Downloading now: A life-saving app

Fire departments from all over the world – from New Zealand and England to California and Northern Kentucky – are keen on an idea flourishing in this digital age: iPhone applications (apps) help save lives.

The Fire Department app is doing just that.
The life-saving app was developed from source code written by Northern Kentucky University staff and students. With 50,000 downloads and counting on Apple's App Store, it's putting NKU on the map as an innovator in mobile technology, providing real-time updates on emergency responses and, as one fire chief explains, empowering citizens who are trained for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The app's GPS technology pinpoints those who need CPR and the closest Automated External Defibrillators a "citizen rescuer" can use.
"One thousand people a day die of Sudden Cardiac Arrest," explains Chief Richard Price of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, the first department to implement the app. "NKU is going to be saving lives every day for the foreseeable future."
In Summer 2010, the university's Center for Applied Informatics (CAI) launched Fire Department, now available as a free download for iPhone and iPad models. As Price and others explain, two years ago, San Ramon first contacted Apple with the idea of an iPhone app; Apple then recommended NKU's CAI, also developer of iNKU and myTANK, an app that tracks bus routes of the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky. 
"If you think about the services we provide, we have fire stations out there and we space those fire stations out to give us a reasonable response time," Price says. "We have 43 firefighters on duty every day and they cover about 155 square miles, so our response time to an urban area can be seven minutes, or 15 minutes in a rural area. But if you're in cardiac arrest, you really only have minutes to survive, and minutes before you have brain damage. If we can empower our citizens to assist until we arrive, then that's a big resource multiplier. 
"The app allows a partnership with our community that wasn't available before," he adds. 
Since San Ramon synced the app with its services, numerous fire departments – remember, from all over world – are looking to adopt the application. It requires more than a click of the button and an Apple ID, of course; it's a serious process with many layers, including software development, project management, quality assurance (QA) testing and in-app graphics. Supervised by CAI staff and College of Informatics faculty, NKU students develop those layers in conjunction with a fire department's technologies. 
Tyler Holhubner, a computer information technology major, was a QA tester when Fire Department app was moving to the iPhone's latest operating system, iOS 5.

"We do this with all of our apps to make sure they function correctly. It's a really cool feeling to know that we have amazing Computer Science and Computer Information Technology programs that allow us to do stuff like this," he says of NKU and CAI. 
The CAI's latest client is the Erlanger Public Safety Communications Center, led by Officer Steve Castor. 
"NKU is working hand in hand with our communications center's Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software vendor (Alerts Public Safety Solutions) to incorporate call data into the app's notification system," Castor says. "While the Erlanger system has decided to release the app as it was designed in San Ramon, NKU was ready and willing to modify the app to meet the needs of our community."
As for the work of CAI's student workers, "their San Ramon experience was crucial in reassuring city administrators that this cutting edge technology was the right fit for our progressive system."
To manage fundraising and resources for the application, Price, NKU Chief Information Officer Tim Ferguson and others established the PulsePoint Foundation, a non-profit that acts as an independent capacity between clients and the app's developers. NKU donated the source code of the app as a means of engaging more fire departments. "Once the application gets deployed widely, NKU's original work will have huge ramifications for those (in need of CPR)," Price says.
To NKU's College of Informatics Dean Kevin Kirby, the CAI's success has three implications for the university. First, "It's reinvigorated our computer science and computer information technology programs," he says, citing classes that cover iPhone/Android app development. "Computer science is hard, but it's fun projects like this that change the way we think of it." The second implication, he says, is the fact that students are developing apps for real-world situations, including ones where lives are saved.
And the third? CAI is shaping the definition of informatics, a flexible term that, in essence, concerns information processes in such disciplines as communication, healthcare and library science. 
"When I was in computer science," says Kirby, who is also a professor, "it used to be that you could hook up a computer to a little TV and write code from your garage. Now you can write mobile applications and change the world." 
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