The Digital EOC Adventure - Week 3
Week 3 of updates on my pursuit of a technology that will enable the quintessential digital EOC (I hope) through a mixed reality approach to truly digital emergency plans, and training and exercising. If you haven’t read Week 1 or Week 2 yet, you may want to go back and start this from the beginning so you have some context around my journey to learn how to create a truly digital EOC.
Hi. Steve Newton here. Through my company Innomergence Solutions I am currently building digital emergency plans for clients, and I think I’ve identified a way to further enhance those through a relationship with a small neurotech start-up, from the Toronto area called Silico Labs. This week, I’ve been flushing out a couple of business flows that we need to build for our digital EOC demo so we have something to show you folks and hopefully that some of you will want to play within the next short period .
The vision I’ve always had for a digital EOC is one where a community or organization has a 3D replica virtual environment of their actual emergency operations centre. In anticipation of that, a few months back I went into a local community EOC with the Emergency Program Coordinator and collected data 3 ways to enable the development of a virtual environment. Like most smaller communities quite often the EOC is not purpose built but rather, it is some sort of a multi-purpose facility. In the case of our local community, it is also a training and meeting room. So what did I have to do to get a virtual environment of their EOC?
First, because I’m a gadget guy, I used an app called Polycam to scan the EOC room. Polycam uses the LIDAR (stands for light detection and ranging) sensor on the newer model iPhones (I have an iPhone 14 Pro) to generate data for 3D models. There are several apps available that can do this, and they are improving almost daily so I'm always looking at the latest and greatest. Here is the image that the Polycam app created from the data.
Look hard and you can maybe make out a couple of signs on the walls for EOC workstations. The imagery output isn’t what one would hope for, but it is a larger room and what’s important for developing a digital EOC is the data that was collected. In my perfect unicorns and fairies tech world, the scan would be a perfect 3D image of the room but the tech is not quite there yet. Soon, very soon I suspect it will be. But the LIDAR point data for the 3D image was good enough to give good spatial representation in a virtual environment. And according to my friends at Silico, it will be very useful for any augmented reality (AR) stuff we might want to do in the room later.
Second, I took a video of the EOC so that we could have an accurate visual of where the workstations were located, and how they were physically configured. Apparently there are ways to utilize 360 degree video imagery in the Unity Gaming platform. We’re not there yet but I imagine sometime this summer we will explore that in more detail. As a side note, it looks like there are some AI-emabled tools that allow for 360 video to be brought into Unity and other virtual environment platforms so as I explore those, I will share my thoughts as well.
Third, I went old school. I measured out the walls and doors with a good old Stanley Fat Max measuring tape so that we had the distances correct.
I then went to Fiverr and found a Blender expert to make me a 3D environment that represented the EOC. If you haven’t used Fiverr, it’s a fairly affordable way to get some good technical experts engaged. We’ve used Fiver for logo design, website builds, training content development, product branding, Monday.com processes, and so forth. Sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge to make sure you’re communicating exactly what you need but once you’ve found someone who understands your needs, it can be a good way to go. Another good site to find experts is Upwork.com.
But on Fiverr we found a fellow from India who is very proficient in Blender, which is a 3D object management tool. He took the information I had collected through LIDAR, video and measurements and built us a sanitized virtual EOC environment. With that, we are building a couple of things out to engage you with. Here’s what his initial run at it looks like.
So we dove into some initial training with the Silico team on the alpha version of our digital EOC mixed reality product.
More on this in the coming weeks for sure, and at some point soon we should have something for you to play with.
As a side note, there is a phenomenal technology revolution going on right now on the AI side of things. Most of us see it manifested through tools like Chat GPT, or maybe the latest greatest "do-everything-AI-enabled-marketing-funnel-builder-or-conten-generator". I subscribe to a weekly AI blog that reviews new AI tools and maintains a fairly comprehensive list by type and category. I could create a whole series of blog posts on what I see there, but I’m going to maintain the focus on this digital EOC project. The AI blog is called FutureTools.io. Go check it out for yourself and you will be amazed at what is going on these days. But my point is that just this past week I found an AI tool that will allow you to take photo and video imagery into Blender to create assets in Unity. If you’re a strong systems thinker like me, you can already see where this could potentially go.
But back to my original comment about what I’ve been working on this last week. We know we need to get something out there pretty quick so I’ve landed on a couple of simple business processes that can demonstrate some of the basic functionality of this XR approach to digital EOCs, and emergency management training and exercising.
First, I’ve created a bit of a checklist for onboarding anyone who comes into the EOC. Think of the current general processes you have for when you deploy into your EOC. There will be some facilities familiarity and safety stuff, followed by some sort of incident or event situational update, and then you either start or come in behind someone fulfilling some EOC function where you receive a very specific status update and/or briefing about your role. We are taking the EOC onboarding checklist and building out a demo of that general process to show how it could be customized for your EOC.
Second, we will be inserting some basic workstations based on basic Incident Command System (ICS) functions. To start they will include:
· EOC Director
· Public Information Officer
· Risk Manager
· Liaison Officer
· Operations Section Chief
· Planning Section Chief
· Logistics Section Chief
· Finance Section Chief
And to demonstrate the playbook thing a bit better, we are in the process of digitizing an Evacuation Branch Director checklist, complete with explainer videos, PDF files of checklists for download, and links to relevant supporting content such as a generic community evacuation plan, community emergency plan, and some guidebooks from external sources. It is our opinion that if there’s one thing that an organization needs to get right during an emergency event or incident, it is the evacuation process, so we’re trying to organize our demo version of a digital EOC to simplify things a bit and make the process a bit more intuitive we hope.
The simple version of those EOC function workstations will be a fixed desk object with a computer on it. When you click on or near the computer screen on the desk, it will open up a simple menu. That menu will give you access to function-specific playbooks, checklists, and process flowcharts that ideally have been designed specifically for your organizational needs. In our second blog, we talked a little bit about the notion of a truly digital emergency plan, which we will explore a bit more in a future blog. Basically, the menu on the virtual computer will open up access to a demo version of a digital emergency plan. The beauty of this approach is that the way we’re anticipating building things, any content changes for the digital emergency plan will be instantly reflected in any version of that, including mobile apps and virtual training environments. To get ready for this, I’ve build out a bunch of stuff ahead of time.
The main focus on the digital EOC and digital emergency plan will be interactive checklists and flow charts. Our experience with clients has been that they very much prefer the “how to” over the “you should”, the latter of which is often how many emergency plans are built. These checklists and flowcharts will be enabled by links to relevant content and short explainer videos, each less than 1 minute long.
Basically, the way this is all shaping up we would be able to take any EOC related training and bring it into a virtual world for you. Think of it as your own Digital EOC.
So we’d like your help if you would like to become involved in this. We started a LinkedIn Group for this project where I will share my journey, “aha” moments and so on. Fair warning, this is my first foray into LinkedIn Groups and I will try to run it as professionally and effectively as I can but I’m still figuring it out. We’d love to have you come over and share your guidance and ideas. At some point before long, for those who are interested we will be inviting you to start playing around with our beta version of a digital EOC. We have great experience and operational knowledge to draw on, but it is unique and limited to us. We really do need some other eyes on this.
If you don’t have a LinkedIn account then I will be posting a general blog each week at our DigitalEOC.com site. Either way, we invite you to be a part of something that can be truly transformational and game changing in how training and exercising in the emergency management world.
If you want to know more about all of this and/or get involved, PM me in the LinkedIn Group called DigitalEOC.