They could be heroes – interview with D4H’s Robin Blandford

14 Apr 2016

The D4H team, led by Robin Blandford, is powering the technology of choice for emergency first responders all over the world

For first responders in disasters or emergencies anywhere in the world, technology developed in Ireland is accompanying them on the front line. Welcome to the daring world of Robin Blandford’s D4H Technologies.

D4H – which stands for Decisions for Heroes – does exactly what it says on the tin, providing first responders with vital need-to-know information, as well as the ability to record data in real-time, whether it is on the rugged coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, in remote mines in the Arctic Circle or on the busy streets of Boston or Chicago.

It could be fair to say that there is no other start-up in Ireland like D4H Technologies. The company is headquartered in a lighthouse on Howth Head overlooking Dublin Bay and when you catch wind of what its founder Robin Blandford is up to, it usually involves seeing him in fire trucks or helicopters.

Blandford will be the guest of honour for an exclusive fireside chat at the next Startup Grind event sponsored by Bank of Ireland, which takes place at Google on Barrow Street at 6.30pm on 21 April.

Apart from some initial Enterprise Ireland funding when it started up eight years ago, D4H is self-funded through global revenues from sales of software to police forces, fire brigades, coast guards, pharmaceutical companies, city governments and State governments in the US.

Who dares, digitises


Robin Blandford, founder of D4H Technologies

‘It was a Friday and I handed in my notice on the following Monday after I decided to commercialise the idea’

D4H was born out of the passion of its founder Robin Blandford for the business of rescue workers and saving lives.

“I was studying computer engineering at DCU when I joined the Irish Coast Guard as a volunteer. I was on a graduate programme with Reuters in London and Singapore when I realised that, when it came to statistics and vital information, such as finding a missing person at certain locations, there was no digital version of it. So, in my own time, I started building an incident database that would help first responders keep track of things and gather statistics and trends at a very local level.”

Blandford realised he was on to something when he shared the database with Coast Guard teams up and down the east coast of Ireland. “It was very basic, but much appreciated. It was a Friday and I handed in my notice on the following Monday after I decided to commercialise the idea.”

So what began as a fascination and a hobby of sorts became the nucleus of something that is impacting on the serious business of saving lives. “It was just me being an enthusiastic search and rescue volunteer putting my software skills to work and here we are eight years later.

“The key to D4H is an incident statistics database for search and rescue that provides data to ensure all your people are ready to go in terms of tracking training and experience, and making sure they are qualified to do the task. This evolved into equipment tracking, to today where our technology is also used by special fire operations who deal with chemicals and hazardous materials.”

Blandford said that D4H’s technology is being used by fire departments to manage equipment and people. “It gives them a dashboard, or a green light, to show which teams are ready for the next incident in terms of people, skills and equipment.

“Because of its origins, the software also gives first responders on the ground exceptionally useful knowledge. In effect, it was built from the ground up, from the first responder up to the management at city or county level. At State level in the US, every fire team in the State must use this software to report to the dashboard and, at a glance, it is possible to know which teams are prepared for a big incident. On the ground a first responder can use it and feel empowered.”

D4H’s software is now being used in more than 16 countries around the world, and clients include the Danish Navy, the Irish Coast Guard, Christchurch earthquake responders in New Zealand, and US States including Michigan and Massachusetts.

D4H’s technology was even used in the Costa Concordia incident in 2012.

“In the coming weeks, the State of Massachusetts is moving its HASMAT system for dealing with chemical emergencies to the D4H system for managing equipment, personnel and training.”

Flying to the next level

D4H_Lighthouse Irish Air Corps Visit

The Irish Air Corps drops in on D4H’s unique headquarters at Howth Head, as you do.

‘It’s a completely different world, where one day you could be in a police car or fire truck in North America, or the next you could be on a chartered plane over the frozen north of Canada on your way to an oil fan well’

Originally known as Decisions for Heroes, the company rebranded as D4H Technologies when it started winning deals at CIO level.

“We’ve spent the last two years focusing our R&D efforts on our new D4H Live Operations Platform specifically for managing incidents in real-time for companies in the oil, gas and salvage sector.”

Blandford explained that the D4H Live Operations Platform is key to decision-making and closes the full-circle from preparedness for incidents through to response and after-action reporting.

“Fire trucks in the US actually have little office units on board because they moved to updating incident paperwork while in the field rather than reporting after-action, but the problem was they were losing data because they were losing data connections. So we created a separate platform for managing information in real-time during an incident, and the market we target loves it and we are making good inroads.”

Blandford agrees with my observation that D4H is targeting a niche vertical that no other start-up in this country is targeting, and admits fellow entrepreneurs are mystified by what D4H is about.

“It’s a very different market to sell into. And the key to the emergency response industry is that it is a community run on very distinct lines, with its own language and its own way of doing things. As a result, it isn’t a community you can just walk into.

“I have spent 14 years in the Coast Guard and, because I have all the certificates and experience, they are delighted to take me out in their fire trucks, helicopters and boats. In fact, some of our staff at D4H have emergency backgrounds, including our engineers. We try to instil that in our culture, and the people we work with like that. It’s a completely different world, where one day you could be in a police car in North America or you could be on a chartered plane over the frozen north of Canada on your way to an oil fan well.”

Blandford said that D4H’s platform for managing people, equipment and training is also being eyed up by the military marketplace.

“Our next step is to finally take the plunge and take on investment to accelerate D4H to the next stage. We won’t be speaking with generic venture capitalist companies, but specific groups of investors that invest in the emergency space.”

Silicon Bay rather than Silicon Docks

Even the unusual position of having its offices in the unlikely setting of a lighthouse rather than at the Silicon Docks articulates Blandford’s ambition.

“I have always been genuinely interested in this space. I love it and, because I love it, I want to make a great company that serves the community well. The goal isn’t financially motivated. It started because I have a passion for this area and ensure that the market is best-served by a solid company that understands it.

“We are slowly winning good contracts and making a good name for ourselves. For example, we are the only company in the world to have a connection into Canada’s Public Safety Knowledge Management System to help first responders send data on missing persons.

“That has taken years and years of meeting the same people at the same conferences and building up trust.

“Now we have five or six city police forces in the US looking to us to help them emulate what we have done in Canada.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years