Mobile app helps NASA prep for emergencies
- By William Jackson
- Sep 28, 2011
NASA is unique in that it is responsible for the well-being of people and facilities in space as well as on Earth, and the agency has launched an emergency preparedness program to help ensure that personnel are available for critical missions in the event of a terrestrial disaster.
“One of the most important pieces of any agency is its personnel,” said Jolene Meidinger, headquarters branch chief for emergency management administrative services. NASA’s Family and Personal Preparedness program is “an important piece of our continuity of operations."
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The program is an effort to encourage and enable planning for individuals and families, so that in the event of an emergency workers can be contacted and be available for work sooner without having to worry about loved ones. NASA has received a boost in this effort from a mobile application developed by contractor A.I. Solutions.
The contractor, a satellite management company also doing emergency management for NASA, developed the iMPrepared app as part of an internal initiative to create an iPad application.
It is available free on Apple’s iTunes App Store and is not specific to the space agency, said iMPrepared project manager Tom Davis. But, “as we developed this, we were looking at NASA’s personal preparedness plan we were working on,” he added.
The app offers checklists for emergency kits and forms for personal and contact information, as well as some bells and whistles such as bright screen flashlight, a compass, disaster RSS feeds and an SOS signal.
“Individually, none of this stuff is groundbreaking,” Davis said. But putting the information together in a single place simplifies and encourages planning.
NASA personnel are not issued iPads for use on the job, but they are a popular personal tool, Meidinger said. “It goes along with the overall effort,” she said of the app. “This is just something else we could push.”
NASA’s Family and Personal Preparedness Program is not mandatory for personnel. But the program is offered with the idea that if employees and their families are prepared, they can get back on the job more quickly in the wake of an emergency. This is important to the space agency not only because of its critical missions but because many of its facilities are located near the disaster-prone Gulf and West coasts. But none of the country is immune from severe conditions, and recent events have demonstrated that even the nation’s capital is subject to damaging earthquakes and tropical storms.
“We’ve made them aware of worst-case scenarios,” Meidinger said. “Fighting complacency is always a challenge. One of the best comments we’ve gotten is, ‘You’ve made me think about this.’ ”
The program website contains brochures with information to help create families plan, including a checklist for emergency supply kits for the home and car, documentation of special needs for those with disabilities, plans for caring for pets, and family communications plans.
Much of the same information is built into iMPrepared. Data fields include names, personal details and contact information for people; medical information such as blood types, allergies, doctors and insurance; school and workplace information and contacts; details of pets and their veterinarians; and household information such as utilities and insurance. Information, which is stored on the device and not online, can be password protected.
The NASA program will not prevent emergencies or solve all problems, but it could help ease the impact, Meidinger said.
“It’s a matter of personal responsibility,” she said. “What we are trying to do, and what the app tries to do, is make it easier.”
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.