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Image courtesy of Intergraph

A Common Operating Picture for Fire Response

Keeping citizens and properties safe – the call of every fire and rescue organisation. The nature of emergencies is as varied as the people who call for help. Communities rely on public safety personnel being prepared and capable to respond, whatever the circumstances and wherever the need.

A geographically-enabled computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system can play a major role in this. CAD systems initiate calls for service, dispatch units and manage resources in the field. In addition to incident information, CAD systems feature comprehensive map data – down to the street and building level, including aerial images.

In CAD, when disparate data from numerous sources are integrated and placed in a visual context they provide fire and rescue agencies with a clear common operating picture. From this viewpoint, incidents are better managed and the right choices are made to protect lives and properties.

The Power of Location
New Zealand adopted new, geospatially enabled CAD software for its national public safety agencies in the 1990s. The single, national system has proven to be invaluable in emergency readiness, planning and response management, especially when disasters hit.

A major 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city, and its surrounding districts in September 2010. Despite facing the worst natural disaster in 20 years, New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) responded decisively without delay to save lives. Working to contain the widespread fires caused by the earthquake, NZFS officially responded to more than 1,100 incidents in the first four days and many more in the following weeks.

The CAD system withstood the earthquake to deliver smooth and swift dispatch operations demanded in the calamity. The solution was designed specifically to handle call-taking and dispatching for multiple public safety agencies with thousands of vehicles spread over a large geographic area.

The high interoperability of the software ensured police, fire and ambulance services could access one another’s information easily – verifying incidents, locations and other important data. With this capability, the agencies were able to quickly establish a comprehensive view of what was happening.

“Interoperability of the CAD system ensured that all responding agencies could see a common operating picture so that we could deploy emergency crews accordingly,” Ian Pickard, assistant national commander of NZFS, said at the time.

A useful feature of the CAD is its scalability. Under normal operating conditions, each agency views event data, call-outs and emergency vehicle movements only for their region. In times of crisis, the CAD coverage can be zoomed out to a nation-wide view or zoomed in to a single focus area. Therefore, situational visibility was increased considerably during the earthquake response and resources were managed efficiently.

Through the CAD system, NZFS took full advantage of location-based incident management, pinpointing exact locations and understanding conditions reliably in real time. Every detail of each incident was incorporated and presented clearly. As a result, rescue services to the public were expedited with the nearest and most appropriate emergency crew efficiently deployed to the scene.

Using a suite of tools and data sources, including the CAD system, NZFS provided operational data to the New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM), the lead coordinating agency. The data used ultimately helped to coordinate the nation-wide relief efforts and raise the overall response level needed during this catastrophe.

“Our command structure, support systems, equipment, training, professionalism, teamwork and our desire to help, all meshed together to provide the police and fire with a first class response,” Pickard said.

Aided by the powerful CAD software solution, the operation moved quickly from response to recovery, and it was almost business as usual within a fortnight of the earthquake.

Image courtesy of Intergraph

Image courtesy of Intergraph

The Power of Coordination
An intelligent CAD systems’ ability to coordinate multiple agencies is built on interfacing between various response systems to meet the high demand for accurate, reliable and faster routing and dispatch. One such CAD system used successfully to integrate response technologies is that of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS)

The City of Edmonton, Canada, is working to achieve tighter integration and optimised workflows among public safety and health organisations as part of its significant “One City” initiative. EFRS recognises the benefits CAD delivers to overall safety and productivity when critical information and insights are shared with neighbouring agencies, public safety partners and third-party entities.

The high interoperability of its CAD solution allows EFRS to share data with Alberta Health Services (AHS), the province-wide medical services agency, enabling electronic dispatch notifications between the two organizations. The EFRS system automatically notifies AHS when a fire event requires emergency medical support. Likewise, AHS’s CAD system notifies EFRS when a medical event requires fire agency assistance.

Additionally, the CAD system features a “Quick Accept” capability for emergency calls. This enables EFRS to dispatch units to the scene when the agent is still on the call, taking information and feeding it to the field units using mobile technology.

With mobile software, dispatch teams can also share pre-incident planning information such as road closures and out-of-service hydrants. This information is placed in the CAD common map so EFRS response teams arrive on the scene faster and, can receive and update emergency events on-scene, in-vehicle. The system is bringing EFRS closer to its goal of being on-scene within four minutes of a fire truck leaving the station.

“The Quick Accept process alone has already shortened EFRS response times by at least 30 seconds,” said Edmonton Deputy Fire Chief Graeme Hubbick.

Image courtesy of Intergraph

Image courtesy of Intergraph

The Power of Innovation
Building on the foundation provided by a powerful CAD system, agencies can innovate to improve response. Victoria, Australia, is leading the way in emergency management with a new mobile command center.

After experiencing several natural disasters such as floods and wildfires, the government of Victoria knew it needed to overcome interoperability issues to overhaul its emergency response capabilities. A prototype command center called the Emergency Services Integrated Communications (ESIC) vehicle was designed to serve these purposes.

Built by Australia’s National Safety Agency (NSA), the first-of-its-kind vehicle in Australia is deployed to reach rescue sites where power and telecommunications infrastructure are virtually absent, cut off or over loaded. Equipped with real-time planning and response software, the incident command and control system can be sent to emergency sites to coordinate rapid response by first responders on the field, and particularly, among various public safety agencies during disasters.

The self-sufficient ESIC vehicle boosts more than 30 screens providing comprehensive intelligence and emergency management capabilities. Operators can view multiple perspectives such as locations, weather, hydrology data, 3D disaster simulations, camera feeds, real-time images, relevant social media feeds and dashboards.

There are also multi-media and video conferencing facilities connecting between the vehicle and the State Control Centre. Diesel power, radio telecommunications, wireless and satellite connectivity and other useful capabilities are also packed into the 14.8 metres trailer.

“The aim of this vehicle is to go to an area where we can provide literally all our own communications whether it’s for emergency services or members of the public,” said Des Bahr, chair of the NSA. More trucks are planned to roll out in the future to better serve the communities.

Conclusion
An intelligent CAD solution gives fire and rescue personnel an unparalleled level of communication and control. With a common operating picture that connects responders with the critical information they need to save lives, this technology is fundamental to any fire and rescue operation. In today’s trying economic times, when return on investment is always in question, an organisation’s investment in CAD software is an investment in its future, and in the citizens and communities it serves.

For further information, go to www.intergraph.com

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<p>Mike Creevey is Vice President of Sales for Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure.</p>

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