibility...”
George Burnett, Hawaii State Civil Defense
"MERCI is perhaps the best system we've seen…"
Ed Teixeira, former Vice Director, Hawaii State Civil Defense
For more information, contact: Jonathan Levy GISP, Email Contact