Most people are probably aware that the iPad, like its cousin the iPhone, can check email, and surf the web. These were key back in May when I had an opportunity to evaluate my very new iPad as an emergency communications tool.
A Small Leak
Saturday afternoon, May 1st, I get an email from the Massachusetts Health & Homeland Alert Network (HHAN). The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) was letting emergency managers know about a leak in a water main in Weston. I pictured a crack spraying water – big mistake. Nonetheless, our response began with a message composed to the community carrying forward the state’s request to avoid non-essential uses of water.
iPad as a Communications Tool
At the time I was in the Spring Fling command post. Our initial notification to the community consisted of an email message to all campuses. The draft was composed on the iPad, taking advantage of the built-in email client and spell check. Subsequent drafts were exchanged until the message was sent using the Announcements elist system.
Escalating Message Priority
Around 5 pm the state announced a boil water order. At this point the message priority was higher, and crisis communications plans called for a text message. Using the built-in web browser, I accessed the web-based notification platform, composed a text message, and sent it on the iPad. Using the combination of the 3G connection and the WiFi networking, I was able to stay connected and compose the message no matter my location on campus.
As the incident progressed, the state communicated via websites and daily conference calls. Public-facing sites were accessible on the iPad, though the state’s primary tool for sharing information with emergency managers was a little difficult to access. WebEOC, a commercial product from ESi, is a shared dashboard for incident events. Unfortunately it’s not directly compatible with the mobile Safari browser on the iPad, but can be accessed by manually entering the dashboard address. It’s a little arcane for the non-technical user (ESi, are you listening?).
UPDATE Oct 21, 2010
ESi was listening! Here’s a pointer to make WebEOC work on the iPad:
- From your home screen, tap Settings: Safari.
- Turn the Pop-Up Blocker off.
I’m normally very strict about my browser security, but Mobile Safari will still ask your permission to show a pop-up, even with the blocker turned off.
Change this setting on your iPhone or your iPad to be able to view most types of WebEOC boards (I haven’t tested them all yet).
Around 4 am Tuesday I got the phone-call-email-text-message-alert from the HHAN that the boil water order had been lifted. Not wanting to fall behind in our communications, I took the time to compose the message and get a draft out for review. I reached for my iPad where it was charging on the bed stand, and put together an email directing the community on how to recover from the boil water order.
Read about the incident communications in a Tufts Daily Editorial.