Thursday, August 22, 2013

google glass and crisis situations

Information comes in all forms: in images, through text, on maps, through's the synthesis of this information that enables those in positions of power to make the best possible decisions based on the desired outcomes at that time.

Until now, the collection of this data and the ability to carry out response functions were mutually exclusive; you were either filming and transmitting the data from the scene, or you were actively participating in whatever was taking place: triaging, fighting the fire, etc...

I've been reading reports as of late on individuals who have been a part of the test pool of Google Glass users--the chosen few who had the proverbial golden ticket and allowed to test drive the latest piece of fashion hardware. Based on the accounts I've read, the functionality of Glass seems better suited for those in crisis situations than your average Joe; with it's built camera, bluetooth, wifi connectivity, and voice control, first responders could not only send data but also receive it to aid in their current task. Some other ways Glass could be used:
  • Firefighters could transmit images of the fire while accessing building blueprints 
  • EMT's could potentially access medical information on patients while administering first aid and transmit images to a doctor if needed
  • Using voice recognition and Google translate, speaking with individuals and families who don't speak English can happen without the aid of a translator 
  • With Google Hangout you can see what the user of Glass sees, greatly reducing the time it takes for data to get to the people who need it.
Data is a powerful thing during crisis situations, the better informed you can be, the better off you are and Glass provides a new set of tools to help expedite the sharing of information in real time which will hopefully benefit everyone.

Beyond the bells and whistles that Glass provides, I believe the ability to use Glass as a learning/teaching tool is one of the aspects of the technology that has some of the greatest potential. One of the challenges in disaster response, from a nonprofit perspective, lies in the retention of institutional knowledge and in the training of those not necessarily versed in response. With Glass, firsthand accounts can be recalled and examined not only for training purposes but to also distill best practices based on what actually happened. 

And while I see a lot of potential in the technology, I also see some issues that will need to be dealt with before Glass becomes disaster haute couture. Data privacy and the handling of sensitive personal information is an issue that will need to be dealt with; given that the response community struggles with how to share information without the option of doing so in real time, I imagine trying to safeguard homeowner/client information may prove to be beyond the scope of what nonprofits can handle from a liability perspective right now.

Whether it's in the next year or 5 years down the line, I look forward to seeing how this technology is used to aid those in need and its impact on the disaster response community.

If you've got some time, here's a presentation taken from SXSW on gives developers an idea of what's possible with this product.

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