Incident Management System

May 17, 2017

Command and Control Capability for Public Safety

A command and control system provides the technology as well as the equipment, communications and procedures to enable a commander to plan, direct and command operations. The ability to collate, analyze and interpret vast amounts of information and turn it into actionable intelligence – allowing a commander to make timely and accurate decisions – is critical. These same capabilities are equally important to support operations in an Incident Management System within the Public Safety environment.

An effective incident management system should provide commanders at all levels with the vehicle to integrate, operate, and develop the competencies, capabilities, capacities, familiarity and mutual trust that are essential to operational success.

It should have the capability to manage current incidents and operations by seamlessly integrating and analyzing multiple sources of information and displaying it as part of an integrated Common Operating Picture (COP).

The ability to plan and respond to an incident is a key enabler of an Incident Management System. Whether it is a major planned event, like the Olympics or Pan Am Games, or an unplanned event like major forest fires, ice storms or floods, incident planning and response often involves multiple agencies and jurisdictions, each playing vital roles in preparing for – and executing – an effective response.  

The unique scale and complexity of major events poses significant operational challenges for all agencies involved, including police, fire and emergency services.

These challenges – such as the scope, extended duration and magnitude of impact, multiple interrelated incidents and locations, and the number of organizations involved in a response – sets all major events (both planned and unplanned) apart from routine incident management. They require increased situational awareness, better preparation, increased flexibility, more effective communications and, of course, strong coordination across all of the agencies involved.

An incident management system (IMS) must support, capitalize on, and enhance the readiness efforts of an organization. It must allow emergency management organizations to plan and prepare for major events, while also allowing the flexibility to deal with each unique situation as it unfolds – without sacrificing organization and order.

In the example of a major ice storm resulting in collapsed power lines and damaged infrastructure, a single platform can ensure that a responding officer’s cruiser can become the temporary on-site command post. The situation can be maintained by those with the most current information, ensuring that all information gathered throughout the response is accessible to those who need it; be that police, fire, search and rescue, and third parties as needed, both on-site and in the various operations centres.

Integration of the various types of sensors available today is also an important feature to consider. Body cameras, aerial and UAV feeds, traffic and personal cameras as well as full motion video can be used to allow commanders and staff the ability to reassess and reorganize as needed, ensuring that complex decision making is based on the most detailed and accurate information possible. By integrating incident management solutions like Intergraph Planning & Response with computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, first responders and stakeholders can analyze the situation and make effective real-time actionable decisions based on an enhanced and integrated common operating picture.

Key Capabilities
Any agency looking into investing in an IMS to drive better coordination and results during a major event should consider the importance of these key capabilities.

Interoperability: An effective incident management system will not look to change how an organization operates but rather will use technology to allow them to operate in a more integrated and efficient manner. It should be capable of integrating existing standard operating procedures or emergency/crisis plans which can then be used to ensure all procedures and essential actions are carried out in the proper sequence by the right resources. The system must be based upon open standards to allow the integration of existing networks, resources, systems and programs already in place, as well as the ability to integrate with future technologies and applications.

Integration: An integrated and accurate common operating picture is critical. The analysis, fusion and integration of information into actionable intelligence, and its display for ease of understanding, is the underlying success for any IMS. An effective system will possess the capability to read and integrate multiple sources of data from an array of systems and sensors aided in part by automation. This will allow the commander the ability to spend the precious time available on the interpretation of the information leading to decision making versus the actual processing of that data. An effective system will continually be able to grow and adapt through better integration technologies and processes to allow for closer integration and coordination between organizations, ultimately promoting better and more effective cross departmental response to an incident.

Flexibility: Situations change very quickly. In a perfect world, organizations could predict, plan and practice response procedures for every possible situation that could arise, but unfortunately each situation is both unique and dynamic. An incident management system should have the flexibility to easily adapt and modify contingency plans as the situation changes, modify and change resource levels and organizational structures and adapt points of communication throughout the course of an incident – and do this quickly. This is particularly vital as the operation is scaled up and down, or as it transitions from response to recovery.

Communications: In order for all parties to access the necessary information throughout the stages of an emergency response plan or large event, an incident management system should facilitate communication within it. It has become increasingly important for the passage of time sensitive information between Operations Centres and the deployed mobile units for increased shared situational awareness. This can happen in a variety of ways, including SMS, MMS, radio correspondence and real time photo and video streams. Without proper network and communication capabilities, the agility of response will deteriorate. The system should be able to provide key operational data for all units and be capable of supporting online or offline functionality. Automatic synchronization on resumption of the online connection ensures reliable data exchange between remote clients and a central database. An effective incident management system will allow organizations to determine the audience by level of authority and reach multiple points of contact through a single activation.

Documentation: The key to a successful system is the targeted distribution of information. It should allow for the compiled information to be centralized from the beginning to the end of a response, and should support ICS reporting and other emergency response models. The data should be tagged for a particular purpose such that the relevant data can then be filtered, selected and displayed for reports and release to the public as required. This is increasingly important at a time when the validity of reporting is often being called into question.

By ensuring your IMS can properly track and record an event unfolding in real-time, the auditing process can be completed without risk. In addition, the ability to replay an event that has occurred will also allow organizations to review and update the policy and procedures used in the event, and review the actions and response times in order to better prepare for the next event. The identification of gaps and deficiencies will allow for the revision and improvement of procedures as well as the recommendations for improvements and future developments in technology.

An example of an effective incident management system is Intergraph Planning & Response, which is a networked, customizable, modular solution that has been developed through experience gathered in a diverse range of practical operations. As a web-based system, ad hoc interdisciplinary organization-wide access is provided to all data relevant to the decision-making process. For display and reporting of the situation, the system not only uses maps, aerial imagery and tactical symbols in accordance with local/national regulations, but also images and videos from available sensors. Current positions of operational units and emergency services personnel are updated in real-time, and important documents such as site-plans, reports and tables are directly accessible.

As technology advances, it is increasingly important to use advanced tools to ensure that emergency management organizations are able to work more effectively together and to leverage the appropriate resources and capabilities needed to do their job. Organizations globally are recognizing the benefits of investing in integrated incident management and response technologies like Intergraph Planning & Response to coordinate current and future operations, thereby maximizing efficiencies and synchronizing their information and operations during a crisis.

By finding solutions that streamline planning and response during both planned and unplanned events, the opportunity exists to increase accountability and save resources, maximize available funding, and – most importantly – save lives.

Ken Chadder retired from the Army at the rank of Colonel after serving as Commanding Officer of the Canadian Forces Warfare Centre. His is currently a Business Development Consultant with Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure.