Product designer

First Assist

Helping mobility disabilities and firefighter during a fire incident


Date: March 23-24

I joined FirstNet Public Safety Hackathon In 28 hours we needed to form a team, come up with an idea, and build an app to assist first responders in the field. Our team ended up winning 1st place amongst 561 people participating in the Hackathon


We created an app that helps firefighters gather and analyze real-time data from the phones of mobility disabilities(having serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs) who would need more specialized help during a fire incident. The app can also send alerts and provide an escape route for victims, and assist users to signal for more help. 



  • User research and analysis, wireframing, mockups

  • Took the lead on refining and transmitting ideas drive product vision, and user flows for the app, as well as organizing the final presentation.

  • Collaborated with the team: Sophia Liu (designer), Mohamed(data analyst), Ahmad (data analyst), Ahmed (developer), and Lucca (developer).



  • Identify the barriers, opportunities, and gaps in the public safety system based on user research

  • Design and present the compelling ideas into a workable prototype.


User research

Designing for Mobility Disabilities

we read on Department of Public Safety and National Fire Protection Association, talked to FirstNet and interviewed with onsite mentors(Former Fire chief of North Las Vegas, Chief of Police of Los Angeles, and International Association of Fire Chiefs ), we found that people with physical disabilities have one of the highest risks of being injured or dying in a home fire.

"NFPA estimates that physical disability was identified as a contributing factor in an estimated average of 400, or 15%, of U.S. home fire deaths per year during 2007-2011."

"15.7 million people had difficulty in walking or climbing, Nearly 40 percent of people age 65 and older had at least one disability"

“When physical disability was a factor, three of every five (60%) victims were at least 65 years old compared to 30% of all home fire fatalities."


For people with a disability: 

  1. Restricted mobility, ability to speak, or ability to process information clearly, many of them are over 65 years old

  2. Rely heavily on the fire prevention training, preplanning, and response of the emergency responders in their area.

  3. Live much of their everyday lives at a constantly high-stress level

“Providing adequate fire safety for individuals with physical disabilities can be challenging, particularly in cases of severe mobility limitation. Particularly when an individual is already in poor health and the immediate area of the fire origin, a fatal injury may occur before a sprinkler operates. "

"on average, firefighters take around 7 min to get to the main entrance of the building after the dispatchers pick up the call. But the time spent from the main entrance of the building to the places that they perform a rescue is unknown.”


For firefighters

  1. They have even less time to rescue these people in the case of an emergency because of their mobility issues.

  2. They can only access limited information about the incident such as which people may need more help than others, where they are, what disability they have.



  • How can we provide firefighters the information that needs to prepare them before they get to the incident?

  • How can we facilitate firefight to a better plan to rescue people more efficiently during the fire?

  • How can we alert and help people with mobility disabilities in the most comfortable way?

  • How can we reduce the stress level of people with mobility disabilities in case of an emergency?



We spent the first 6 hours settling on the concept of mobility disability assistant app.  We named it First Assist. This app collects and sorts live date from people with mobility disabilities by sending reports to the fire department data center during an emergency, prioritizing based on situational and health conditions. 

Our team spilt into two teams. The design team needed to design interfaces for two personas: 

  1. The fire department (Sophia Liu)

  2. People with mobility disabilities( Gia Cheng, me)

The developer team needed to sort and analyze the data to provide a solution for the fire department.


Competitive Analysis

We carefully examined 11 apps that are designed for people with mobility disabilities. We found that they have built-in accessibility features such as enlarged text, voice to text, on-screen control panel that gives individuals with disabilities the options on how to use their phones in the most comfortable way. 



Variation 1 & 2

Variation 1 & 2



Based our analysis and feedback, we decided to have 3 main functions for each side.

People with mobility disabilities:

1. Send real-time data and medical Information of the user to the fire department

2. Alert users, neighbors and emergency contact that there is an emergency

3. Provide an evacuation plan 

To address the accessibility issues, we decide to keep the app running in the backend at all time, so the fire department can access the phone when they need it, and the phone can automatically send information to the fire department without any user's interaction.

Navigation Drawer.png

They can fill up their medical information and emergency contacts when they first download the app.

Sign in #2.png

Once there is a fire alert at their place, the alert page will immediately show up on top the screen and play an alert sound three times. It also provides the fire location and evacuation plan. If more help is needed, they can click the button below.


The Signal For Help button allows you to play sound on the phone to notify people around you. You can also call your emergency contacts yourself by clicking the "Call Contacts" button. You can also click “Evacuation Plan” to see the map in detail.


The rescuee's apps feature enlarged text, voice to text, on-screen control because we target people with mobility limitations, many of them are over 65. They may also have hearing or visual impairment. They can set up the app to automatically send texts to the emergency contacts.

app prototype.gif

Fire department

1. Collect and analyze date from the phone

2. Prioritizing the rescue procedures based on situational and health conditions.

3. Provide rescue direction inside of the building

The web app creates an easy to use interface and analyzes the data for the fire department to help them access the information of those in possible danger. 

The web app shows the locations of the rescuees inside of the building by using ESRI 3D mapping. The app accesses the sensors in phones:  Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient light, Compass, Microphone, Camera, etc. and sorting all the data through the algorithm. Prioritize the rescuees based on their health condition and location. 

6 bios.gif

We color-coded the people in danger, so it is easy to recognize. For example, red is immediate danger and green is at the least threat. The map also measures the distance from one rescuee to another and the time of the incident.

The fire department can communicate directly with the users through text, phone call, or video chat.  They have access to turn on or off the lights, speakers, camera, and microphones of rescuee's phone when they need it.  Also, they will be notified of the rescuees health and disability information so that they know what to prepare for the rescue. 



 Our team won 1st place overall receiving the $10,000 prize. There were 561 people participated making up over 60+ teams.



It was an incredibly compacted challenge and specialized in context that I didn't have prior knowledge about. It is also my first hackathon. My previous experience with startup companies helped me to be flexible but organized. This experience pushes me to research more efficiently and extensively, organize time better, allocate skills and resources more effectively.  It was a fantastic experience and a good exercise for my career.