For Fire and Rescue Services, one of the key building blocks for efficient response times is an effective corporate gazetteer providing the most up-to-date addresses available that integrates seamlessly with the different systems being used. Imagine then, the impact of sharing your own location-specific information, such as risk data, and distributing this on an automated, scheduled basis through the same corporate gazetteer.
Over the last two decades, Address Management experts, Aligned Assets, have partnered with more than 50% of the Fire and Rescue Services in Great Britain, providing them with a corporate gazetteer designed specifically for the emergency services, based on the most advanced addressing product available, Ordnance Survey’s AddressBase Premium dataset. In more recent years, an increasing number of those services are subscribing to Aligned Assets’ specialist software XDM, allowing users to upload and share any location-specific information. Developed through wide consultation with the emergency services, each template of the software is tailored to either Fire and Rescue Services, the Police or the Ambulance Services, ensuring their specific requirements are met within a common framework. In the interests of standardising how risk information is held, this framework allows three clearly defined categories of location-specific intelligence:
- risks and hazards that may endanger staff
- information on occupants that will help maximise their safety in an emergency situation
- detailed information that relates to the actual building or location itself
Risks and hazards
In an emergency situation, it doesn’t take much to imagine the implications of chemical hazards or petroleum being stored at a property, or the fact there’s a firework factory next door. Where a Fire and Rescue Service knows of these risks and is able to communicate them consistently to all crews arriving at the scene, the risks to staff are greatly reduced. This access to risk information on-site enables smarter planning and prioritisation of how to tackle the emergency, therefore reducing risks to staff while maximising the opportunity to save lives.
The second distinct category of information relates specifically to the residents of a property. Knowledge of a resident’s state of physical or mental health, their age and potential vulnerability, or whether they have addiction issues will contribute towards deploying the right resources for evacuating residents from the scene. For example, if a male adult is known to have mobility issues, the relevant number of staff can be sent to evacuate him from the offset, resulting in a more efficient evacuation and greater chance of saving his life. This information is easily uploaded and can flow through a referral system from the Police, NHS or Local Authority. By being better informed about the residents of a property, Fire and Rescue Services can better safeguard them.
The final piece of the risk puzzle is to be able to record and share any critical information that relates to the actual physical building and its contents. Not knowing that a property has a smoke cloak, for example, would be detrimental to the evacuation process and could put both fire crews and residents at greater risk. Anything can be recorded in this category, from restricted access to the presence of fire alarms or sprinklers, or whether it’s a high-rise building or has a habitable basement.
Sensitivity of information
Adhering to the Government Security Classification Scheme and the requirements of GDPR, users uploading risk data must allocate a security tag, ranging from 0 (unclassified) to 5 (top secret), so that only those with permission can view the most sensitive data. Due to the transitory nature of vulnerable people, users can set review dates and expiry dates on records to help keep track of the movement of those residents and therefore the accuracy of the address information.
Any Fire and Rescue Service using the XDM software to record and share risk information can set automated scheduling for sharing changes to the records, be that daily, weekly, monthly or anything in between. To further enhance efficiency, the software can integrate with any system to share changes in the way that best suits the organisation, e.g. it can share just changes or it can refresh the whole system.
‘Recording and sharing location intelligence in this standardised way enables a far richer scene to be viewed by all involved in the emergency, from Command and Control to the crews on the ground,’ comments Aligned Assets’ Commercial Director, Dinesh Thanigasalam. ‘For an organisation sharing location intelligence in this way, the tangible benefits of this are very clear: efficiency savings, elimination of error and greater safeguarding of staff and the public. When several organisations collaborate to form a consortium, the ability to share this location intelligence can address even bigger issues, enabling not only more-efficient practice across a greater area but also initialising greater resilience towards terrorist activities, from attacks on the ground to cyber terrorism.’
Aligned Assets have been working with the North West consortium, North West Fire Control, including Greater Manchester FRS, Cheshire FRS, Lancashire FRS and Cumbria FRS to do just this.
Sharing across a consortium
When this North West consortium formed, one of the key aims was to streamline the service to better serve a wider community. As a result, regional borders would disappear and the nearest fire crews to an emergency scene would be deployed, ensuring quicker response times. By doing this, they would also greatly increase their resilience to the threats of terrorism, either on the ground or through cyberattacks, as each fire service was no longer working in isolation.
One of the challenges of forming such consortiums is the sharing of local knowledge. This becomes even more critical as an operational region grows in geographical size. By collaborating through the use of the right shared technology, this is not only possible but essential.
Each member of the consortium integrated their operational systems with a system that allowed them to hold operational risk information against properties in their AddressBase gazetteer. They were then able to schedule a daily automated export of risk information to NW Fire Control, who in turn were able to import this data into their mobilising system.
Once uploaded to NW Fire Control, this consistent information is then visible to all crews attending an incident, whichever region they are from. The information is displayed on both the turnout sheet and the appliance’s Mobile Data Terminal, and is used by the crews and the Officer in charge to make dynamic risk assessments and better informed decisions, therefore reducing the risk to both firefighters and members of the public.
Being able to automate updates means that all members of the consortium are accessing the same up-to-date information in real-time. It also eliminates manual updates, therefore reducing staff overheads and removing the risk of error.
‘When organisations like this form consortiums, the accuracy of address data becomes even more critical, as does the ability to share the information efficiently. This North West consortium is a great example of fire services doing this well,’ says Dinesh Thanigasalam.
Although this is a great example of joined-up working in the fire and rescue world, the ideal would be for this information-sharing model to be extended across other public-sector organisations such as Police, Ambulance, Local Authorities and the Health sector. What is an issue for one service is usually relevant for others. Not only will this increase the ability to safeguard staff and citizens across the public sector, avoiding some of the tragic cases that have happened in the past, but it will also save money as it will minimise the need to duplicate recording of the same information across services.
Viewing the risks in augmented reality
To further enhance the potential of sharing location intelligence both within and across organisations, Aligned Assets have developed a cutting-edge augmented-reality application, Symphony AR, that enables users to view the risks visually on a smartphone, tablet or smart glasses. The risks are represented as augmented-reality markers superimposed over the view seen through the camera on the smart device. By tapping on a marker, you can see more detailed information on that specific risk. Being able to view the risk data enables teams on the ground to identify exactly where the risks lie in relation to their position at the scene. For a wider view of the local environment, at the click of a button you can switch from an augmented-reality view to a traditional 2D map that still visualises your specific data with the same markers.
On the ground, fire crews can also use the 3D model feature to virtually recce the building by zooming in and panning round to any specific points, helping front-line staff to be better prepared as they go in.
Andy Hird, MD of Aligned Assets, comments: ‘This is cutting-edge technology that takes the sharing of location intelligence to a visual platform. According to mobile analyst Tomi Ahonen, augmented reality will become so mainstream, it will reach 1 billion people by 2020. If we continue on that trajectory, I look forward to a time when all the emergency services across Great Britain work collaboratively to share and view risk data in this way, therefore increasing their efficiency, reducing their vulnerability, and maximising lives saved.’
For more information, go to www.aligned-assets.co.uk