Software uses within the RNLI
The Support of Custom Software Development within the RNLI
The Support of Custom Software Development within the RNLI
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has been saving lives at sea for nearly 200 years. Established in 1824, the organisation has sought to protect the coastline of the UK and Ireland. In its history, spanning just under two centuries, a lot of methods and technologies have changed within the RNLI, but its core intentions remain the same: to protect and preserve lives at sea.
Unsurprisingly in this digital age, custom software development and services feature heavily within our day-to-day lives. It is now hard to navigate menial activities and tasks without interacting with some form of interface, technology or software development. This digital shift has carried across into the RNLI, with custom applications and software solutions crafted to support its mission.
However, the development of custom software by no means devalues the selflessness and courageous efforts of the work carried out by each and every volunteer or crew member that encompasses the organisation. 95% of the charity is formed by passionate volunteers who willingly give up their time to support an organisation with such a rich heritage.
The software developed for and utilised within the RNLI has merely been created to reinforce the work carried out across its 238 nationwide lifeboat stations. However, the software and technology used within the organisation, are aspects of the charity that can often be overlooked, and as a bespoke software development company, we find fascinating. Software development isn’t really something you’d associate with a lifesaving, sea-going organisation, but it is now very prevalent in its operations.
Having been given the opportunity and time to speak to two members of the RNLI – Dr Sam Prodger (GIS, Data Science and Coast Risk Manager) and Russell Hocken (Date and Analytics Manager) – that are heavily involved with the software used within the RNLI, a few custom software solutions and systems were highlighted, with a couple standing out in particular.
An internal progressive web app, known as RCAMS, was developed for the RNLI a few years ago. This was following a desire to configure one unified way, for the whole organisation to notify availability of volunteers and crew members when a ‘shout’ is made.
The custom software solution was designed collaboratively, alongside the needs and requirements of its end users – coastguards, volunteers and crew members, spanning across the breadth of the UK. It allows members of the charity to notify lifeboat stations of their availability and respond to callouts in real-time. Here is a brief step-by-step overview of how RCAMS operates:
1. A ‘Shout’ (callout) is received.
2. A push notification is received via the RCAMS app to alert user of situation.
3. Crew member uses shortcut, ie ‘Press Yes’ if available to attend Shout, to notify lifeboat station of availability.
4. Response is complete.
5. Lifeboat station will be notified that a volunteer and/or crew member has responded and see who cannot attend Shout.
When the RNLI was first founded, the method of alerting crews to a Shout would be to traditionally set off a flare. In today’s society, almost everyone carries a smartphone or device on them at all times, so in that respect, a digital alert has become the modern day flare.
RCAMS allows lifeboat stations to quickly assign people to the right jobs. In some scenarios, a specific crew member with specialist experience and knowledge may be required. RCAMS allows stations to understand the availability of these persons and allocate crews accordingly. The progressive web app can similarly be used to monitor crewing levels and help run lifeboat stations in the most efficient way possible. Family members can also access RCAMS, allowing them to also receive push notifications, keeping them in the loop of activities taking place.
The RNLI prides itself on being a transparent charity. It allows itself to be an open book with its volunteers, crews and supporters alike.
With the advancement in usage of custom software development, comes the utilisation of data. Any member of the public can access the RNLI’s data records from between 2008 to 2020, by visiting the organisation’s Open Data site. The RNLI uses its data to reinforce and provide strong evidence to support its lifesaving activity. This enables the charity to achieve technological solutions, which allow lifesaving services and support to continue to take place.
The data collected by the organisation is also used to ensure that the RNLI fully understand its supporters needs and requirements. All considerations and suggestions are taken on board and put into effect where possible. This means that supporters of the historic charity can see that their opinions are being heard and put into action.
The RNLI’s Open Data platform took shape after the organisation hosted previous ‘hackathons’. These events allowed the charity to share internal business problems and allow experienced members of the public to work through them and in turn, create exciting software solutions. It is remarkable how others visualise and perceive data, giving the RNLI an insight into what could be done with the information available to them.
Members of the public are still encouraged to create and facilitate solutions and products by using the RNLI data available. However, it is preferred that the RNLI branding is not attributed to the data and software systems crafted due to copyright and legal reasons.
On average, 99.5% of the RNLI’s 400-strong lifeboat fleet is available to launch when required. However, on an occasion that a lifeboat is unable to attend a recuse, perhaps due to maintenance, it needs to be recorded as ‘off-service’. A platform has been developed, which allows real time insight into fleet availability, giving accurate minute-by-minute updates. Lifeboat stations are required to alert the RNLI Central Operations & Information Room as to when and why a lifeboat will be out of action.
This software service is available internally within the RNLI, to enable operations to take place as smoothly as possible. It allows those involved with it to essentially have a second pair of eyes and ears, permitting good, critical communication throughout the organisation.
Looking forward, the RNLI have plans to have a piece of software developed that would allow supporters to track and follow their lifeboats via an online platform. Custom software development such as this would enable a closer, more engaged experience with the organisation, permitting onlookers to become a part of a rescue launch and mission.
It would also open up the chance for supports to potentially name a Shannon after someone close to them and follow it on its brave journey to save lives at sea. The RNLI wish to continue connecting people to what they do – not just recuse missions, but day-to-day activities as well. The charity desires to create a space and platform for generations of stories to be told, and embrace the amazing community spirit that already flows through the organisation.
Custom software will allow the RNLI to continue to do what it does best, whilst being championed by the assistance of unbeatable crew members and thousands of volunteers. Software development has been implemented within the organisation to simply enrich the already prevalent efforts of the charity, and will allow it to progress and grow even stronger in this booming digital age.
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