Usability in civil protection

Usability im Bevölkerungsschutz
© kzenon – Fotolia


Where usability saves lives – a set of Fraunhofer IAO guidelines

Interactive systems can support the safety authorities and organizations in their day-to-day work. Fraunhofer IAO has developed a set of guidelines that is tailored to the authorities and organizations responsible for ensuring public safety. The guidelines also present the idea of usability and aim to raise future system usability within this highly specialized work environment.

When disaster strikes, the top priority for security organizations and emergency services is crisis management. Uncertainty, instability and time constraints all play a role in making safety and civil protection an extremely difficult area in which to work. This means that the interactive systems designed to support emergency services with crisis management must be particularly intuitive and easy to use.

Digitalization for better crisis management

Crisis management is yet another area in which digitalization is simplifying working processes and opening up new opportunities. But since this is such a specialized area of application, developing suitable systems can be challenging. Any system used in an emergency must be easy to operate – regardless of environmental or working conditions. Darkness, heat, constant interruptions or disruptive background noise are just a few of the factors that can make it harder to get on with the task in hand. These are often compounded by psychological factors such as stress and the need to deal with victims.

To fulfill their purpose, systems and devices must be tailored both to the requirements of users and to the environment in which they will be used. It is primarily the job of manufacturers to design their products to be user-friendly. However, it’s the safety authorities and organizations that decide what the systems should be able to do, which systems are procured and how they are to be used. The problem is that very few of these bodies currently have the requisite practical knowledge and resources to factor usability into these considerations.

Fraunhofer IAO’s new set of guidelines is easy to follow and explains what makes a system user-friendly. In doing so it lays out simple, affordable measures that authorities and organizations responsible for public safety can apply to determine the usability of various systems. And in addition to covering the various system functions, the guidelines help ensure that manufacturers conform to quality standards. As a complement to the guidelines, Fraunhofer IAO’s usability experts offer consultation services during system development, operation or procurement. The guidelines were created as part of the DRIVER research project, which is being co-funded by the European Union and has the goal of establishing a pan-European testing environment for crisis management concepts and systems.

Usability in emergencies workshop on July 19, 2016

Fraunhofer IAO is providing a platform to advance research into today’s challenges and requirements of safety practitioners – “Research in Civil Protection” is the fifth in a series of round-table discussions held in Stuttgart. Participants have the opportunity to explore and shape current research topics related to civil protection. The next event will be held on July 19, 2016, and will feature a workshop titled “Emergencies: quality criteria for good usability.” Participants will also have a chance to familiarize themselves with the Fraunhofer IAO guidelines.