E-IAP: Electronic Incident Action Plan

Streamlining a complex process of coordination for wildland fire incident management teams.

The E-IAP is a digital replacement of the paper-based Incident Action Plan (or IAP) that incident management teams currently work 16 hours a day to create and distribute to firefighters on the field in large wildland fire incidents. This project is the outcome of our Capstone course at MHCI+D advised by Launch Consulting.

My Role

Lead Product Designer

UX Field Researcher

Participant Recruiter

Project Manager

Timeline

5 Months

March to August 2021

Project

MHCI+D Capstone

Design Solution

Final Product Video

Short, three minute summary of our problem space and design solution.

 

Product Roadmap

Portfolio 2021 Roadmap - Wildland Fire Communications Research Timeline (1).jpg

Our research timeline during spring quarter. In addition to our project deliverables, I was responsible for recruiting and building relationships with our participants, primary interview facilitator, managing our research budget, presentations and report visual design, visual design training, as well as planning and calendar.

Portfolio 2021 Roadmap - Wildland Fire Communications Design Timeline, Research Continued

The design was conducted over 9 weeks in summer quarter. In addition to our project deliverables, I continued recruiting and building relationships with our participants, primary facilitator with participants, organizing trips to the field, managing our design budget, product planning, calendar, and planning/shooting/editing the prototype video.

I supported my three teammates who all wanted more design experience by taking a design lead position and giving them ownership of different parts of the design and advising them in weeks six and seven. I took on the video as well as administering the final usability test at the Whitmore Fire on my own.

 

The Problem Space

Wildland Fires are getting more severe and the season gets longer every year due to global climate change. We are maxing out our national wildland fire resources, and having to do more with less which contributes to more problems.

How might we use technology to help make fighting wildland fires more safe and efficient?

 

Research Overview

Wildland Fire Communications and Incident Management

One of the main challenges was quickly learning about the complexities of wildland fire incident management such as the rules, regulations, and stakeholders involved.

Another big hurdle was finding people within wildland fire to help us gain enough insight to understand the human pain points in their industry, and gaining enough trust to talk to us and get on a live wildland fire incident.

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The division supervisor briefs their crew leads on how they will approach the fire before heading out for the day.

Research Methods
Comprehensive Literature Review

We wanted to understand the basics of wildland firefighting, so in our lit review we reviewed government processes and policies like Redbook and Incident Response Pocket Guide, as well as serious accident investigation reports, and academic papers about wildland fire research.

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Literature review included reviewing government policies on fire

Recruitment

The main challenge for research was recruitment in wildland fire as they are a very specialized group of people in a dangerous field. Our team didn't have any connections to wildland fire, so I took it upon myself to recruit through social media posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, cold call people through hundreds of emails, phone calls, and asking people to refer me to others. I built trust through our interviews, phone calls, and following up with people consistently, and that eventually gave our team access to the fireline.

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Covering the incident command system in recruitment

16 Interviews

Conducted 24 interviews that spanned all the sectors of the Incident Command System from operations to planning, logistics, finance, dispatch, etc. to get a comprehensive picture of wildland fire from each person's perspective. We also talked to people that were tangentially related to wildland fire like people working in the private sector for government projects such as Axon and the California Governor's Office.

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Interview with Richy, enabled us to do field research

Thematic Analysis of Interviews

Since we were so new to the problem space of wildland fire and there was so much we needed to learn, we decided to take a closer look at the information we were gathering and organize it in a way that we could look for patterns in the data. So we transcribed every interview and coded their statements to research questions and themes.

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Thematic Analysis on Google Sheets

Synthesis / Affinity Diagramming

To synthesize our data, we affinitized pain points and opportunities into categories and subcategories and discussed each of them to pull out main takeaways. We then connected categories and subcategories that were related to each other.

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Affinity Diagramming on Miro

Wildland Fire Conference

To understand what was on the forefront of wildland firefighting community's minds, I coordinated our team's attendance of the week-long Wildland Fire Safety Summit.

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Website of the virtual conference

Competitive Assessment

We did a competitive assessment and found that while all of these products were great, none of them were interoperable and many did not have wide adoption.

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Competitive Assessment

Field Research at Live Fires

Batterman fire: in-depth field research for the incident management team in how they build the IAP and how it's used. Tail end of the fire.

Whitmore fire: usability testing for final prototype and video prototype. Volatile part of the fire, arrived within the first 3 days of the inident management team.

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Whitmore Fire in Nespelem, WA

 

Research Findings

What We Learned

Using the research methods above, we learned a great deal about wildland fire communication. Here's a brief synopsis.

 

Stakeholders

Who they are, what they do, and why they do it

In researching wildland fire communication, we needed to find and understand a great number of people and the positions they held to be able to create a viable product.

The Incident Command System (ICS)

Wildland Fire Incident Management Teams use the Incident Command System (ICS). We talked to people across the incident command system in order to get a holistic view of what information needed to be communicated during a wildland fire.

After research, we decided the most critical information that is the biggest factor in how quickly the fire gets put out is the communication between select groups at the incident command post and the people out on the field fighting the fire.

See below for the Incident Command Structure.

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We focused on the Incident Commander, Incident Command Team, Operations Section, Planning Section, and Communications.

These are some of the people we've interviewed and built relationships with over time both over Zoom and in person at the Batterman Rd. Fire in Wanatchee and the Whitmore Fire in Nespelem.

 

Opportunities

Wildland fire needs and pain points organizational chart

Distilled from talking to most of the Northwest 12 Incident Management Team at both the Batterman Rd and Whitmore Fires in Washington State. We couldn't design for everything, but we took the following into account.

wildland fire needs and painpoints.jpg
 

Design Principles

We created design principles from our research insights, to keep them front and center whenever we were designing.

Usable in All Connectivity
Consider Human Factors
Must-Have Interoperability
Be
Redundant

Must be usable in all connectivity situations and bridge the gap between the current paper Incident Action Plan and one that has full connectivity.

Be considerate of the things each category of personnel is dealing with and understanding their particular situations.

Any technology needs to be able to bridge teams and their data together for cross-collaboration.

Any design needs to have contingency plans if it fails: primary, secondary, contingency, and emergency.

 

Concepting

Created 100+ initial concepts from research and design principles.

We came up with 100+ total concepts with different methodologies like braiding, crazy eights, etc.

 

Co-Design
Concept Selection

Narrowing to our final concept of the E-IAP with the Ideation and Downselection Workshop and Wildland Fire Stakeholders as Co-Designers
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Our Downselection Process
  • Presented our concepts to our stakeholders

  • Asked them to rate and explain

  • Best rated concepts had stories written about them from their perspective

  • Our stakeholders agreed that digitizing the incident action plan and extending it would make the biggest difference in wildland firefighting today

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Zoom call to compliment co-designing on Miro

Screen captures from our co-design workshop with some of our wildland fire stakeholders.

 

Batterman Rd. Fire
Field Research

After narrowing to the E-IAP concept, we wanted more in-depth knowledge on the IAP and how it was used on the field to be able to improve on the current process.
Field Research: Batterman Rd Fire

5:40am - Arrive at Incident Command Post

6:00am - Experience Morning Briefing

7:00am - Firefighter Breakfast

8:00am - Incident Commanders' Meeting

9:00am - Meeting Public Information Officers

10:00am - Planning Section Meeting

11:00am - Meeting Communications

12:00pm - Firefighter Sack Lunch and Section Chiefs and Command Staff Meeting

2:00pm - Trip to the field to see Division Supervisor

4:00pm - Section Chiefs and Command Staff Meeting

5:00pm - Meeting with Resources Unit

6:00pm - Firefighter Dinner

7:00pm - Section Chiefs and Command Staff IAP Approvals

8:00pm - Planning Section finalizes IAP

9:30pm - Planning Section prints IAP

9:45pm - Depart

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Our team at the Batterman Rd. Fire after the 6am morning briefing watching Division Supervisors talk to their divisions.

Going to the Batterman Rd. Fire gave us context for all our conversations with participants and grounded us in the reality of wildland fire incident management.

Research Findings
No Communication Between Office and the Field

There are a few people that go out to the field from the office once a day to get situational awareness for people at the incident command post, but no way to casually communicate directly.

Almost Everyone has a Mobile, Tablet, and Desktop Device

Everyone in the office has a mobile, tablet, and desktop device. All the division supervisors have tablet mounts in their trucks and a mobile phone. The technology is already there--they just need software to connect them.

Manual Paper Process Between Field and Office

Even though the office is dependent on connectivity, the fact that there is no digital way to disseminate information to the field makes it necessary to use a manual process to create paper the IAP.

Takes 24 Hours to Make Changes Based on Schedule

The incident command team has a 24 hour schedule to update the IAP, the current process makes it hard to make spur of the moment decisions.

 

Context

What is the IAP (Incident Action Plan)?
It's a Paper Document

Incident Management Teams currently rely on a paper document called the Incident Action Plan (IAP) to communicate key objectives, critical information, and logistics - everything needed to fight a wildfire.

Producing the IAP is time intensive with specialists working 16 hour days to input all the latest information manually every day, printing out hundreds of copies every night so firefighters on the field can have the situational awareness they need each morning.

Why Make It Digital?

Often, situations change during the day and firefighters only have radios and face-to-face interactions to communicate. This leads to decision-making with limited information, putting personnel safety and operations at risk and makes it difficult to use resources effectively, and compromises accountability on the fireline.

If this document could be updated automatically in a digital way, it would save people a lot of time correcting and inputting data manually.

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10:00pm: Planning Section Chief printing the finalized IAPs for the next day's morning briefing.

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5:50am: Division supervisors, strike team leaders, group leaders all gather to pick up that day's IAP and attend the morning briefing.

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6:00am: Morning briefing starts and everyone follows along on the IAP, taking additional notes of last minute changes.

 

Concept Storyboard

After our field research at the Batterman Rd. fire and talking to our stakeholders, the NW12 Incident Management Team, we were able to come up with a compelling storyboard that explains our concept.

The E-IAP concept would give the incident management team more agency to make quicker decisions instead of going through the 24 hour process to plan each day.

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See low fidelity mockups in the storyboard and the use of desktop, tablet, and mobile interfaces.

 

Low Fidelity Mockups

A few examples of our mockups
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Branding Workshop

I facilitated a Branding Workshop in order to align my team on our Visual System for basic product consistency.

Figma board we used for the branding workshop and a few pieces of our design system.

 

Navigation Iterations

Once we identified the key flows, we knew that we needed a usable and simple navigation to allow users to easily access and identifify these important features.

Made several iterations of the main menu navigation including top and left nav, top nav only, and left nav only and a floating horizontla nav.

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Downselected Navigation Frame

We decided on a floating vertical navigation

  • Horizontal navigation was harder to reach and navigate to on a tablet

  • Wanted to maximize the amount of space for the map on the screen since that was the primary way for users to visualize, receive, and distribute information. So instead of having a menu that took up the entire side, we opted for a minimal floating menu.

  • Because of the specific needs of wildland fire management, menus with only icons did not provide enough affordances for what they were so added labels.

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Observation of how people hold their iPads, one hand on each side.

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Remote High Fidelity Usability Test #1

Moderated + Remote, Explorative Test and Prototype Assessment

Conducted with two of our stakeholders, we led them through clickable flows of our high fidelity prototype to let them brainstorm, give their opinions, and express emotional impressions about the ideas and concepts as well as identify potential new features and workshop new ideas.

We also had them assess the prototype on their satisfaction and how well they were able to use it to evaluate the product's general functionality.

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Research Findings
Declutter Menu Options

Need to refine which features needed to be perpetual vs shown after specific actions

Maximize Use of Map Visuals

Add anything that can be visually depicted on the map with associated text for the most situational awareness.

Ability to Edit the Map Directly

Wanted more ability to interact with the map directly to communicate through the map to colleagues.

All Leads Need to Have Access

All leads need to have access because people in wildland fire change roles often in different situations.

Field Research and Usability Test #2

Moderated + On-Site, Explorative Test and Prototype Assessment

We iterated with the information we got from our first two usability tests, so I could take the new version to the field to  test with our stakeholders on-site at the Whitmore Fire.

 

I also continued to learn more about wildland fire and talked to a broad spectrum of people both within the Incident Command Team and on the field.

I tested our prototype with:

  • Incident Commander, Liaison Officer

  • Group of Four Operations Section Chiefs

  • Two Planning Section Chiefs

  • Fire Behavior Specialist

  • Incident Meteorologist

  • Division Supervisors

In addition, here's some people I talked to:

  • Situation Unit

  • GIS Specialists

  • Strike Team Leaders

  • Public Information Officers

  • Information Technologist

  • Individual Firefighters on the Field

  • Human Resources

  • Safety Officer

  • Documentation Unit

  • Communications Unit

  • Resource Request Unit

  • Supply Unit

  • Check-In Unit

Usability Test with Incident Commander and Safety Officer
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Field research observing a hand crew
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Group of Division Supervisors
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Planning Section Chief
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Lunch Section Chiefs Meeting
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6am Morning Briefing
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Research Findings
Key Positions at Incident Command Go Out to the Field

In order to act fast and get situational awareness during the day, people at incident command go out to the field to see for themselves in order to make quicker decisions when the fire is aggressive

People Change Positions and Take Multiple Positions

Most personnel are certified for many positions on the incident command team and on the field and they are flexible and can change positions just by notifying the people around them

When the Team Gets Stressed, People Get Creative

Sometimes one incident management team gets two fires and they have to strategize fighting two fires at once which means a lot of juggling. How can we support their creative thinking?

Hard to Find People on the Field, Map is Not Always Right

Meeting points may be incorrect leaving people waiting without knowing where the others are. When people at incident command drive out to the field and can't find the person they are looking for

 
 

Final Prototype

High Fidelity Interface Design
Design Documentation

See our design documentation below for more of a sense of our final high fidelity prototype: