Geographic information is a vital strategic and operational resource for helping fire and rescue services to operate effectively. This article explains how integrating data within a Geographic Information System (GIS) enables fire services to match resources with demand to provide the best overall service to their community.
Fire and rescue services in the UK are mobilised to a wide range of incident types and undertake substantial community engagement activity. Geography is fundamental to understanding the resources required to meet this demand. A Geographic Information System (GIS) allows fire services to overlay demand, resource and risk to support both analysis and visualisation.
GIS specifically designed for fire services
GIS is widely used by many industry sectors, including retail, insurance and housing. A significant number of UK fire and rescue services are implementing GIS to explore the likely effects of making changes to resourcing strategies. By using simulation modelling techniques, they can remove the guesswork involved in answering ‘What if?’ questions. Fire services can test the outcome of various resourcing scenarios such as closing, relocating and merging stations, changing the type and location of vehicles, designing new shift patterns and balancing the mix between whole-time and retained availability.
Integrating GIS with a resource planning and performance application that can perform workload modelling adds additional capability, allowing fire services to analyse historic and future demand. Fire and rescue services can make changes to the resources sets (stations, vehicles and shifts) and analyse the impact of those changes on the ability of a fire service to meet their operational performance targets.
Scenario outcomes can be generated with a simulation engine that follows the incident response process. For every incident, the application uses travel times based on a road network to identify the vehicles and crews best placed to respond to that incident. It then makes those resources unavailable for the duration of the incident and works through the simulated allocation of resources to meet demand within a given time-period.
A user-friendly and repeatable way for fire and rescue services to model risk
Fire and rescue services need to have a good understanding of risk within their operational areas. Understanding risk allows fire services to prioritise community engagement and a number of organisations include risk as part of their attendance benchmarks. While fire services have been considering risk for many years, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) have highlighted areas for improvement. Working alongside UK fire services, we have developed a risk modelling application that provides analytical functionality for determining risk, by combining the effects of spatial and attribute data from a range of different sources. To allow fire services to easily re-run a risk model with updated data, settings from a previous model can be reloaded ensuring a consistent methodology.
Fire and rescue services can determine their own data and methodology depending on the scope of the risk model and regional socio-demographic profile. Typical datasets that fire and rescue services use include, Experian Mosaic, 65+ GP access, Census, Ordnance Survey Mastermap Highways Network and historic incidents including fatalities, casualties and rescues.
A risk modelling application that is specifically designed for locating, assessing and analysing risk coverage is pertinent for fire services when producing their Integrated Risk Management Plans (IRMP). The application creates risk maps based on historical data, projected data and demographics as well as changes to population distribution and transport links. It is used to test the impact of various risk factors and can assist a fire service in both evaluating progress and planning its future direction.
Value of sharing map-based information
Web mapping allows data and analysis to be shared throughout a fire service and offers location intelligence. It provides users with the capability to see up-to-date information on maps and without the need to use multiple systems. It can be viewed on any device with a browser, such as tablets or mobile phones. Web mapping provides easy access to Ordnance Survey maps and to data such as hydrant locations, incidents and other front-line risk information.
A ‘Local Knowledge’ option within a web map provides users with enhanced information about a location based on an address search or the current location of a mobile device. For example, this could be distance to the nearest hydrant, incident statistics, who the area commander is, nearest risk site and a link to Google Street View. A web map can also be linked to the fire service’s Incident Recording System (IRS). This link allows officers to update the IRS geocode by simply selecting the appropriate location on the map.
For organisations that use Microsoft Power BI, a visual can be provided that allows interactive Ordnance Survey maps to be embedded into a Power BI report. Point data such as incidents can be directly imported into Power BI. Using eastings and northings from the British National Grid coordinate system, this data can be directly displayed on the map using a range of map pins. This is used by fire services wishing to share incident information, response standards, and attendance analysis in an easily digestible format with the senior leadership team.
Independently performed modelling
Fire and rescue services are committed to ensuring that fire cover analysis is conducted to the highest standard. As they consider community risk and new resource configuration, third-party assurance on the data, methodology and results of analysis is an important part of this process. GIS specialist consultants with extensive experience of working with fire services can use their risk and workload modelling expertise to undertake service delivery modelling on the organisation’s behalf. With this type of third-party assurance, fire services can select from two options. Depending upon their internal analysis resource and project timescales, they can request to have the analysis carried out on their behalf or, provide the data and results of their analysis to be quality assured. Analysis-as-a-service is a cost-effective way for fire services to benefit from external validation that may be required as part of a public consultation process.
Using GIS to support collaboration
Fire and rescue services who use GIS are keen to gain the maximum benefit from their investment. Collaboration is key. An online GIS community forum supports best practice, and ideas are exchanged between emergency services. Conferences and, more recently, an online workshop for fire services provide opportunities for sharing ideas and innovative uses of GIS technology.
Having a collaborative approach and a supplier that can flex and adapt allows fire services to expand the benefits of location intelligence and enhance the service to their community.
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