On the Job: Fire Squad Calls On GIS to Improve Community Safety

14 Aug, 2005

Cadcorp system identifies incident trends and risks to help improve resource allocation

In the United Kingdom, fire and rescue services are required to produce an IRMP (Integrated Risk Management Plan) as part of the government's drive to reform public services. As part of these modernization programs, the service providers must identify specific ways they can improve community safety without compromising emergency response times. The Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is tackling these requirements by making wide-scale use of GIS (geographical information systems) to underpin detailed analyses of previous incidents and assess potential fire risks in an effort to carry out more effective and efficient allocation of resources.

Before the days of IRMP, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service analyzed incident trends using two principles: fire cover zones and best value. Fire cover zones involved identifying those areas immediately around a blaze, while best value sought continuous improvement concerning economy, efficiency and effectiveness.

Although both sets of guidelines assisted planning and performance management, they did not provide enough evidence to secure extra resources or funding - essential considerations under the IRMP guidelines. The IRMP must review, research and implement improvements to community safety, developing a system that can analyse incidents and identify trends to streamline resource allocation.

GIS-Based Solution
To help meet the IRMP guidelines, Royal Berkshire uses OS MasterMap data from Ordnance Survey (figure 1) alongside its own data (figure 2) in a GIS for more detailed and focused incident analysis. Cadcorp SIS (Spatial Information System) digital mapping and GIS software helps deliver the right resources at the right time, while nurturing a proactive culture of fire prevention.

Figure 1. "Raw" OS MasterMap data used as the base map for Royal Berkshire's GIS.

Figure 2. An example of actual Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service GIS data.

The GIS uses six years' worth of incident data, combining census information with mapping for analysis in three categories of risk: actual, potential and cover. 'Cover' calculates travel times from each station to locations in the output area to provide estimated time required to reach incidents. This in turn provides a measure of the resources required against the currently available number of appliances, such as ambulances and aerial platforms.

Output areas found to have high actual or potential risk are then assigned specific resource cover. Cadcorp SIS determines which resources can be reallocated to community fire safety with minimal impact on the cover required. The location of output areas is assisted by OS MasterMap's Address Layer, which provides precise coordinates for more than 26 million residential and commercial properties in Great Britain.

The Cadcorp SIS application is split into five areas of operation: unitaries, appliance data, incident data, building and IRMP. It provides the region's six unitary authorities - Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead, West Berkshire, Slough, Reading and Bracknell Forest - with access to data about all fires across the county in list and map formats (figure 3). Users can also interrogate incident and emergency call data for every fire station in the region. If a set number of alerts is exceeded, the relevant community safety office is informed.

Figure 3. Royal Berkshire's GIS displays the locations of deliberate fires set during the previous month.

Royal Berkshire can analyze incident data down to individual buildings or road segments and cross-reference related data sets. For example, by using the unique identifier allocated to every feature in each layer of OS MasterMap, the location of alarm activations can be attributed to a specific building.

Furthermore, users can see the distribution of defibrillation units across the county's coresponder stations and access details of call-outs by road and aerial platform units. The location and details of road traffic accidents are also available, so authorities can more closely monitor motorway incidents by splitting the region's road network into unit-specific sections.

Incorporating wider use of Cadcorp SIS and OS MasterMap, the next phase of the IRMP will focus on addressing the highest risk categories: deliberate blazes, road traffic accidents and dwelling fires.

"Identifying the pattern and nature of emergency incidents is essential to thinking clearly on how to tackle them," says Iain Cox, chief fire officer, Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service. "Cadcorp SIS, by combining Ordnance Survey's and our own data, helps us determine our actions and evaluate how successful they are."