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Bravo Zulu when conveyed by flaghoist, morse code, or voice comms at the end of a mission means Well Done. It was introduced between allied forces in World War II.

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How CAN-TF1 Performs Rapid Damage Assessments During Wildfires

Discover how Canada Task Force 1 (CAN-TF1) utilized D4H Incident Management during the 2023 British Columbia wildfires. Facing challenges in information gathering, paper-based forms, and limited customization, CAN-TF1 turned to D4H for real-time customization, efficient data collection, and improved mapping. Learn how D4H empowered the team to conduct approximately 1,500 rapid damage assessments in record time, enabling swift decision-making and streamlined collaboration.

Customer Background

Canada Task Force 1 (CAN-TF1) is a specialized urban search and rescue (USAR) team based in Vancouver, Canada. It is part of the larger Canadian federal response system for emergencies and disasters. The primary purpose of CAN-TF1 is to provide rapid response and assistance during urban search and rescue operations in the event of disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, building collapses, and other large-scale emergencies. The team consists of approximately 130 members, encompassing professionals from diverse fields, including fire services, law enforcement, government officials, engineers, and medical practitioners.

In 2015, CAN-TF1 deployed D4H Team Manager in 2015 to ensure that their members and their equipment are always ready to respond. In February 2023, they added D4H Operations Center to their subscription to improve their real-time coordination, resource tracking, and communication during incident responses.

Challenges & Needs

CAN-TF1 faced several challenges in their mission-critical operations prior to implementing D4H Incident Management.

  • Inefficient Information Gathering: CAN-TF1 struggled to efficiently collect and manage information from the field during disaster response missions. Their existing processes were time-consuming and lacked the necessary efficiency.
  • Paper-Based Forms: The forms used for data collection were not tailored to their specific needs. They needed a more streamlined and collaborative digital approach to data collection. Further, they needed a solution that would allow them to fill out ICS forms from mobile devices in the field.
  • Limited Customization: The systems they had previously explored were rigid and unable to adapt to the rapidly changing needs in the field. Customization was a key requirement, as different disaster scenarios demanded various data collection forms and fields.
  • Mapping and Geospatial Needs: To enhance situational awareness, CAN-TF1 required a solution that could incorporate GIS features and map data from the field to their tactical operations center. Geospatial data was essential for strategic decision-making.
  • Real-time Customization: CAN-TF1 needed a system that could accommodate real-time customization of data collection forms to adapt to various scenarios and jurisdictions.
  • Collaboration and Coordination: Effective collaboration and data sharing among various agencies and organizations involved in disaster response was essential for seamless operations.

British Columbia Wildfires

With climate-related disasters becoming more frequent and severe, Canada confronted unprecedented and highly destructive wildfires in 2023. For British Columbia the intensity of the fires led to the loss of nearly 500 urban structures in the region, making it one of the most financially burdensome disasters the province has experienced. CAN-TF1 was initially mobilized for the wildfires in West Kelowna and was subsequently deployed to fires in the Columbia Shuswap district. Both incidents had a substantial impact on the urban interface, resulting in the loss of numerous structures. CAN-TF1’s responsibilities were to perform Rapid Damage Assessments (RDAs), provide situational awareness, support evacuation and rescue operations, and provide communications and logistical support. Throughout their deployments, CAN-TF1 leveraged D4H Incident Management to support these critical functions at the wildfires.

Car damage from bc wildfires 1

Challenges Solved by D4H

D4H effectively solved CAN-TF1’s challenges and needs by providing a customizable, user-friendly platform that streamlined data collection, improved mapping and data visualization, and enhanced collaboration.

Real-Time Customization

A significant aspect of the team’s successful response to the devastating wildfires was the capability that D4H provided to quickly create and adjust custom forms, status boards, and task lists.

"With our previous solution, if we wanted to change a form or a field, we had to go back to the company and have them do that. Costs aside, it was not efficient during a disaster. That’s why we started using D4H. It checked all those boxes."
– Eric Grootendorst, Captain of Operations, Canada Task Force 1

The night before their deployment to the wildfires, Eric built out a custom status board to gather the necessary information mandated to the task force. During the wildfires, Eric’s team was working within different regions, some with up to three separate jurisdictions, and with the customizability of D4H, he was able to add a drop-down menu to identify whether it was the regional district, the city, or the First Nations line.

"For us, the most important feature of D4H is the ability to customize in real-time. While our crews were doing rapid damage assessments in post-fire areas, I was able to change the fields on the forms to collect the information that each area wanted." — Eric Grootendorst, Captain of Operations, Canada Task Force 1

Being an all-hazards disaster response team, CAN-TF1 never knows what they are going into next. Having the ability to quickly and easily change forms, create new status boards, and modify existing ones is a crucial benefit provided by D4H.

Extensive damage from BC wildfires 2023

Rapid Damage Assessments

CAN-TF1 was tasked with swiftly assessing the extent of the damage from the wildfires and communicating that information to the affected city departments. Eric created a custom Rapid Damage Assessment (RDA) status board in D4H Incident Management that empowered the team to complete approximately 1,500 rapid damage assessments which contained a wealth of data.

"We were able to do damage assessments in record time. I believe we did about 500 damage assessments in one day, which had never been done before. One of the quotes from the Fire Commissioner’s Office was that we did in three days what would normally take a month to do."
— Eric Grootendorst, Captain of Operations, Canada Task Force 1

According to Eric, there were two main reasons why they achieved this fantastic result. Firstly, because they put crews in the field that were very good at what they do, and doing it in the safest possible way. Secondly, the simplicity, ease of use, and customizability of D4H enabled their crews to rapidly collect information and instantly share it with the relevant Emergency Operations Center (EOC) or Emergency Coordination Center (ECC).

"D4H enabled us to do RDAs so quickly that members were spending 30 or 45 seconds per home and that information was being displayed in real-time at the Emergency Operations Center at the city. That had never been done before."
— Eric Grootendorst, Captain of Operations, Canada Task Force 1

With the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in Canada, the paramount concern for emergency managers and affected residents is the impact on homes, businesses, assets, and infrastructure. D4H enabled CAN-TF1 to capture this data and expedite the release of this information to generate a comprehensive report for dissemination to the city. Through the use of D4H, the team was able to provide that information in a matter of days rather than previously taking weeks or months.

Rapid Damage Assesments with D4H

Mobile Data Collection

Teams in the field were tasked with capturing critical information for the Rapid Damage Assessments(RDAs) on their mobile devices. The D4H Incident Management mobile app enabled members to quickly capture RDA information such as addresses and the extent of building damage, and upload photographic evidence directly from their mobile device. It was crucial that D4H’s software and companion mobile app were easy and intuitive for us. Given the extensive scope of the fires, CAN-TF1 had to extend access to D4H beyond its internal members, many of whom had not used the platform before.

"About 80% of the crew had never used D4H before. At about three o’clock in the morning on the day of the deployment, I gave them a quick briefing to show them the software. After only a couple of hours, they had the hang of it."
— Eric Grootendorst, Captain of Operations, Canada Task Force 1

D4H is designed with a user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate. This is essential during high-stress situations like wildfires, where teams need to access information and communicate rapidly.

Map Clustering Feature

As Rapid Damage Assessments were filled out in status boards, D4H also provided automatic real-time visibility into location pins dropped by the field teams on the incident map. These pins were color-coded as green, yellow, or red, indicating no damage, partial damage, or total loss respectively.

"The map pin color coding in D4H was very beneficial. As we zoomed out and clustered pins together, we were given a snapshot of the number of affected structures in each area or community."
— Eric Grootendorst, Captain of Operations, Canada Task Force 1

The map color coding and clustering provided clear visibility for both the operations center and city officials, highlighting the most affected areas. The strategic use of colors also facilitated swift decision-making, enabling city officials to lift evacuation orders in green-marked zones.

Support and Collaboration with D4H

Eric expressed his appreciation for the support the team received from D4H during the wildfires, stating;

"The support we received from D4H was truly unbelievable. 24 hours a day, we had support from the technicians and engineers. It made a significant difference in our ability to respond effectively to the wildfires."
— Eric Grootendorst, Captain of Operations, Canada Task Force 1

The technical assistance, training, and ongoing support provided by D4H ensured that the organization could utilize the software to its full potential, enhancing their overall response capabilities during a challenging and dynamic emergency situation.


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