UX, UI and Interaction designer

Emergency Operating System

Emergency Operating System (EOS)

Imagine Cup Logo.png

Microsoft Imagine Cup UX Challenge: First Place, World Citizenship Category
Indiana University HCIdX Design Showcase: People's Choice Award

Team members: Vamsi Chaitanya, Michael Stallings

 

Overview

Emergency Operating System (EOS) was designed as part of a graduate project. The goal of the project was to do a deep dive on a challenging problem. What resulted was a forward-looking design for mobile phones that allows them to become lifelines in the period immediately after a disaster. This was not envisioned as an app, but rather as part of the phone’s native operating system that is activated during an emergency.

EOS uses familiar conventions to provide flexible, optimized communication for those affected by a disaster, a resource map for those in need, and a central hub for status updates from local and federal agencies. It is designed to enhance, not replace, existing services such as 911 and Wireless Emergency Alerts. Our goal is to help people feel safe, informed, and connected.

Scenario images by Vamsi Chaitanaya

 

The EOS System

Characteristics of the system

FAMILIARITY

EOS does not create new tools for communicating with others, but rather provides a way for people to continue communicating in familiar ways.

CLEAR GUIDANCE

When networks become less reliable, EOS helps by providing feedback, either by confirming a communications were successful, or by suggesting alternatives.

EASE OF USE

EOS is a component of mobile operating systems. This eliminates the need for manual setup and allows it to be expanded as needs and capabilities evolve.

 

Interaction Design: Main Menu

   EOS MAIN SCREEN   The main EOS screen has four basic options: Contact Family & Friends, "I Need Help", Resource Maps, and News Feed. EOS is always present during the disaster period; however, users can always access normal phone operations.


EOS MAIN SCREEN

The main EOS screen has four basic options: Contact Family & Friends, "I Need Help", Resource Maps, and News Feed. EOS is always present during the disaster period; however, users can always access normal phone operations.

   NEW MESSAGE STATE   Non-emergency notifications, such as voicemail or message alerts, are still received in EOS mode.


NEW MESSAGE STATE

Non-emergency notifications, such as voicemail or message alerts, are still received in EOS mode.

   NEW ALERT STATE   Similar to SMS and call notifications, a new emergency alert appears at the top and pulses for a few seconds, indicating a message from FEMA or local authorities.


NEW ALERT STATE

Similar to SMS and call notifications, a new emergency alert appears at the top and pulses for a few seconds, indicating a message from FEMA or local authorities.

Interaction Design: Resource Maps Screens

   EOS MAP SCREEN   The Resource Map identifies resources such as emergency shelters and areas of usable phone and/or data reception.


EOS MAP SCREEN

The Resource Map identifies resources such as emergency shelters and areas of usable phone and/or data reception.

   UPDATED MAP SCREEN   The resource maps will be updated periodically as cell phone coverage changes and as emergency shelters are opened or closed.


UPDATED MAP SCREEN

The resource maps will be updated periodically as cell phone coverage changes and as emergency shelters are opened or closed.

   NEW ALERT STATE   Similar to SMS and call notifications, a new emergency alert appears as a red box and pulses for a few seconds, indicating a message from FEMA or local authorities.


NEW ALERT STATE

Similar to SMS and call notifications, a new emergency alert appears as a red box and pulses for a few seconds, indicating a message from FEMA or local authorities.

Visual Design

   EOS HOME SCREEN   EOS is a modified and streamlined view of the phone’s native OS that focuses on essential operations during a disaster. This familiarity is meant to minimize confusion and bring focus to the task at hand. The darker color scheme preserves battery life.


EOS HOME SCREEN

EOS is a modified and streamlined view of the phone’s native OS that focuses on essential operations during a disaster. This familiarity is meant to minimize confusion and bring focus to the task at hand. The darker color scheme preserves battery life.

   NEW ALERT STATE   Following Windows Phone 8 conventions, emergency alerts appear at the top of the screen. In this example, a status update from FEMA is indicated on top of a bright red notification bar.


NEW ALERT STATE

Following Windows Phone 8 conventions, emergency alerts appear at the top of the screen. In this example, a status update from FEMA is indicated on top of a bright red notification bar.

   NEW MESSAGE STATE   The phone’s usual notifications continue to appear as they would outside of EOS. In this example, an SMS is displayed on its typical blue background.


NEW MESSAGE STATE

The phone’s usual notifications continue to appear as they would outside of EOS. In this example, an SMS is displayed on its typical blue background.

 

Information Architecture: User Flow / Mental Model

Before designing a system map, the research helped me create a more accurate mental model of what a person would be thinking about during an emergency, which further informed the user flows themselves.

EOS User Flow.png
 

Information Architecture: System Architecture

Based on the mental models above, here is a more technical system architecture of how the screens connect and the system interacts with the hardware.

EOS Architecture.png
 

Research and Design Process

Usability Testing and Benchmarking

We began our research by conducting usability tests and heuristic evaluations of existing disaster response solutions such as the Red Cross emergency app. Our goal was to gain a better understanding of how these solutions succeeded and how they fell short. Our participants had difficulty accessing certain features which required setup before becoming operational. Participants were confused by unfamiliar navigation conventions and distracted by information not applicable to their situation.

These tests indicated to us that we should eliminate the need for set-up and that our solution should provide only vital, contextually-relevant information.

 

Interviews

To develop a better understanding of life during disaster situations, we conducted interviews with two individuals who lived through the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Sandy respectively. We asked them to tell stories about their experience. They described an infrastructure that continued to operate, although with limitations. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, one subject sought to contact her brother. “All phone lines were down, and it was hours before I was able to confirm he was fine.” This confirmation finally came not by voice, but rather via email. Another interviewee told of her neighborhood’s efforts to share information and resources. “In my neighborhood we were able to find one small corner with cellphone reception that became the unofficial town center on day three.”

These interview indicated that our solution should be flexible enough to leverage the infrastructure still in operation and that we should inform people of the resources available in their area.

 

Secondary Research

To better understand the technical factors of disaster relief, we contacted disaster experts, reviewed research studies, news articles, and industry statistics, with a focus on cell phone adoption rates and infrastructure capabilities. The goal of this secondary research was to determine the potential of cell phones to act as lifelines during a disaster in terms of availability and capability. We learned that by 2014 “over 90% of American adults have a cell phone, and 58% of American adults have a smartphone” [www.pewinternet.org]. We also learned that there are ways to intelligently route cellular communications during a disaster. “Voice and text messages are configured differently, and that voice data is harder to send when cell towers get overloaded with traffic” [www.slate.com].

This research indicates that mobile phones have reached a saturation level that makes them ideal for our system and more communications channels can be established using text as opposed to voice.

 

Exemplar Research

To better understand existing approaches to emergency response, we examined two major emergency response systems currently in place: 911 and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). In 1968, 911 consolidated the numerous emergency responses in place at that time. This helped provide a familiar, trusted tool for those in need. WEA has the potential to provide vital information during an emergency, but as a unidirectional, text-like system, does not leverage the advantages of current technology.

This research indicates that we could build awareness and trust by consolidating emergency response service. Our solution should work with existing solutions such as WEA.

 

Individual contribution and takeaways

As a co-designer, almost all of the of the duties were shared including: research, visual design, system design, problem framing, etc. However I specifically sought out and interviewed the subjects for the project, created the system diagrams and worked heavily on the large scale strategies and systems, as well as conducted usability testing on our own application with several users. Ultimately, since this was a semester-long project the three of us had a hand in virtually all aspects of the design to varying degrees.

While disaster response is a well-researched space, through the course of this project I discovered just how important designing with people in mind is right from the beginning. We examined multiple apps and research and many of the proposed solutions make assumptions about the way people operate, particularly under stress, that are either incorrect or over-estimate peoples' abilities. Through the process we were able to stay focused on core functionality, rather than give in to the temptation to add in more features which can be overwhelming during times of emergency.