Opinion: such an innovation could hugely improve the provision of emergency medical and fire services in public buildings

First published in RTÉ Brainstorm, on Thursday, 19 January, 2023.

Most of us are familiar with Google Maps and have used it many times to find our way around the city or country. In fact, this app takes you to the front door of the building. But how often have any of us had trouble finding a certain room in a large school, hospital or organisation?

Yesterday, a student ran into my office because there was an emergency in the classroom across from my office. I ran to get there and everything worked out OK in the end. Later, I started calling the school office to find out what we should do if something like this happens again. Now, I have a list of staff and phone numbers from the university for that.

But I remembered that some colleagues from other buildings were trying to find their way around our brand-new building a few weeks ago. They laughed and said "we're lost in the building" after they had waited for a while. It was funny, but it would not be the case in a serious situation.

Take a medical emergency. The emergency or ambulance staff must move quickly to get to the room where the emergency is. If you alert security staff first, they will definitely be there. But if this hasn't happened yet, the ambulance staff will have to figure out what to do and how to find the room in question. This could take longer - and we all know how important a minute can be sometimes.

Another example is when a fire breaks out in a big building. There are a lot of rules to follow in this case, but how many of us have actually read through all these instructions? Or, how many of us know where these signs are? As soon as a fire starts, we need to know what's going on and where the closest and safest exit is.

Imagine that you have a map and an app on your phone that can help you get around a big building. If all we have to do is pick the name of the building and the room number, our lives would be a lot easier.

While it's easy to find the room with this app, it would be far better if this app worked with the Google map app. This means that you could start at home and end up at the door of the room in the public building. With this app in hand, any emergency will be easier to be managed.

For example, if you want to find a certain room, all you need is a map of the building. Or there might be an app that lets you scan the building's map with your phone. From then on, the app will help you get to any room.

This app will be one of the first things that the emergency services need to have in case of a medical emergency in a large building. On the way to the building, they turn on the app and choose the name of the building and the room number. If there's a fire in a building, the app will help save lives by showing the best way out, the closest exits and other amenities.

In a perfect world, the map of buildings would be linked to Google Maps. Imagine a new version of Google Maps that could show you how to get from your house to a certain room in a public building. But there are some problems that need to be fixed first. While every building has its own map because architects make plans for every building that is built, it's possible that the owners of the building don't have these plans.

Most public buildings have what are called 'paper plans', which are paper maps. Before we can use these paper plans in an app, we need to make sure that they show any changes or repairs that have been made to the buildings. The plans must then be scanned and a building's ‘digital plan’ produced so apps can use them. The challenge for buildings with digital plans is to get permission to use them in the building map app.