The Importance of Emergency Mapping Software

Mar 31, 2022
9 min read
By: Lucy Bragg

On the front lines of public safety, first responders play a vital role in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from accidents, natural disasters, and emergency situations.

With digital mapping software, emergency responders can successfully maintain and access the most up-to-date version of every building map in their response area, enabling maximum indoor spatial awareness when it is needed the most.

What is an Emergency Map?

Successful emergency management and response starts with a map. When firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and other rescue teams arrive at a location, they're often going in blind. If first responders could familiarize themselves with the inside of a building before arriving, they could save time and lives.

Emergency mapping focuses on supporting response and relief efforts by helping rescue teams visualize vital spatial information with building floor plans or site plans. These blueprints display the location of exits and entrances, safety equipment, hydrants and water sources, hazardous materials, possible barriers, access features, and all other information first responders may need before arriving at an emergency call.

How Digital Maps Help with Emergency Management

In every municipality, first responders struggle to maintain pre-incident floor plans for a significant portion of the city, leading to poor situational awareness in emergency management circumstances. When response teams get a call, they often don’t know what is going on inside a building as the floor plans they receive are outdated or in weird formats.

Digital maps better prepare emergency responders for disaster management by equipping them with accurate and detailed information about building layouts, water supplies, utility shutoffs, and even hazardous materials stored in a property.

Risk Assessment

En route to an emergency call, it's hard for first responders to know what to expect. Are there additional threats they're not aware of? Are they choosing a strategy that exposes them to increased danger? With so much uncertainty, emergency management planning must include an assessment of potential risks and hazards to maximize everyone's safety.

With digital pre-plans on hand, response teams can effectively outline the best way to respond to an emergency. This tool displays all the location information they need to safely enter and exit a building, locate water valves and other safety equipment, and identify risk factors that could potentially cause harm. For instance, if there's an accident in a high-rise building, responders can avoid elevators out of service and plan evacuation routes accordingly.

Disaster Management

Emergencies happen all around the world, from natural disasters like flood events, earthquakes, and hurricane winds to man-made disasters, accidents, and criminal attacks. Though we can't avoid them completely, we can do the next best thing: prepare and develop emergency plans for disaster response.

Indoor mapping software helps with disaster management by enabling rescue teams to effectively prepare for and respond to disasters. Digital maps enable rescuers to navigate a scene more quickly, identify risks and hazards, locate safety points, determine the safest way in and out of a building, and map out evacuation routes. Planning for potential crises becomes easier, disaster response gets faster, and more people are likely to survive. This is because digital pre-plans give you all the information you need about a building before you get there.

Response Teams

The best part about digital maps created for emergency response? Firefighters, police officers, and paramedics alike can access building information anytime, anywhere. Flipping through binders of paper floor plans takes up a lot of unnecessary time that could be spent helping others in high-stake scenarios. Fortunately, digital building floor plans enable first responders to pull up the information they need from tablet devices in no time.

Looking back at the Columbine tragedy that took place 20 years ago, responders didn't have a blueprint of the school upon arrival and had no sense of the layout inside. Mapping software is a great solution that quickly brings your department up to speed on building layouts, enables teams to collaborate on the same document from separate mobile devices, and distribute the updated plan to different departments on-the-go. This makes it easy for response teams to promptly find what they need and understand what they're walking into at a moment’s notice.

Accurate Records Increase Safety

Emergency response teams often lack access to accurate, up-to-date maps. Firefighters might show up to a burning building bearing a paper map of its interior that is 10 years old and doesn't account for all the interior changes that took place in the interim. Or, they might spend valuable time searching for and deciphering difficult to read floor plans. Unfortunately, the absence of spatial accuracy poses a major risk to everyone involved.

Maintaining accurate mapping data is essential to effective emergency response. Offices, schools, shopping malls, and all other indoor facilities are constantly changing. When buildings change, pre-plans should also change. To ensure that departments have correct information at all times, they need reliable and accurate digital mapping software that makes updating and maintaining documents faster and more simple.

Reference Maps

It becomes extremely difficult for first responders to find what they're looking for if the map is outdated or not geo-referenced to real-world coordinates. For instance, police officers could be responding to an emergency in the food court of a mall, and if the food court location is inaccurately placed on the map, they would be heading in the wrong direction. This could result in increased injuries that could have been prevented with accurate reference maps. In an emergency situation, it is crucial that all geographic data is updated so that emergency services always have the most up-to-date information on hand.

Geospatial Data

Along with reference maps, geospatial data must also be reliable and up-to-date for emergency and disaster response. While responders must know where things are, they also need to be aware of details that aren’t typically captured in a paper-based pre-plan. For instance, it's useful to see all the entry and exit points of a building, but it's also important to note if an entrance or stairwell is blocked off. Without this accurate data collection, response efforts could be hindered.

If existing geographic data isn't updated when things are shuffled around and moved to different locations, this also poses a significant risk. If there are hazardous materials stored on a property, and the commander doesn't know that they've been moved to a particular location, he could accidentally pick a strategy that exposes first responders to increased danger. With updated geographic information systems (GIS) data, departments and emergency managers are better equipped for risk assessment and management.

Mappedin Response

Mappedin is the leading platform for indoor spatial data management, digitizing venues, and building best-in-class indoor mapping experiences. Mappedin has launched an Emergency Response product that enables emergency departments to create, annotate, and view accurate indoor pre-plans in real-time. Mappedin Response creates a digitized version of paper-based indoor blueprints and allows first responder teams to view and maintain the most up-to-date version of every building map in your response area.

Digitize Paper Blueprints

Through the Mappedin platform, emergency responders can upload blueprints or raster floor plans in DXF, PNG, and JPEG formats and automatically digitize them. By automating the conversion of paper-based floor plans to a digitized format, every first responder organization will have simplified, standardized maps.

Going digital with pre-plans will improve emergency management and operations while also increasing safety. With easily accessible geospatial information, risk mapping, damage assessment and analysis techniques, mitigation strategies, and disaster response will be faster and more efficient. Emergency managers and departments can quickly assess existing data sets from any device, keep pre-plans updated and accurate, and cross-reference other crucial documents at any given time.

Annotate Building Pre-Plans

Once building maps are digitized in the platform, permitted users can add and adjust symbols on the map. Mappedin clients can upload their own list of symbols or use our included list from the NFPA, which includes access features such as escalators and stairs, fire ratings, general systems, hazards, utility shutoffs, water systems, ventilation and more.

Departments can also add text annotations, notes, and images to add additional context on the map. For instance, you could add a note to indicate the location of medical supplies and how to access them.

The responsive design allows emergency service teams to make these changes from tablets while on-site at a venue. As a single source of truth, Mappedin Response gives a central management location for all your data. This makes it easy to consolidate an effective pre-plan before arriving at the scene.

Access Up-to-Date Maps for Emergency Response

Emergency response teams can rely on accurate digital maps to better understand building layouts and how the space is being used in advance of arriving at an emergency call. There's no question about which pre-plan version you have to follow, as location information is updated on the map in real-time.

Along with a visual map for maximum indoor spatial awareness, responders can pull up the building profile to learn more about the venue. The fields are editable and provide detailed information on the building name and address, building type, lot entrance, primary building access, external FDCs, closest hydrant, lockbox number, and more.

How to Implement Emergency Response Maps

In an emergency when timing is critical, it's important to have the most up-to-date mapping data at your fingertips. It can take time for first responders to locate important information such as building access points or stairwells, and even if they are quickly found on the map, there is no way to know how outdated that map version might be. 

When lives are on the line, accurate information is everything. With Mappedin Response, departments are equipped with an easy-to-use tool to share up-to-date digital maps with response teams so that they always have the right information on hand. Contact us today to learn more about this solution and its impact on the safety of our communities.