Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fire Department Launches Enterprise GIS Platform

For the City of North Las Vegas Fire Department, the science of firefighting has taken on a geographic approach. The agency uses geographic information system (GIS) software from ESRI to prevent emergencies from occurring, reduce their consequences, and provide first responders with the best information possible while deploying to an emergency.

"I decided to be a firefighter because I wanted to help people," says Ryan Green, firefighter, City of North Las Vegas Fire Department. "GIS gives us an opportunity to affect numerous lives. GIS provides quantifiable benefits in terms of efficiency and those kinds of things, but most importantly, it helps save lives. In the past, we needed maps to make decisions, but we [had to] ask either other agencies to create GIS maps that showed building blueprints or hydrant locations or administrators to draw new data on paper. Now we produce the maps ourselves and do our own analysis, which saves time."

The North Las Vegas Fire Department maintains approximately 200 full-time employees including suppression, prevention, and support staff. The city and, consequently, the department have experienced rapid growth in the last eight years. The department has doubled in size during this time and has built three new fire stations with two more planned. GIS was implemented within the department to help the agency effectively respond to the city's growth by maximizing limited resources using spatial analysis. Information gleaned from GIS software helps staff make better decisions.

GIS is used to map incidents by type, location, and response time so that historical analysis can help paint an information picture for commanders to understand what is happening on the ground and where to deploy the right kind of resources for proactive mitigation. GIS is also used to review critical staffing needs on first-alarm incidents, motor vehicle accidents, and single-unit responses.

Computer-aided dispatch data, brought into ESRI's ArcGIS software, allows users to perform post incident analysis. They can look at an incident and see if a unit was at the station, in training, clearing another incident, or involved in any other activity during a call. Evaluating unit locations when a call comes in allows staff to verify if the closest unit, or the unit best equipped to respond to an incident, was selected to respond to an event.

In every vehicle, a mobile computer terminal receives dispatch information, unit mapping, and incident mapping. The mobile computer also allows data collection en route, on hand, and while returning from an incident. A call comes in and a screen displays a digital map and tabular data listing the call location, incident type, other units deploying to the scene, and any other available information. Having the information sent to the vehicle while responding to an event gives firefighters precious time to fully understand the incident before they reach their location.

In addition, the department performs a number of studies using GIS to look at incidents, their locations, and other data that helps proactively address issues. For instance, studies looking at hip fractures, assaults, and smoke inhalation incidents have all produced actionable information for special-needs organizations so they can provide appropriate service delivery.
Another recent study looked at high incidents of cyanide inhalation that had been taking place throughout the area. The study prompted the agency to supply staff working in these areas with better medical solutions to aid in treating cyanide inhalation at an incident, versus treating it at the hospital.

The department is working on several new GIS applications including an internal GIS application for fire chiefs to perform their own analysis and visualization using a secure intranet Web site.



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