“Quick access to more up-to-date information is not only more pleasant for us, it can even increase our safety and the safety of the patients.”
- Reinhard Weissen, Operational Project Coordinator, Rega
It is Rega’s mission to provide medical help from the skies directly to the scene of an accident, around the clock. Regardless of whether it is an avalanche, a traffic or forest accident, whether someone has to be rescued from a glacier crevasse or it is a red alert: in Switzerland you can call 1414 any time of the day or night to contact the air rescue services. The teams remain busy, with average winter weekend often requiring Rega teams take to the skies on more than 100 assignments to assist people involved in skiing accidents.
The majority of the Rega assignments involve helicopters, which are best suited to access mountainous areas to rescue hikers, pick up injured skiers and conduct searches or evacuations. In flat country, most of the helicopter assignments are dispatched for traffic accidents, followed by sports and work accidents. Rega also flies patients from one hospital to another and transports organs as well as medicine.
Rega (an acronym of Rettungsflugwacht and Garde Aérienne – Rescue Flight Services and Aerial Protection) has its main offices in the Rega Center at the Zurich-Kloten Airport. This is where the dispatch office is located and also serves as the home base for three ambulance jets and a maintenance services center for all aircraft. With 12 helicopter bases distributed throughout the country Rega is well positioned to provide emergency services. Under good flight conditions, a helicopter can be at any particular accident location within 15 minutes after the alarm has been received.
When pilots start out on assignments, they must carry all important and legally required documents. This includes extensive map material, the MEL (Minimum Equipment List) and the operating manuals for the helicopter, which weigh five to six kilograms alone. Prior to the assignment, the pilot also has to become familiar with the daily information on the situation in the air and on the ground. Weight and balance calculations including the weight of the passengers and fuel are also part of the preparation and must be ready to be presented to the proper authorities any time the aircraft might land. Until moving to electronic documentation, these documents were printed out and taken along. In addition to the huge amount of paper and the significant extra weight, the information was also not always up to date.
Three pilots, three paramedics, a number of different doctors and relief personnel are allocated to each of the twelve helicopter bases. A standard crew consists of one pilot, one paramedic and one doctor, each on call for 24 to 48 hours. In challenging terrain, an additional rescue specialist from the Swiss Alps Clubs (SAC) joins the crew on board. In a helicopter, such rescue aids as telescope rods and crevasse rescue equipment must also be taken along in addition to the routine medical equipment.
Space and weight are decisive factors for every assignment because any weight saved can be allocated to additional medical equipment, fuel or crew members. That’s why it certainly seemed like a good idea to switch to electronic data, to implement a paperless process and to automate that process as much as possible.
Due to the specific requirements for use in flight, various Tablet PCs – including the Motion F5s – were evaluated by Rega. The Motion device came quickly out ahead of the other manufacturers with its superior mobility, excellent battery life and good value for money.
One of the chief concerns of the pilots and paramedics was being able to integrate a customized user interface into the start menu to meet their specific needs. IT expert Marcel Haldimann programmed the user interface in Visual Basic.NET so that, thanks to the large keys, the users can access the functions reliably even during flight and when exposed to constant vibration. A stylus has proven to be the ideal instrument to access all the menu items practically with just one click. Prior to take-off, the device can also be operated using a mouse and keyboard. The docking station and the connection options for peripheral devices transform the highly portable solution into a complete desktop replacement solution.
The durable F5 models are also equipped with a solid state drive (SSD) and feature 2 GB of RAM. Despite the extensive map material required, Rega currently uses a maximum of 20 GB of the available 64 GB SSD, providing potential for the addition of further applications. Running the Windows OS, the F5 Tablet PCs are integrated seamlessly into the corporate network and are also equipped with an MS SQL Express Version for the helipad database. The online database at Helipad.org provides the current data on any flight obstacles and specific dangers. If a pilot is flying to a hospital for the first time, for example, he can find out all about the flight approach procedures, night flying, position lights and refueling.
At 5:30 every morning, the replication mechanism programmed by the IT specialist is run to load the current data from the relevant intranet sectors and the web applications onto the tablet PCs for the individual bases. Since the devices are all equipped with a WLAN interface, the crew could also work online on the ground. The official EMI test (electromagnetic interference) has already shown that the radio-navigation devices are not affected by the use of the Motion Tablet PCs.
“For the users, the main focus was on designing a user interface that makes it possible to operate practically all the functions with just one click. The biggest challenge in the introduction of the devices, however, was the programming of the replication and synchronization mechanism,” explained Marcel Haldimann, IT project head at Rega. Following the successful start, he sees great potential for the future. “We have only just scratched the surface. The F5 Tablet PCs offer a number of additional valuable options, leaving us lots of room to add applications in the future.”
Eight assignment teams have tested the F5 Tablet PCs over a period of two months based on pre-defined criteria. In the second phase, the trial operation involved approximately 16 users. The test phases all ran without a hitch and the teams were enthusiastic about how much easier the solution made their work. Following the successful test runs, Rega decided to purchase devices to outfit all the helicopter bases with F5s.
The devices were purchased through I-BITPRO AG, Motion’s Swiss distribution partner. Contact was made quickly and easily; thanks to company’s attention to customer care, the tablets were soon up and running at the different locations with all the desired features. The devices are now in use at each base and there is an exchange pool available to the IT department.
The F5s are designed for mobile use and built to be strong yet light in weight. IP-54-rated for protection against dust and moisture, and MIL-STD-810G tested to ensure protection from drops, the tablets also feature an optional SSD for protection against shock and impact and Gorilla™ glass, for advanced screen protection. Being dropped from the helicopter seat into the snow should pose as little problem as the constant vibrations and jolts during flight.
Because the users constantly work shifts or are on-call, it was necessary to find an alternative to a central user training program. First, the F5 Tablet PCs were presented to the pilots at the regular pilot meetings; then one employee from each base was sent to a half-day training course and expected to pass on what he had learned to his colleagues. As the operational project coordinator, Reinhard Weissen was able to conduct the user training course on his own. “Thanks to the intuitive operation and the use of familiar applications, the introduction phase went very smoothly,” commented Weissen. “In the final analysis, the whole process has become significantly easier with the investment of relatively little time and effort.”
On assignment, using the F5 is quick and easy. The tablet, which contains all the up-to-date information, is removed from the docking station and taken along in the helicopter It is then stored behind the pilot’s seat. Should special informationon the hospital landing pads, mountain railways or building heights be required during the flight, the paramedic can get the F5 and directly access the corresponding information.
This information includes up-to-the-minute map data indicating the shooting areas used by the Swiss Army or the many mountain railway transport cables throughout the country, which pose a great danger to the helicopters. Thanks to the good screen presentation, the brightness adjustment and the View Anywhere Display® the pilot is still able to see the current information on the flight area from a less-than-perfect viewing angle and despite any glare caused by the snow or sunlight. And what’s more: thanks to the flight preparation completed and stored before take-off, the crew is always ready for a possible ramp check, which can be conducted by the aeronautical authorities at any landing place at any time. The F5 can be used in stand-by mode for up to seven hours. For emergencies, the team also carries an extra battery to replace the dead battery without any interruption in hot-swap mode even under difficult conditions, e.g. when it is extremely cold.
Easy to manage, durable and reliable, the Motion F5 Tablet PCs are convincing all the way down the line. At the end of each shift, the F5 is put back into
the docking station to recharge the battery and upload the automatic update from the corporate network. As a result, the shifts always work alternately with one of the identically programmed computers belonging to the helicopter base. The team can rely on having an up-to-date database and a fully charged battery, regardless of whether they are flying to an assignment on the north face of the Eiger with night vision gear at midnight or are called to a traffic accident early in the morning.
Although the pilot can request information from the central office, it is much easier to have all the data ready at the touch of a button at any time and to have access to the relevant intranet sectors with upto-the-minute information. The phone book and countless maps of ski areas that are not flown to very often are all stored in this space-saving format and updated on a regular basis.
The IT department’s development work for the integration of the F5 Tablet PCs was kept down to a lean 55 man-days and, compared to other “rugged” models, the investment costs for these devices were considerably lower. At a conservative estimate of a time savings of approximately 10 minutes per process, the result is an increase in efficiency of up to eight hours a week. The new system also eliminates the usual paper costs. The investment has really paid off for Rega in every respect and according to those in charge, it is something you just cannot put a price tag on. “Quick access to more up-to-date information is not only more pleasant for us, it can even increase our safety and the safety of the patients,” said Reinhard Weissen.
Rega’s main focus was reducing the weight on board, saving space and keeping the data up to date. The enormous increase in efficiency and the step towards a paperless, electronic helicopter “flight bag” were also essential criteria. “Everyone is happy that the mountains of paper have been reduced, that less time is now spent on administration tasks and that the data available is always up to date,” commented Reinhard Weissen, summarizing the resounding success of the introduction of the F5 Tablet PCs at Rega.
After two months, the pilots and paramedics have gathered a number of ideas as to how the F5 can make their workdays even easier. The decision has already been made to collect and examine all these suggestions centrally. Processing medical reports and online access to current weather information are bound to be at the top of the list of what the users want most.