Can a few Smartphone Apps make CERTs and civilian first responders more effective disaster reporters and Field Observers?

Our region has been without a significant rain for two months and is now considered a high hazard wildfire risk. Last Thursday my road home from work was closed off due to a 400 acre grass fire. Outdoor fires are prohibited on our island…unless they are used to cook food and are pre-approved by the fire department.

Fire on the hill…. but how far?

Friday morning a collegue stepped into my office to tell me, “a fire just started up the hill!” I stepped to the door and took the above two photos of the fire about 1.5 to 2 miles away. “You should call it in.” But where was it?

Seemed like a good opportunity to test two simple free/low costs apps I’ve had on my phone for some time called Solocator and Triangulate.

Solocator documents my location and direction of view. Triangualate gives me a precise bearing.

I walked 100 meters north, perpenduclar to the fire and took a USNG geolocated photo with Solocator which documents the time, observer’s location, and direction of view. I then opened the Triagnulate app, sighted along the long edge of my phone and took the bearing above.

Walk 200 meters perpendicular to the fire and you can triangulate its location with a second bearing.

I then walked 200 meters south and took the Solocator photo above and a second bearing with Triangulate.

Now I had a better idea where the fire was located and I called 911. Once connected to the fire dispatcher, I told her what I could see and my best estimate of the fire’s location. The dispatcher’s response was, “Very good, we have record of a permitted Emu or earthoven fire that was started at that locaton 5 minutes ago. But thank you for calling it in.”

While two bearings with only 200 meters seperation could still have been somewhat off the mark, it greatly narrowed the possabilities and allowed me to report the probable location much more precisely. Both apps are drop dead simple to use with very little instruction needed, and seem to hold promise of increasing the value of CERT and civilian Field Observers who can stay well away from the incident, but still feed time and location-stamped reports to the ICP or EOC.

The Triangulate app then allows you to zoom in on the point of triangulation

The Triangulate app then allows you to zoom in on the point of triangulation (where the two bearings cross) to find a landmark or street you can use to report the location.

I could see a future Triangulate update which includes an actual USNG-gridded map so that you could report the incident location coordinates. But both apps work as advertised.
Let me know what you think.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated USNG Hawaii’s story.