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September 2018
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How the fire service is driving efficiency through technology

As the consequences of economic slowdown take effect and the demands of environmental stewardship intensify, both public and private sector organisations are focused on realising efficiencies in every operational area. The Prime Minister has, in the past, referred to a “fourth technological revolution” for its power to act as a catalyst for a new way of working. Collaboration technology is doing exactly that and its multiple applications ensure that increased levels of efficiencies are achieved across the organisation on a day-to-day basis.

For the fire service, the extent and impact of organisational efficiency directly correlates with its ability to save lives. Time is a precious commodity in an emergency situation and the quick collection and rapid analysis of intelligent data crucial to problem resolution. Maximising the positive impact of this information depends upon the speed with which it can be shared with the right people, so that the right decision can be made; collaboration technology is proving invaluable for this precise purpose.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has two incident command units (ICUs) fitted with collaboration technology from market-leader SMART Technologies. Using the electronic pens or touch screens enables easy manipulation of displayed maps and images; outbuildings can be highlighted, sections marked out, and icons of fire appliances dragged and dropped into new locations. All information and annotations are time and date stamped and can be saved for use in incident de-briefs. The ICU is directly linked to the control room at HQ, enabling staff in both locations to see all live jobs, information and messages sent in, and the location of other vehicles. Even when in remote locations, all parties have a complete overview of available resources in Hampshire and neighbouring counties.

Sharing information and enhanced coordination are both central components of the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) 2004, which strives to improve emergency planning and response. One of the main focuses of the CCA Enhancement Programme launched in December 2008 is on improving the standard and consistency of implementation of the CCA regime, seeking to improve local resilience structures and responder engagement in collaborative working. SMART Boards and Bridgit conferencing software are ideal for multi-agency response; the boards can be linked up to each other, instantaneously incorporating complex data such as GIS mapping or imaging software into the decision making processes. Operational information can easily be shared within the multi-agency command chain, and commanders at each of the Bronze, Silver and Gold levels have the ability to view and annotate the same information, greatly improving communications.

The most cost effective investments have multiple applications and although the technology is proving revolutionary for command and control communications, the benefits of this technology permeate to many other areas of the fire operation; training is just one. Collaboration technology enables training to be delivered to more than one site at the same time. The Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service estimates that this increased efficiency equates to a time saving of as much as 50%, as well as cutting travel costs and reducing environmental impact. Critically, it enables the sharing of knowledge in a realistic, interactive environment and the ability to continuously monitor the progress of trainees, ensuring that they are taking in and understanding the training. The instructor can receive instant and valuable feedback, proving and improving the quality of training at the time of delivery.

Although the fire service is not centrally controlled, for subjects in which every fire officer needs to be trained, the TETRA radio for example, a nationwide interactive infrastructure would allow anyone, anywhere in the UK to interact with a training event that is taking place at the FRS HQ, thereby reducing the number of instructors needed and improving the quality and consistency of training.

The Climate Change Act demands the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 and this is another area in which collaboration technology can provide tangible support. The targets are ambitious and, as a public sector organisation, the fire service is tasked with taking immediate measures to reduce its carbon footprint. Travel and transport are obvious areas of focus as financial savings can also be achieved. However there is a point where the benefit of reductions can be eroded by a negative impact on productivity. Collaboration technology is helping to improve carbon footprint as a by-product of increased efficiency and productivity. SMART’s technology is transforming working practices, as people from multiple locations can be instantly connected, reducing travel time, costs and carbon emissions.

As well as helping the fire service to achieve legal compliance, efficiency has fast-become the lifeblood of any operation that wants to exceed targets, demonstrate best practice and provide a public service to be proud of. Collaboration technology has the potential to generate more from less, maximise resources and eliminate waste, creating a leaner, stronger and ultimately more effective fire service. It’s simple technology that’s used daily by children from as young as primary school age, yet its impact is far-reaching and profound; it’s an opportunity ripe for the picking.

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