Handling Emergencies, Saving Lives: The Importance of Asset Tracking for First Responders

By November 28, 2016white papers

Asset Tracking First Responders

Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical teams, and paramedics are often the first responders in an emergency situation. When they show up at the scene of an accident or natural disaster (or any scenario where the danger or threat level is heightened), these first responders aren’t thinking about where their equipment is or if it’s even available. Instead, they’re focused on dealing with the situation at hand, as they were trained to do.

But when first responders don’t have a robust asset tracking system in place, they won’t be able to perform their duties as efficiently or properly as they should. The mismanagement of assets could cause police, fire, and medical teams to take longer to de-escalate a situation; in the absolute worst scenarios, it could mean first responders are unable to save innocent lives.

When first responders are performing their duties during a heightened situation, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the equipment they need to control it are available. They should be able to quickly prepare for, arrive at, and handle the scene of an accident or disaster without having to scramble to find a replacement piece of equipment or even make do without one all together.

Ultimately, first responders should never have to wonder if a citizen’s life could have been saved if that one oxygen mask or that extra clip of ammunition had been readily available when needed.

Mismanaged assets for first responders can lead to other problems, as well. For example, if these teams haven’t kept track of crucial assets, equipment, and inventory, first responders are also at risk of losing grant money and bearing the burden of finding replacement items (or simply doing without them). Without an asset management system in place, police, fire, and emergency response employees are also unable to meet state or federal compliances, know when maintenance needs to be done on specific equipment, or even know who used the inventory last.

And these are only some of the problems which can make day-to-day operations of first responders less effective and impactful.

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The Problems First Responders Face with a Lack of Asset Tracking

In addition to the possibility of losing innocent lives, a lack of careful asset management by first responder teams and organizations can cause a host of related issues. Here are several which first responders routinely encounter when inventory, equipment, and even schedules are not maintained as they should be:

 

  1. Decreased efficiency

    As noted above, the effectiveness of first responders can be greatly inhibited when they aren’t able to do their jobs due to inaccurate asset tracking. Any police officer, firefighter, EMT, or paramedic needs to be able to focus on the most important part of their careers (helping those in need). Equipment and inventory should be readily available and up-to-date to help them solve problems on an as-needed basis; when it’s not, first responders become far less effective than they should be in tense situations.

    Asset management platforms which aren’t flexible and mobile are also unhelpful for first responders, especially when they need to make last-minute, rapid decisions at the scene of an emergency. For example, during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the New York City Emergency Operations Center was destroyed, because it was on the 23rd floor of the World Trade Center. Had the center utilized a mobile asset solution it could access from any device, it wouldn’t have taken three days to restore operations and functionality.

     

  2. Wasted time

    Another way asset tracking can decrease first responders’ efficiency is if it’s conducted manually. This method invariably reduces productivity both on the scene and in the headquarters or office of first responders, as employees must track assets and who’s used them before, during, and after a crisis without the aid of software automation.

    Manual asset tracking also means any audits will take longer than they should. Instead of having an intuitive system which is quickly able to tell first responders what they need to know, these employees will have to do a physical audit themselves, which can take up to several days. Overall, time wasted manually tracking and auditing assets could be better spent preparing or training for unexpected emergencies.

     

  3. Compliance, legislation, or best practices shortcomings

    Most first responder groups receive grants from federal or state organizations, and as such, must carefully maintain records of the assets and items included under that funding. If tracking isn’t up to par, a first responder team will have send in a record that fails to meet the organization’s expectations and/or required compliances. First responders are also responsible for meeting individual states’ record-keeping and internal controls legislations, to stay accountable to taxpayers whose money they use to purchase assets.

    Additionally, first responders can fail to follow best practices within their industries if asset tracking isn’t conducted accurately. For example, the National Fire Protection Association outlines best practices for marking and painting fire engines, so citizens are immediately aware of its presence and know to get out of the way. If a fire engine’s maintenance records aren’t up-to-date, and an engine is in need of new markings or paint, first responders can be held liable for not meeting the NFPA’s standards.

     

  4. Financial losses

    Police, fire, medical teams, and even private security firms are often dealing with thousands of dollars of equipment on a daily basis (the city of Plano, TX, for example, recently approved over $362,000 for new police equipment). In addition to potentially losing grant money, thousands of dollars can be lost each year due to missing or “ghost” assets which aren’t properly tracked; as an example, the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, discovered in October 2011 that $9,605 worth of assets couldn’t be found during an audit.

    Money can even be lost when first responders’ time and efforts are taken into account. Employees are the most important part of a fire department,” Steve Turner, Battalion Chief for the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, states. “They have to be able to do what they need to do at any time; if you’re not making them effective, you’re wasting money on even hiring them.”

     

  5. Cost increases

    Missing, broken, or stolen assets stemming from poor asset management also produce cost increases for first responders. For example, if grant money must be given back to the issuing organization because of such faulty or missing equipment, first responders must figure out how to purchase new equipment out-of-pocket, reduce operating expenses to cover the replacements, or make do without them.

    These unnecessary costs can also have a direct impact on local taxpayers and state budgets. Tax increases can be implemented to help cover the asset needs and challenges of a state’s first responders. Essentially, the less accurate a first responder team is at maintaining asset records, the more it could be hurting its local community and state financially.

     

  6. Maintenance problems

    Without detailed tracking of assets, as well as easy access to user manuals and warranties, first responders will be unable to know or plan for when tools and equipment need to be replaced, maintained, or updated. For first responders, this situation can be detrimental to job performance. If a rescue truck or ambulance was needed for an emergency but no one had recorded the vehicle was in need of maintenance, first responders might end up with broken-down transportation on their way to the incident scene.

    Keeping detailed maintenance logs within an asset management platform is also important when the shelf life of particular equipment is involved. For example, items such as plastic tubing, gloves, and certain medical supplies and medications will deteriorate or go bad by a specific date. As these are often kept as back-up items in first responder storage or inventory warehouses, they must track such equipment to know when it should be used up before its expiration, or risk throwing it all out.

     

  7. Equipment issues

    Maintenance isn’t the only problem that can arise when dealing with specialized equipment. In some cases, the lack of accurate record-keeping means first responders can’t track and rectify recurring issues with equipment. For example, if a fire engine continually acts up even after maintenance, but no one has documented when each instance occurred, it will be harder for the first responder team to figure out what is wrong with and how to fix its fire engine.

    Christopher Andrews, the Information Systems Director at Wilson County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee, describes how asset tracking was able to help his department pinpoint the root cause of a computer issue: “We have a very important computer which takes fingerprints. We were having ongoing issues for several months that the vendor was saying it was our fault, related to something we were doing. We were able to pull up the service history of that system and see numerous times where my technicians have had to replace faulty components, reset software, etc., which helped the manufacture determine the problem was on their end.”

     

  8. Inadequate accountability

    When assets aren’t managed or documented properly, first responders aren’t able to know who last dealt with them or touched them. They also won’t know who would be held accountable should an item go missing or get lost. All these concerns matter both internally as well as externally, as most first responder groups use taxpayer money and are accountable to citizens to use their funding wisely.

    In addition to not knowing who used or lost potentially millions of dollars of equipment and inventory, Turner points out how a lack of accountability in asset tracking could put first responders in trouble with state, medical, and employment groups. “[Without asset tracking], you could also have liability by not following along with the requirements to maintain employee health and safety,” he says, noting how first responder groups can be held responsible for work-related injuries or even deaths because they’re unable to track who last maintained or repaired equipment.

  9. Organizational concerns

    Without a centralized system, organizing day-to-day operations with a group of first responders is more difficult than necessary. Setting up team schedules or training sessions in a spreadsheet or simple document can look messy. This situation is only made worse if only a select group of responders are able to access these materials, which means not all employees may be aware of the information they need.

    On a related note, first responders aren’t always be able to access documents and data which helps them better perform their duties when that information isn’t in an accessible format or location. For example, warranties on specialized equipment are often saved in a file cabinet in one member’s office, but if they were added to a digital, cloud-based system, all first responders in that organization would be able to access the warranties from wherever they were.

The Solution to First Responders’ Asset Tracking Needs

First responders have plenty to deal with on a daily basis performing their important duties. The problems outlined above do not need to affect them if they implement a robust asset tracking system which takes the pain, time, and effort out of inventory and equipment management.

Here’s what an adaptable asset tracking platform, which is also cloud-based and mobile, could accomplish for police stations, fire departments, EMS teams, and other first responder groups:

  • Track important equipment and inventory

    As it’s built to do, asset tracking platforms will help police, firefighters, EMTs, and more know where their equipment is, what condition it’s in (active, in reserve, under maintenance, recalled, etc.), who used it last or currently has it, and when it should be used by (in the case of items with shelf lives). This also means first responders will reduce the probability of someone buying duplicate or too many of the same asset.

     

  • Save money and budgets

    When first responders opt for a pre-built asset management solution over manual methods, they will ultimately save money in the long run. Such a system with help them avoid paying employees for hours wasted doing manual tracking and auditing, and will also ensure budgets are not being exceeded or wasted.

     

  • Reduce auditing time and inaccuracies

    In addition to saving money, first responders can also save time during audits by choosing an asset management software which does most of the calculations and report production work for them. This type of platform reduces auditing time and provides better, more accurate results than a manual system would.

     

  • Enforce accountability

    Manual asset tracking is prone to a plethora of errors, including when someone forgets to mark down when they last used a piece of equipment and therefore eliminating the possibility of holding them responsible if something goes wrong. Asset tracking software, however, helps enforce accountability, especially if equipment includes barcodes and employees are required to scan and catalog their equipment before and after use.

     

  • Organize information into one location

    With a centralized, cloud-based database accessible by as many users as needed, first responders do not need to be tied down at a desk or located in just one particular building to get the information they need. This also means the asset management platform can be accessed at an emergency scene to assist in immediate problem-solving.

     

  • Scan barcodes through a mobile app

    A good asset tracking platform should not only boast a mobile app, but include the ability to scan barcodes of equipment first responders want to track. This method turns any mobile device into a barcode scanner for greater flexibility and ease-of-use.

     

  • Make internal planning, organization, and preparations easier

    Whether it’s for a weekly schedule, a training session, or an emergency situation, flexible asset management software can help keep all first responders on the same page and in sync. It can also work alongside help desk systems to better track technological issues and tickets.

  • Present a competent, prepared front

    First responders are some of the most important workers in society, and presenting anything less than a competent, prepared image can negatively affect their reputation. Fortunately, police, fire, medical, and other emergency teams can avoid this issue by using asset tracking software to keep their operations running smoothly and looking professional.

First responders such as police officers, firefighters, and EMTs have to look no further than Asset Panda’s platform to reap all the benefits mentioned above, plus more. Our cloud-based software is both web- and mobile-based, and can easily be customized to fit any first responders’ needs. Current first responder or related organizations using Asset Panda’s software include Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, San Jose Police Department, and the City of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

For Wilson County, Andrews says the sheriff’s office particularly benefited from Asset Panda’s software because of its ability to simplify overall operations. “Here at the department, we found ourselves facing a major issue. With the agency adopting a more cutting-edge approach to operations via technology, an influx of new hardware and systems soon followed. While all of this technology definitely made a massive difference in how the department operated, it also created new issues when it came to handling these assets on a daily basis.

“At this point, we had to find a better way to track and manage all of this technology, so we turned to Asset Panda,” Andrews explains. “As IT director, I needed a system that was easy to use, fast, reliable, and adaptable to my needs. Adding in the fact that we were upgrading and rolling on this technology in real-time just made the process of picking the right system even more daunting. Thankfully, Asset Panda delivered in a big way. The iOS app synced up great with our Apple devices and made the jump to a better asset management approach a breeze.”

You can see how Asset Panda will help your first responder team be the best it can be by signing up for a free 14-day trial. You can also contact us for more information and a personalized quote.

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