According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were more than 1.1 million career and volunteer firefighters in the United States as of 2016. In a high-stakes situation, every single one of them should be able to rely on their technology to keep them safe, informed, and connected. Cloud technology breaks down geographic and informational boundaries, offering unprecedented flexibility and communication in situations where every second counts.
Firefighters have been a part of my life from the very start. My father was a captain before retiring. Most of my childhood neighbors were firefighters. I had always wanted to give back to the fire department. They certainly didn’t have modern tech at their fingertips. While consumer technology allows us to track a food delivery from purchase to arrival, emergency response tech is only just supporting real-time location tracking. By becoming a computer scientist, I thought I could help build better tools for firefighters. In January 2018, I joined the Mark43 team to address this technological gap and build public safety technology that helps first responders of all kinds get to their destination easier, safer, and with more reliable information.
Firefighting is a high stakes, serious profession that requires the best equipment, strategy, and tools. There is undoubtedly something that we can improve at every step of the emergency response process. One crucial point in any mission happens before firefighters strap into pounds of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and turn on the sirens: the 9-1-1 call. This is the moment where the telecommunicator in the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) picks up the phone and enters data into the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system [See Mark43 CAD On Screen image]. The key here is speed – telecommunicators need to efficiently and accurately collect enough information in the CAD to determine caller location and dispatch the proper emergency personnel. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) gives a guideline of just how quickly this needs to happen in its NFPA 1710, stating, “The fire department shall have the capability to deploy an initial full alarm assignment within a 480-second travel time to 90 percent of the incidents.” In just eight minutes, an array of emergency response actions needs to happen that culminates with firefighters, in full turnout gear, doing their jobs at the site of the incident. In a process where every moment counts, cloud technology can make all the difference through efficiency and data-sharing.
Benefits of cloud technology for fire departments
1 Access to real-time data on the go
The NFPA’s April 2017 National Fire Data Survey found that fire service agencies recognize the value of data, but “the benefits of these systems are often limited by data quality, accuracy, and access.” Cloud technology addresses all three of these factors by enabling an unprecedented level of flexibility and communication.
When it comes to fire dispatch, shifting variables call for flexibility. Fire departments, in their mission to respond to incidents as quickly and efficiently as possible, rely on response plans to get the right resources to an emergency. However, incidents do not occur in static conditions, and planning must take into account many changing variables including equipment type, equipment size, personnel levels, personnel skills, traffic, areas, mutual aid agreements, and many more that make the fire dispatch process extremely complex.
When data is stored securely in the cloud, it is not tied to a single device or location, allowing instant adjustments based on changing conditions. Mark43 CAD lets first responders access data in the field through a mobile app and allows for real-time communication with staff at the PSAP. For example, the Mark43 CAD app has a built-in messenger that reduces radio gridlock while increasing collaboration between dispatchers and responding units during an event [See Mark43 CAD In-App Messenger image]. This communication and access to data gives fire service teams invaluable visibility into the emergency situation, enabling them to make informed decisions that increase safety for all involved.
2 Breaking down data silos
The NFPA’s April 2017 National Fire Data Survey collected various responses from fire service members that convey the industry demand for data-sharing between systems. Requests include:
- “Access to data that includes ‘feeds’ from [Computer Aided Dispatch, Records Management System, Emergency Medical Services,] and other data sources so that you can look at all data and not have to merge it after the fact. Current tools are very useful, but then don’t always tell the whole story”
- “Merging all data together so that one computer can access all data at an emergency scene instead of using multiple computers and databases”
- “One-stop-shop that is user friendly” with “compatibility with other RMS programs”
The consensus is clear: centralized, accessible data is a must. For exactly this reason, Mark43 CAD includes bidirectional Records Management System (RMS) sync. Users can view any information related to any person, location, or vehicle that is identified by a dispatcher, and eventual reports written in the RMS are autofilled with CAD event information. Since all of these systems serve one purpose – to facilitate fire service – there is no reason why they should be separate.
3 Adjustable workspaces to match user needs
Mark43’s cloud platform is not only accessible and centralized, but it is also designed to be intuitive and easy to use. Fire and medical incidents can escalate extremely rapidly, so every single second counts when it comes to dispatching for fire. Kenneth E. Morgan of the University of Nevada summed it up best in his 2003 thesis on CAD when he wrote, “When you consider that…fire [flashover] (total room involvement) can occur in as little as 5 minutes, time becomes a crucial factor.” For technology providers, this means that we must find design opportunities to shorten user workflows to reach the quickest dispatch and response times.”
One prominent example is the Mark43 CAD configurable command line, which enables dispatchers to set up keyboard shortcuts in ways with which they’re familiar instead of learning new commands. The configurable command line is a direct solution to a problem highlighted in the NFPA’s April 2017 National Fire Data Survey: “Fire departments also identified challenges training personnel and the learning curve for their specific software solution as a significant challenge.” Technology that is adjustable to user needs reduces training costs and time while boosting morale during the transition to a new system.
Tech partnerships driving industry progress
Given the amount of up-and-coming industry disruptors, the best way for emergency response technology providers to maximize capabilities is through partnerships. Many hands make light work, and it takes a village to support public safety and emergency response. For this reason, Mark43’s CAD is purpose-built for interoperability with third-party systems and devices.
In August 2018, Mark43 integrated with RapidSOS to provide emergency communications centers with Next Generation 911 (NG911) call location tracking technology [see RapidSOS Integration image]. According to the National Emergency Number Association, more than 80% of 911 calls nationwide are made on cell phones. However, most first response agencies still rely on approximate locations from cell tower triangulation even when smartphone devices can provide exact GPS locations. Using the RapidSOS NG911 Clearinghouse, Mark43’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) can display precise location data for wireless callers, enabling call takers, dispatchers, and first responders to pinpoint the scene of an incident in real time.
In February 2019, Mark43 partnered with Carbyne, a next generation Call Handling platform to build a fully integrated CAD and call handling platform entirely in the cloud. The solution allows a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) to be established anywhere where there is a secure, high-speed internet connection. For example, an integrated CAD-Call Handling solution in the cloud is key if a PSAP requires evacuation for any reason. This means that common locations like schools, libraries, or office buildings can become fully functioning backup PSAPs in minutes: call-takers and dispatchers simply need to log in to their account to be online and operational. Due to the elimination of on-premise servers, this is a resilient and cost-effective approach to call-handling and dispatch. The increased flexibility and efficiency provided by this cloud solution is crucial to dispatch and emergency call handling, where every second counts.
As of April 2019, Mark43 is developing a partnership with Polaris Wireless, a provider of software-based wireless location solutions, to give dispatchers and incident commanders critical floor-level accuracy of the Z-axis, or vertical, location of firefighters. Historically, GPS providers have been unable to determine elevation, but Polaris Wireless has found a way to use existing sensors on phones to provide this capability. This level of granularity in firefighter locations can be absolutely crucial when dispatching aid or providing guidance during an emergency.
Partnerships between game-changing technology providers signal unprecedented and meaningful change for the emergency services industry as a whole. This means that all available tools and the data that comes along with them will be centralized, accessible, and interconnected in ways that maximize benefits for users.
While technology for first responders has improved immensely in recent years, there will always be room for improvement, and it will be our duty to continue building this out.
Considering the aforementioned five-minute fire flashover estimate and recommended eight-minute fire rescue deployment time, anything that we can do to cut response time is crucial from a safety standpoint. Going forward, technology should leverage the Global Positioning System (GPS) to recommend the closest unit, overriding pre-set response plans to optimize rapid response. It is important to note that “closest” should not imply straight-line distance – dispatch systems should be automatically considering real-time factors such as traffic, construction, and weather. As we develop these routing capabilities, we can integrate them with existing response plans and unit recommendations to cut down response time by deploying the best possible unit.
In order to truly minimize response time, the next step is to expand mapping capabilities with additional functionalities. These include providing turn-by-turn directions from a unit’s location to an incident, displaying and incorporating dynamic traffic patterns into routing recommendations, and displaying additional layers of data, including fire hydrants, floor plans, and weather patterns. The CAD of the future should also include a view for commanders and chiefs to view major incidents at a high level, enabling users to place units and resources strategically.
Even though there’s still room for improvement, there are plenty of cloud technologies making a difference in first response processes today. Cloud technology breaks down information silos and optimizes interoperability within a department and with other departments on the same platform. It’s time to bring fire departments into the twenty-first century and give them technology that is on-par with the intuitive consumer technology that we use every day.
For more information, go to www.mark43.com