Analytical Approaches to Public Fire Protection
Once the purview of urban planners and engineers, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are now being utilized by emergency service agencies to aid in decision making in all aspects of managing a modern public safety department. By combining an accurate depiction of the geography and infrastructure of an area with the ability to analyze risk and hazard levels, service demands, and response capabilities, a GIS can assist decision makers in such varied areas as station location, tactical response decisions, and resource allocation.
What is GIS?
Geographic Information System, is a combination of a software program that allows a user to view and analyze information graphically and spatially and a database of that information. The software is purchased commercially and is readily available worldwide. The database or databases are developed locally from a combination of commercially available data and in house custom data. At it's simplest level, a GIS is a mapping tool. Beginning with the base map of an area that anchors the rest of the system, additional data organized into layers that can then be overlaid on top of the base map. Much like traditional map overlays that can be placed over and then removed from a base map, these layers can be turned on and off in any combination the user chooses. Additionally, the order of the layers can be changed easily to aid in the creation of a “view” that the user is attempting to create.
While the ability to create and manipulate views and maps can be very useful to an agency, the real benefits of a GIS are in its ability to analyze the underlying data that is used to create the map, and to combine other types of data with the geographical or spatial data to evaluate and analyze things .
Using GIS in Decision Making
Evaluating water supply.
In many cities, the water department maintains GIS data on the location, size, and types of water lines, valves, and hydrants. The local fire department typically is responsible for flow testing the hydrants and maintaining these records. By combining the spatial data of the water department with the tabular flow records of the fire department, a GIS can identify areas within a community that have low flows or other variations of inadequate supply.
This map utilizes GIS's density mapping feature to display the fire department's RMS data on locations of natural gas emergencies. In so doing, this map can then aid both the fire department and the local gas utility in identifying where the majority of emergencies are occurring. Once the areas that experience high levels of emergencies are identified, work can then begin on identifying causes specific to those areas and strategies to reduce the number of events.
Hazmat planning and response
Another example of combining information from multiple sources to more accurately evaluate and understand the nature of a problem is the map of hazardous materials locations. This map was created by combining the fire department's Tier II hazmat information with the public services department's infrastructure GIS layers and the population and demographic information from the planning department. By combining this data, it becomes much easier to more accurately evaluate the risk to the community.
Natural disaster planning and response
Many communities face the hazards of natural disasters. The information necessary to appropriately preplan for such is usually readily available to the local fire department but seldom used. The information on the local flood zones from the planning department is combined with the infrastructure and fire district locations to identify potential flood hazard areas and their population centers. Armed with this information, it is much easier to preplan evacuation areas and safe areas prior to a flood event.
Vehicle accident mitigation
A final example of the use of GIS in emergency services is to create a map that would depict dangerous intersections in a city. A “hot spot” map was created by combining fire department RMS vehicle accident data with public services street and intersection GIS layers.
The map created can be used to help staff identify which intersections have experienced the majority of severe accidents. Once identified, staff can then develop and implement a plan to improve safety at these intersections.