Do Emergency Responders need “rugged” computers?

The trend of developing and introducing mobile computing for emergency responders has resulted in a discussion regarding how durable the mobile terminals must be for such a work setting. Vendors have developed a range of hardware that has ruggedized qualities meaning that the terminal can be dropped on the ground, can withstand water and dust. The negative aspect here is that these terminals often are quite heavy in weight and rather expensive.

Looking at the mobile terminals in use at Swedish rescue services, we see two things.
There are few ruggedized terminals, and where they are in use, they are accompanied by traditional laptops and tabletpc´s. This means that mobile applications run on both types of terminals. This mix of rugged and ordinary terminals indicate that there is understanding that there is a need for terminals that can withstand the tough environment but that the costs forces the organizations to just buy a few and instead rely on traditional terminals. If there would have been unlimited budgets, they would have used on ruggedized products for the operative field use.

The other hand, and in contrast to the above issue, when we look at the mobile phones /cell phones in use by the operative field personnel, the majority of phones are consumer phones bought off-the-shelf. There is no discussion regarding buying ruggedized mobile phones, neither are there any discussion that these phones break easily and must be frequently replaced.

Perhaps what is needed is to look for consumer products, not necessary laptops or tabletpc´s that could be used as the mobile terminal for emergency responders. Such devices could include Iphones, PSP (Playstation Portable) and Nintendo DS.

However, very few software vendors have exploited the possibility to use these somehow provocative devices, as the terminal platform for their systems and applications.

There is a strong trend to develop and deploy applications and systems that provide a common operation picture in cases of emergencies. In order for such systems to really function in the event of a disaster or crisis, the operative personnel must be able to bring along and use such systems as an embedded activity of their ongoing work. A competitive advantage for vendors that provide solutions for a common operating picture could be to draw on the experience and knowledge in how consumer electronic companies provide their technology to a mobile youth population.

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