Addressing Fire

By Carl Hancock

The public sector is becoming ever more technology based and this trend is no different within the emergency services. Whereas the Fire and Rescue Service in England once relied on simple horse-drawn carriages and manual pumps, and good policing meant having officers walking the beat, both now have an array of technological applications that would leave Alexander Graham Bell smiling in wonderment.

While the implementation of the shiny new hardware is readily apparent, often forgotten is the processes behind it - the many varied elements that go into creating the whole. The EADS-led FiReControl project is one such example that will see £350 million invested in bringing the already admirable Fire and Rescue Service into the 21st Century.

Joining the many partners involved in the project, including Ericsson and Hewlett Packard, is IT specialist iMass, which has been tasked with the implementation of Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs). FiReControl will see these MDTs installed into every fire appliance, supplying the firefighters with a wealth of information about the incident they are, or will be, attending, such as information about travel routes, the location of fire hydrants, chemical handling data and even hose measurements.

Data sourced from the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG) will underpin a significant part of the MDTs. This Local Government Association initiative to create the first national database of addresses since the Domesday Book sees the amalgamation of all the address data held by local authorities into one "super gazetteer."

In addition to the mapping of every address in England, the framework for the NLPG - British Standard BS7666 - created a standardized method of recording the data that allowed for each building to be given a unique property reference number (UPRN). With this came the removal of duplication and the opportunity for far easier identification of mismatches or inaccuracies.

These address data, the most accurate and up-to-date ever available, will be integrated into the MDTs through the software of gazetteer specialist Aligned Assets, which has been subcontracted by iMass specifically for the task. One of the keys to Aligned Assets' Symphony software, as it is called, is to use the geocode recorded alongside the address data, so that each record contains mapping coordinates in addition to the standard address. With this geocode, the address data can be viewed visually as a map, supplying the firefighters at the scene with detailed information on actual buildings and locations in the area of the incident.

The software is also due for integration into all of the nine new regional control centers (RCCs), which are to be at the center of the FiReControl Project. The technology will allow call operators access to over 30 million addresses, which are kept constantly up-to-date by the local councils, thus allowing precise location identification.

Via the new Firelink network (the communications equivalent of FiReControl), these data can then be used to mobilize the nearest (by travel time) and most appropriate (in terms of having the attributes necessary to manage the incident) resources, regardless of the Fire and Rescue Service to which they belong. All this information, along with the location data, is then fed directly into the MDTs.

FiReControl will be taking the process further than just receiving the address data, however, and also plans on taking advantage of Symphony's ability to send data back via its iExchange module. Information gained during operational activity, once validated by the corresponding local authority, will then become a permanent inclusion within the dataset.

In addition, by using another of Aligned Assets' products known as the Xtended Data Module (XDM), the Fire Service will have the ability to link supplementary information to each property that is not provided by the NLPG. As well as having each property's address information, independently identifiable by its UPRN, the Fire and Rescue Service can link information such as the dates of fire safety checks, hazardous materials stored at the property and flood risk potential. Whereas previously this information would be stored in different locations, the software will allow for it all to be available from one source, accessible both at the RCCs and to the firefighters on the ground through the MDTs.

The FiReControl project has three main drivers: to increase resilience, to enhance capability and to improve efficiency. Through the use of the most modern hardware, using the most up-to-date software, FiReControl will enable England's firefighters to get the information and technology they require to successfully do their jobs and ultimately to save lives.

Published Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Written by Carl Hancock

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