Improving Navigation for Public Safety

DHS S&T and Azimuth1 develop the QuickRoute application as an answer to navigational drawbacks experienced by first responders


Navigational GPS applications have become second nature to many drivers; approximately 67 percent of smartphone owners use turn-by-turn navigation applications. But, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, mainstream GPS applications are not equipped for the unique considerations of first responders.

“It sounds very simple to go from point A to point B, but there are many factors that impact a first responder’s route,” Justin Green, Battalion Chief of Special Operations with Loudoun County Fire and Rescue, told AFCEA’s Signal Magazine in June. “What we’re focusing on here is a lot of that information that we don’t have ready access to.”

When using mainstream GPS applications, first responders face drawbacks such as not being made aware of hazardous weather events or traffic accidents that could affect their response time and safety.

DHS S&T, in partnership with Azimuth1, is working to develop a solution called QuickRoute.

“Having that head’s up alert that there’s hazards on the road, there’s potentially something that can slow down our response. We don’t really have that technology right now,” Margaret Fowke, volunteer emergency medical technician with the Silver Spring Fire Department, told Newswise in June while discussing the new app.

QuickRoute development began in March 2018. Azimuth1 will integrate computer-aided dispatch and emergency vehicle priority systems for the navigation service.

The application uses GPS and routing data to provide turn-by-turn directions for first responders. The routing system accounts for various challenges first responders may encounter, such as inclement weather, poor road conditions, vehicle characteristics, and department-level driving protocols. The technology will ensure emergency vehicles have priority traffic in all areas of travel while responding to a call, and features an alerting mechanism to warn responders of hazards along the way. The application also takes into account the type of vehicle driven and the unique ability to use lights and sirens to clear paths and avoid signals.

In April, a prototype was field-tested at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Facility in Cheltenham, Md. The participants played out various emergency scenarios to evaluate the application. Examples included responses to medical emergencies, traffic accidents, and fires with hazards, weather events, and roadway challenges placed along the way.

“We designed this field assessment to obtain user feedback on QuickRoute’s capabilities, usability, and effectiveness,” DHS National Urban Security Technology Laboratory Test Director Karin Decker said in a department press release. “Getting the technology into the hands of responders in a realistic setting allows them to really experience using it how they would commuting to an actual response. In doing so, they can identify areas for improvements that become apparent only in an operational setting.”

QuickRoute will be available for purchase in Q2 2020.

“If you have firefighters who [are] called to an emergency, and they’re driving, say, a hook and ladder truck—perhaps they can’t traverse a narrow lane,” said Kimberli Jones-Holt, DHS S&T program manager, in the same release. “Quick Route will provide an alternate route to be able to get them to that emergency much more quickly than a traditional commercial application would.”


Photo Credit: DHS

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