Picture a large-scale event like a music festival or road race, where thousands of people are packed into a small area. Managing this type of event requires a tremendous amount of communication and coordination between security and medical teams, volunteers, vendors and event planners. Strong communication can mean the difference between hosting a successful event and a disaster.
While cell phones may seem like the preferred communications technology for this type of event, the truth is that walkie talkies actually offer several advantages — and so they are still being widely used today, especially by law enforcement and emergency response teams. Walkie talkies, for instance, operate using radio frequencies instead of cell towers making them much more reliable. They are also more durable, secure and affordable.
The global walkie talkie market is actually booming and is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.47 percent from 2017 until 2021.
At Dallas Mcintosh Professional Services, where I work as a radio frequency and communications engineer, we help our clients by providing, distributing and managing walkie talkies for them. Some events can have upwards of 600 or more walkie talkies in operation at a single time.
As you can imagine, getting radios back at the end of an event can be an absolute nightmare — especially when people are tired and want to go home, and do not want to go through the hassle of returning something.
Our team was losing walkie talkies left and right, and so I needed to find a way to streamline the collection process. Two-way radios, after all very expensive and the ones that we are using (most often Motorola, Tait or Hytera) typically cost about $600 to replace. They are also very difficult to replace and not quite as simple as going on Amazon and finding a cheaper solution.
For my company, the value of a radio is actually worth more than this because of the potential revenue that each device holds. In other words, these items don’t sit for very long. They are turned around quickly, reprogrammed and passed along to another customer. So a single loss can have serious operational and financial implications.
To address the problem I created a spreadsheet and this worked fine at first, until other team members started helping and unintentionally deleting unrecoverable information. So, I decided to create a relational database in Microsoft Access.
This worked well, and allowed me to send emails to equipment users. However, it was still very buggy and far from user friendly.
I also struggled to find a cost-effective barcode scanner to interface with my database, and was left with a semi-working model that appeared to be working fine, but actually had many limitations.
In my mind, I envisioned a system that could be easily managed by using a mobile phone or tablet. After all, a smartphone camera is capable of scanning even the smallest of barcodes using autofocus.
The next step was to create an app even though I have little to no coding experience. So, I embarked upon a frantic Google search and I discovered AppSheet’s app maker platform.
AppSheet is unlike anything else I have experienced. It’s based on spreadsheets and is very simple to use. What’s interesting about AppSheet, too, is that it’s not just a service but a full-fledged community. Plus, the system is always improving. Just when I think AppSheet can’t get any better, the team introduces a new game-changing feature.
Here is an example of what I have been able to accomplish using AppSheet. I was recently working on a high profile event, where we had 620 radios issued. We lost only one using an app I made, which was tracked to the user and subsequently recovered.
The event that I am referring to was the 2017 International Association of Athletics (IAAF) World Championships, which took place this past summer in London Stadium. I was responsible for the radios and accessories, which were issued over a period of 6 weeks.
All of this was easily managed from my iPhone and it worked beautifully. The camera on the phone is the most effective barcode scanner I have ever used and the actions to call text and email kept me in contact with my clients and able to offer support while on the move. My colleagues were also able to monitor operations through a Web browser and proactively respond to issues like getting extra stock to me on-site.
Workflow emails kept the operation pretty much carbon neutral and paperless in the absence of the need for receipts. There was zero loss in assets at the end of the event, which is highly unusual on a large event.
Interest in the app has since led to me being in discussions with other suppliers on an exciting development, the details of which I cannot discuss for commercial reasons but watch this space!