US Army Corps of Engineers
Engineer Research and Development Center

Mobile Computing- MICA and Blue Roof

Published Nov. 20, 2012
Mobile computing leads to quicker data analysis by eliminating the use of paper for more accurate data entry and drastically reducing time required to collect and transfer data.

Mobile computing leads to quicker data analysis by eliminating the use of paper for more accurate data entry and drastically reducing time required to collect and transfer data.

For Fully-Digital Data Collection and Rapid Data Transfer

The traditional field data collection process requires a wide variety of equipment, including paper forms, clipboards, digital cameras, GPS units, WiFi access, and computer processing capabilities. As an all-in-one field data collection device, today’s smartphone eliminates the need to issue all of the necessary equipment for field data collection as separate devices. Developed at the ERDC Information Technology Laboratory in Vicksburg, Miss., mobile computing applications such as the Mobile Information Collection Application (MICA) and the Operation Blue Roof Field Management System (Blue Roof) provide an easy-to-use, cost-effective method for fully-digital data collection and transfer. 

No Transcription Needed

Mobile computing reduces errors and saves hours of time by eliminating manual data entry. Notes, pictures, videos, voice recordings, and more are captured digitally from the start, and each collected piece of information is automatically geo-tagged with its latitude and longitude. 

Immediate Analysis of Field Data

Since all data is captured digitally, decision makers do not have to wait on paper forms to return from the field. With cellular internet access, mobile computing applications immediately send data from the field to the server for review and analysis. If internet access or 3G cell service is not available, all data is stored locally on the phone until internet access can be found. 

Flexible Design for Multiple Purposes

With some mobile computing applications such as MICA, a user may customize the categories for data-to-be-collected without making changes to the software itself, allowing the application to be used for multiple data collection purposes within an organization. Once the categories are chosen and pushed to the phones, field personnel are ready to proceed with the data collection process.

Success Stories

MICA Response to 2011 Spring Flooding of Mississippi River Valley

During the destructive floods in the Mississippi River Valley in spring 2011, the MICA system was deployed for rapid flood-related data collection. Instead of the standard field kit, over fifty Android-based smartphones installed with MICA software were distributed to field personnel in seven flood affected cities. Emergency Operations Center personnel used the MICA system to collect valuable field information and data points during the flood event. Over 12,000 pictures, videos, and notes were captured, automatically geo-tagged, and transmitted directly from the field to the various command centers, allowing decision makers to review and analyze critical flood fighting data within seconds.

See a video testimonial on the MICA system from Colonel Robert Ruch, Commander of the Omaha District- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8NOZaoVBkU&sns=em

Operation Blue Roof’s Emergency Response to 2008 Hurricane Season

Funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Operation Blue Roof is a disaster recovery program which allows contractors to install blue plastic sheeting on damaged homes as a temporary solution until permanent repairs can be made. Following the paper process, each homeowner signs a Right of Entry (ROE), a 5-layer paper form, to allow Operation Blue Roof to make repairs to their home. Two hurricanes in one season (Hurricanes Ike and Gustav in 2008) required more than 18,000 Blue Roof missions, so 18,000 ROE forms were filled out then manually entered into a digital system, and over 90,000 pieces of paper were distributed and tracked. Until this ROE data was entered into a digital system, Blue Roof leaders could not verify that an address was eligible for assistance nor effectively distribute resources or personnel, prolonging the time required for repairs and the time families were out of their homes.

Using the Blue Roof mobile computing application, homeowners may fill out the ROE via iPad or laptop, and ROEs are instantly added to the Operation Blue Roof Command Center dashboard for assignment for inspection. Field managers may review ROEs and manually assign ROEs to field personnel for inspection, or allow automatic assignment based on a street address falling within pre-determined areas defined on the map. As ROEs are assigned from the Command Center dashboard, they are automatically synchronized to smartphones carried by field personnel, who may see their daily inspection assignments by pressing “Sync” to retrieve an updated assignment list. When an inspection begins, the inspector enters the projected quantities of materials needed for repair, as well as photos and notes for each inspection. Once the inspection is complete, the Blue Roof application will send the inspection data back to the Command Center dashboard, where field managers may assign repairs to a contractor using the manual method or automatic assignment using pre-determined areas defined on the map. When a contractor is assigned an ROE, the assignment instantly appears on the contractor’s assignment page on the Blue Roof website and the contractor is able to dispatch to the home. Real-time charts display the overall status of the mission, and are updated with every transaction. After the contractor enters repair information, the ROE is marked as completed and archived in the Command Center system. 

Distribution and Training

MICA: A kit of 50 smartphones pre-installed with the MICA application can be deployed anywhere in the US and potentially worldwide depending on the availability of cell service. However, any Android-based smartphone may be purchased from a cellular service vendor and equipped with the MICA application. Training on the MICA system takes less than 15 minutes since most field personnel already know how to operate a smartphone. If needed, personnel may be trained in person or remotely without issue.

Blue Roof: Three sets of users are involved in the Operation Blue Roof process: the homeowners requesting assistance, the field personnel managing the Blue Roof operation, and the contractors that perform the temporary repairs. Each set of users has a unique but user-friendly digital interface for their portion of the mission.

ERDC Points of Contact

Questions about Mobile Computing?
Contact: Robert Walker
Email: Robert.S.Walker@usace.army.mil
Phone: 601-634-3307