The Future of First Response is a vision for the tools, clothing, technology, and support systems first responders will need in 10-15 years. The goal of the program was to bring together key players in the first responder community, industry, and government, to define that future vision, then develop those products and systems.
Our goal was to make first responders safer and more effective by taking care of the "stuff" and enabling them to focus on their craft. A key learning was that technology could not rival human experience and expertise, when it came to making quick calls in emergency situations. Our solutions had to support that individual with experience and expertise, not try to replace him or her.
1. The team faced 4 key challenges:
a. Future context: How can we design for the challenges that first responders will face in the future (drones, self-driving cars, 3D-printed guns, etc) and how can we imagine the technology that will be available in 10-15?
b. Relevant to all: Not only did the different stakeholders have different needs, but different roles within individual departments had different needs (consider the needs of a police officer in the field vs. a commanding officer back at headquarters, or the driver of a fire engine vs. the vent person on a ladder truck). Our solutions had to prove relevant and useful for the various roles, without burdening others. For example, health and location monitoring could not burden an individual in the field with extra wright or extra steps, and had to show a clear benefit to the wearer other than "so my commanding officer knows how I am doing."
c. Daily to extreme: The incidents first responders face on a daily basis can be quite different from extreme events like active shooters, large building fires, and mass casualty incidents. Still, first responders need to be on top of their game for each and need to have instant access to tools that will work. Our solutions had to make sense for both daily and extreme events, so that responders would become comfortable using them on a daily basis and be able to apply them without a second thought during large emergencies.
d. Inter-operability: Across all agencies, roles, and geographic locations, our solutions needed to work seamlessly with each other.
Ultimately, it's not up to us to say if our design is good or not, but here are some quotes from actual police, firefighters, and emergency medical responders responding to our prototype concepts:
"It's going to make us more effective. It's going to make us better at our jobs and it's going to make us safer." – Chief Jay Hagan, Seattle Fire
"I think some of the workshop prototypes that we are talking about, here, are going to have a drastic impact on first responders nationally. I think it's going to make it safer for the first responders but I also think it's going to make it safer for the communities." – Captain Paul McDonagh, Seattle Police
The Future of First ResponseTo envision the future tools and systems the first responder of the future would need, we created realistic prototype models.
Our cross-functional team was composed of the following disciplines:
· Design Strategy
· Business Strategy
· Industrial Design
· Digital Design
· Mechanical Engineering
· Electrical Engineering
· Video Direction, Production, Editing, Animation
Procedures, Tools and Equipment Used
1. Ride-alongs: We began our investigation into the challenges that first responders face, with ride-alongs with local agencies. Each member of our team spent a day with Boston Fire, Boston Police and Boston EMS. Observations of these daily routines helped us identify some of the day-to-day challenges that first responders face.
2. Interdisciplinary Workshops: In past attempts to define technology needs for first responders, our client had typically held large group meetings with command-level officers. They rarely heard from boots-on-the-ground officers, and rarely combined agencies (fire, police, EMS) for these events.
It was essential to get perspectives from all levels, and all groups, to tackle this challenge. We started by hosting a series of workshops, nationwide, to bring together Fire Chiefs and firefighters, Police Captains and Police officers, EMS Commanders and EMTs—to hear about the real life challenges that they faced.
One of the most successful activities of these workshops was the scenario share-outs. We asked responders to come prepared to share the story of a large incident where they faced a particular challenge. Because we had first responders of all disciplines and all levels, it was common to have a paramedic sharing the story of a car crash, and also have a firefighter and police officer who had responded to the same incident, as part of the group. We therefor heard a detailed account from multiple perspectives.
Through this exercise, we heard accounts of active shooters, bomb threats, large building fires, plane crashes, and even the Boston Marathon bombing. They were an extremely useful way to hear about the large, critical, events where technology could play a key role.
3. Industry Presentations: As part of our Interdisciplinary Workshops, we also involved industry representatives who made technology that could be relevant for first response. We had companies representing robotics, heads-up-displays, augmented reality interfaces, bio-sensors, wireless charging, medical devices, data analytics, communications devices, social media, protective gear, etc.
During the first session of each workshop, these industry representatives would be part of the first responder share-outs. They would listen to the scenarios and ask questions about the challenges they heard. This was useful for our industry representative who were curious about the first responder market but knew very little about it.
At the end of the day we asked our first responders and industry to work together in small groups, to tackle a future challenge (involving self-driving cars, 3D-printed guns, drones, etc.). Inspired by some of the technology they had just heard about, our groups envisioned some very creative solutions.
4. Frameworks: Coming out of the workshops phase, it was important that we not jump right into ideation, but instead spend time thinking and talking about what we heard. We developed 4 key frameworks to highlight the core challenges our first responders face. Those frameworks allowed use to pose well-defined "problems to solve" that led use into our ideation phase.
5. Experiential prototypes: Mid-way through our ideation phase, we knew we needed feedback from our first responders. However, we also knew that putting a sheet of paper in front of them, with a concept drawn on it, was not going to get us the feedback we needed. We were struggling with questions like "how would EMTs want to interact with a body worn device?" and "How would police feel about a self-driving cruiser?" and "What is information overload when you are in the midst of a fire?
To answer these questions, we knew we needed to mock up the experience of using some of these technologies. We had to create scenarios and ask our responders to use our conceptual technology to react. THEN, we could get useful feedback.
To do this, we used a combination of extremely low-tech physical prototypes, projections, graphics and Bluetooth enabled devices to mock-up what felt like very real technologies. For example, to mock up a heads-up-display for a firefighter's helmet, we created a video version of what they might see, using real-life footage of a firefight from YouTube, and asked our firefighter to put on a pair of Google cardboard glasses so they could experience it through virtual reality.
These methods allowed us to get incredible detailed feedback on the concepts, the interactions, and the information displayed. Our choice of experiential prototyping was reinforced when we heard things like, "I never thought I would have like that, but once you try it out you can really imagine how it would work."
6. Prototype Box: After we refined our concepts, based on the feedback we received from first responders, we needed a way to bring the ideas to life – for end users and for potential developers. After all, our challenge was not just to come up with the technology vision. Our challenge was to make that vision a useful tool for the development and integration of these technologies.
We came up with a solution that combined high-fidelity physical prototypes with RFID sensors, smartphones and tablets. For example,our Patient Tracking Sticker is a band-aid like technology that monitors key vitals for diagnosis, or for triage. To demonstrate this technology in action, we embedded an RFID tag in the Patient Tracking Sticker prototype, and coupled it with the EMS body-worn device (prototyped using a smartphone). Again, when one ears the EMS body-worn device and waves it over the Patient Tracking Sticker, their device displays key vitals for an imaginary patient.
7. Video: While the Prototype Box was created to share the concepts one-on-one with potential developers and first responders, we also need a way to share the Future of First Response vision with a larger audience. We created five videos to share the concepts.
The role of both the videos and the prototype box is to build interest from potential technology developers and build support amongst first responders.
The process of using Experiential Prototypes to evaluate our ideas, one-on-one, with first responders was extremely new to our client, and was extremely useful for the development of our solutions. Our client was nervous, at first, that getting feedback one at a time (and spending up to 2 hours doing so!) was not an efficient use of our time. However, once they saw the first responder immersing themselves in the scenarios and giving us real-time feedback on how to make the concepts better, they were impressed. From our perspective, as designers, we were impressed by how realistic we could get the scenarios and technologies to feel, using very crude methods for mockups (e.g., safety glasses, Google cardboard, rear-projections).
For our client, the Prototype Box has been essential for moving the conversation from "what are the technical features in this solution and how do we develop those features?" to "what is the experience we need to enable for our first responders and how do we engage with industry to create solutions that enable those experiences?". This is a critical shift. Up until now, there has been a frustration on the side of industry that they are given a list of technical specifications, with no context, and very little room to imagine more innovative solutions to the challenge. This new method, of defining the experience and asking the technical experts to come up with creative solutions for delivering solutions, is much more in line with what industry wants.
The impact of our research has been felt in multiple ways:
1. Our approach has helped our client think about the technology development process in a new way. They see the value of in-depth user understanding and evaluation. They see the difference between jumping right into ideas and features, vs. spending time defining the true problems to be solved, then generating ideas to solve them. And they are seeing that this new way or working has engages both end users (first responders) and potential partners (industry).
2. Our deliverables are currently helping our client build demand and support for the development of the concepts. The prototype box and videos are currently being shared at meetings and conferences to build demand for funding on the first responder side, and to build interest and engagement on the industry side.
3. Our Future of First Response Vision has helped our client, first responders, and industry see a way forward to products, tools and systems that will keep our first responders safe and help them do their best as they keep us safe.
A very nice project where in the research part they brought together a group of very diverse first-response professionals to look into what are the needs and what are the possibilities in new products and services that can bring them together to move first-response even further.