Google Glass: 4 good uses in firefighting

This cyborg-like technology will hit the streets later this year; here's a look at how the fire service can capitalize on its functionality

I first heard this early in my career as a fire officer: "One technology year equals seven calendar years." Today, it's more like one tech year equals seven minutes; we just get our hands on the next big thing only to see the "nextest big thing" come on the market the following week.

Many of us have heard the buzz surrounding Google Glass, which isn't set to hit the consumer market until the end of the year. Google Glass could be the vehicle that enables fire and EMS departments to have 24/7/365 access to information and tools that can help their people do their jobs more safely, effectively and efficiently.

Glass looks like a pair of ordinary spectacle frames without any lenses, except for the small prism screen mounted on the frame above the right eye. Google has packed this small package with:

  • A 5.0 megapixel camera capable of video filming at 720 pixel;
  • A prism screen that will seem like a 25-inch high-definition television screen viewed from 8 feet;
  • A touchpad located in one of the arms of the frame;
  • A microphone using bone-induction technology that vibrates the skull to create sound;
  • A battery that Google claims provides "all day power" with the usual caveat: depending upon individual use of the device and its programs;
  • WIFI and Bluetooth technology installed;
  • A 16-GB flash memory with 12 GB available for the user

What can Google Glass do?
The horse isn't even out of the barn yet and we all want to know if it will win racing's triple crown, am I right? Well, here are four uses I foresee for Google Glass in the fire service.

1. Navigation. Dispatch sends the dispatch information to the officer (not the driver — I want her eyes completely focused on the road) who now has that information available visually. This is followed by mapping information and traffic flows that enable the officer and driver to achieve the shortest response time without compromising safety.

2. Access. Any information that a department stores in the cloud would be available. This could include pre-fire plans, building plans, utility maps, codes and ordinances, hazardous materials information, fire inspection reports and citations, and emergency operations plans — the sky is the limit.  The user can locate and scroll through information using the movement of their eyes or voice commands or the touchpad. How about throwing in the ability for dispatch to send the audio of the original 911 call so the officer can add that information to the size-up?

3. Incident management. Google Glass would give the incident commander "eyes on the incident" wherever one of the direct reports was managing tactical operations through videoconferencing, photos, video clips, etc. Using Google's Hangout software, the commander could get real-time information from multiple people engaged in managing the incident without having to pull them away from their posts. Think virtual situation status meeting, right? 

4. Documentation. From incident management to fire inspections to accident investigations, if you can see it, you can capture it. Imagine if a fire inspector who can complete her inspection report while doing the inspection and include pertinent photographs or video clips at the same time. Imagine a paramedic being able to document his patient care as he provides the care, also with pertinent photos and video clips — and provide that same visual information to the physician arriving at the emergency department.

What can a department do today?
We are definitely heading into uncharted waters with Google Glass — and just when many of us are starting to get the hang of smartphones and tablet computers. Many industry experts are expecting the initial price to consumers to be somewhere south of the $1,500 price paid earlier this year in a lottery to obtain a developer model for evaluation. 

However, based on Google's success with its Nexus 7 tablet, Google may subsidize some of the initial cost of Glass to help keep the price down.

If I were a fire chief today, I'd be taking a look at Google Glass for future investment because it has the potential to revolutionize efficiency and effectiveness.

While I wouldn't buy any devices in the short-term, I'd be looking at all of our jobs and associated tasks to see where Glass could have an impact. I'd identify current software being used for those jobs and see how compatible they would be using Google Glass.

This is a good time to refresh those working relationships with the vendors of all those software packages to learn where they are headed with their products entering the Glass era.

I would also look at all our databases and sources of information to identify which are currently in the cloud or need to be moved to the cloud and educate my bosses and colleagues about what we're learning to earn their support for the technology. 

It is good advice to look and act like a team player well before it becomes time to prepare a budget item request.

Technology is changing in the blink of an eye; and if you blink too long, you may get left behind.

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