A Texas fire department and a few others across the country are testing technology created this year by a Charleston-based firm named InciComm.
At a glance
What: A public safety technology firm.
Founders: Edward Thompson and Rivers Evans.
latest news: Created a program that is intended to help fire commanders monitor crews and apparatus used for fire scenes.
What's next: Company is looking to create similar software for police departments and utility companies.
The Galveston Fire Department is being armed with the new incident command software that allows commanders to electronically monitor crews and firefighting apparatus dispatched to an emergency scene.
"We were looking for better ways to manage an emergency scene," said Galveston Fire Chief Mike Wisko. "In this day and age, we can use more technology, and the generation of firefighters now are ones who grew up on computers and things like that."
Longtime friends Edward Thompson and Rivers Evans founded InciComm with the mission to enhance the way firefighters handle blazes.
"We recognized that there is so much technology with tablets and the app world," Thompson said. "We saw that there is something to add to decision-making in these fast-paced environments."
InciComm is one of a few companies creating software that manages emergency situations.
In addition to Texas, InciComm's incident management program is being piloted with some fire departments in states such as Louisiana and North Carolina.
The company also said it's looking to launch the program with fire departments in the Lowcountry.
"After 9/11, it was realized that there was a need to have better communication channels," Evans said. "With the program, we want to take all that information and make only pertinent information displayed for the user ... so they can make a decision rapidly and quickly."
Charleston Fire Department spokesman Ryan Kunitzer said the agency has not reviewed the InciComm software.
"The Charleston Fire Department is always interested in reviewing new technology that will assist with emergency response, safety, and day to day operations," he said.
InciComm's staff includes advisers and a handful of employees who work remotely. The company recently joined the Charleston Digital Corridor, a city initiative that assists software and other technology companies.
Thompson, a Charleston firefighter, said InciComm's incident command software is designed to offer another layer to "maximize safety and control of emergency incidents."
The company's software was created in-house by Thompson and Evans, with the help of developer Ross Peoples, who also serves as the company's chief technology officer.
"We are helping them (commanders) be aware of the situation, the buildings, and even the space they're working in," Thompson said. "This tells you where folks are, and at the end of the day, the simplest way to describe it is we are helping them track and manage who is doing what and where they are."
The color-coded incident command software is designed to work hand-in-hand with other firefighting management tools like handwritten notes and "white boards" that contain notes about what and where work crews are at an emergency.
Thompson said the InciComm program is not intended to replace existing equipment or procedures. The program is about $10,000 per year for a typical fire department, a cost that includes cloud-based backup systems, in addition to technical support and updates, officials said.
"I would not sell this to an agency with the intent of removing its white boards from their vehicles or tactical worksheets of whatever they're using," Thompson said.
The InciComm system is customized to each fire department. It has the capacity to synch with dispatch systems and contains preloaded information such as map- ping that contains information about particular buildings and locations of fire hydrants.
The command system also can include checklists and alerts for each incident.
"This makes it so they don't have to sit there and scramble to find out what units are on the scene because it's already tied into their dispatch systems, and it shows up on the board when they arrive," Thompson said. "This is just like an airplane pilot who uses checklists."
In the field
In February, the program was added to the firefighting arsenal in King, a city northwest of Winston-Salem, N.C.
Capt. Tanner Hairford of the King Fire Department said the agency launched the program to add safeguards to the way things are done.
"This is something we can use to manage real time," he said. "With this we can manage accountability and incident management of a fire scene."
Hairford said the program has been installed on laptops and is meant to be "just an additional tool in the toolbox for us to use."
"What I like about it is it gives commanders the comfort of knowing they have help and it has benchmarks built into it," he said.
As for Galveston, the software works on Apple iPad tablets that are assigned to commanders.
The program is tied into the city's dispatch system and includes mapping details to locate firetrucks and hydrants.
Chief Wisko said the program has been used in a "handful" of real-time fires since it was implemented in March.
"We're kind of old school on a tactical worksheet and to shift from worksheet to this, and this seems to be working pretty well," he said.
Wisko said the program has been used for training, allowing management to replay how specific incidents were handled.
"We were looking for something (commanders) were comfortable with for keeping up with firefighters on scene, and another good thing is we can look back at what we did when it's all done," he said.
Evans said InciComm's success is challenged by some fire departments slow to adapt to such new technology, in addition to government red-tape.
The company has had to slow its plans for large-scale expansion because of typical red-tape hurdles.
"The biggest challenge ... for a fast-moving startup, ... there's a ton of interest, but the procurement process is slow, as governments do," Evans said.
The company has also had to put a major emphasis on intellectual property and "military-grade encryption and redundancy" to make sure fire department data does not get lost during a scene or end up in the wrong hands, he added.
InciComm is working on some add-ons like tools to remotely monitor airpacks for firefighters and other controls.
Thompson said InciComm would like to eventually branch into helping police and utility companies.