The lack of technical support during large fires is an ongoing problem for Fire Emergency Management Services, causing aggravation and impeding on the efficiency of their work. The need for fully functioning communications is indisputable and its improvement has been one of the main objectives for National Safety Agency (NSA) when developing the Emergency Services Integrated Communications (ESIC) vehicle.
Supported by industry leaders through partnership, ongoing research and product evaluation, NSA introduced ESIC as an all-encompassing solution for Emergency Management Service agencies. The vehicle in form of a semi-trailer combines a range of industry leading solutions into one, providing a technology platform to improve the knowledge on incidents, supporting better decision making and establishing enhanced outcomes whilst ensuring safer and more resilient communities.
Fire Incident Management Teams are confronted with numerous challenges due to technology limitations, especially in remote and rural regions, where traditional terrestrial communications may not be available or heavily overloaded. Here, ESIC’s unified communications abilities can be invaluable. The vehicle provides bandwidth and capacity using satellite connectivity and a long range 3G/4G antenna (NSA Pathfinder) to ensure important incident management information is processed, as well as supplying WiFi accessibility to communities in despair and an option to recharge mobile phones to displaced people who need to make contact with friends and relatives. Furthermore, cross-agency radio networks can be joined into user groups, so that response teams of all agencies can communicate using standard radios.
According to an AFAC survey in 2015, a further issue agencies are successively confronted with is the shortfall in high quality incident simulations for knowledge development and training purposes. Such exercises have proven to be extremely important in enhancing the ability for decision making under pressure and efficient disaster management. ESIC offers advanced simulation and modelling functions to facilitate those activities. The onboard access to cloud-based computing power supports the simulation and modelling of fire behaviour and other adversities using large amounts of collected data and algorithm based models. Agencies are able to utilise ESIC not only for operational, but also training purposes on a lease basis, including a Mobile Support Vehicle (MSV) and the NSA support team.
Another area in need of development mentioned in the AFAC study is debriefs, which play an important role in the effective work of Fire Emergency Management Services. Debriefs are necessary to establish what was planned, retain the actual performance and the reasons behind it and determine the ‘lessons learnt’, another field ESIC can considerably assist with its many capabilities.
A compelling demonstration of ESIC’s strong ability to provide multi-agency incident support was the vehicle’s involvement in the 2014 Hazelwood Coal Mine Fires. Following an enquiry from Craig Lapsley, Emergency Management Victoria, to aid in covering the critical demand for additional communications capabilities onsite, the ESIC vehicle was set up adjacent to the Country Fire Authority’s (CFA) Incident Control Centre (ICC), providing a wide range of support communications services within 30 minutes of arrival. The Incident Management Team experienced various typical issues, including limited 3G/4G coverage, restricting their ability to make and receive calls via mobile phones, limited access to emergency management tools, and restrained access to fixed phones within the Hazelwood facility. During its deployment, ESIC was able to assist with these and other challenges, supporting the team onsite and ensuring a better way of working and improved results for everyone involved.
The lack of internet and WiFi access, hindering the agencies to maintain communications and access invaluable IT support systems, was overcome with the NSA Pathfinder and ESIC’s satellite capability, accessing alternative towers to bypass congestion and securing high speed wireless access points. The Incident Management Team also experienced a shortage of computing equipment and suitable staff briefing areas, influencing their effectiveness in decision making and resulting actions. ESIC’s onboard control and intelligence room provided them with satellite mapping, radio and television access, live video broadcasting and State Control Centre access, and acted as versatile, fit for purpose briefing area, providing timely services and an improved level of information.
The adjacent audio and video conferencing room further enabled the team to directly interact with the Bureau of Meteorology and share real-time visual evidence to collect data on prevailing weather conditions and create weather forecasts to provide concise and relevant information to operational staff and the community. Beyond that, ESIC’s Infrared (IR) Camera Technology produced real-time imagery to identify coal fire hot spots and was streamed live to the ICC and State Control Centre (SCC) for instant decision making, evading the usual process time of several hours and enabling response agencies to act quickly.
The collected data and vision, including images from UAV’s, was then to be delivered to the ICC and SCC teams, where NSA’s Mobile Support Vehicle (MSV) with its remote access to telecommunications and onboard real-time streaming capabilities came into play. Previous transportation by road resulted in the material being made available at the earliest after 24 hours, whilst the combination of ESIC and MSV ensured a much shorter timeframe. This mobile, flexible unit complementing the functionality of the ESIC vehicle enabled the response teams to share valuable information quickly and store data for review and training purposes, further improving their decision making onsite.
The Incident Management Teams also needed support in identifying the position of personnel on the fire ground to ensure the crew’s safety at all times. ESIC’s asset management and abilities to live track mobile devices (when authorised by the owner enforced the safety and effectiveness of personnel working at the incident.
The Emergency Services Integrated Communications Vehicle will be attending several industry events within the next weeks, including the Australian and New Zealand Disaster Management Conference at the Gold Coast in May 2016. Further information and additional dates can be found on the NSA website (www.nsaaust.com).
National Safety Agency (NSA) is a Not-for-Profit organisation working in the areas of public safety, critical infrastructure resilience (CIR) and homeland security all over the world. Our partners and customers include police, ambulance, fire services, security and military agencies, civil defence, local, state and federal authorities and bodies responsible for critical infrastructure protection inside and outside of government.
We support our clients by supplying strategic consultancy, expert analysis and solution development, with innovative concepts providing tangible business outcomes. NSA works closely with the client to understand their needs and develop fit for purpose solutions to solve complex problems and deliver safer and more robust communities, achieving strong results aligned to each project.
For more information, go to www.nsaaust.com