Common Operating Picture for Emergency Management

15 March 2015

EM-COP: the New Reality of First Responder ­Technologies
Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services have evolved over the years based on the demands and changing expectations placed upon them. The emergency service landscape has also changed dramatically and has become increasingly more intricate and demanding. Technology has also played an important role in this evolution of the tri-services. We have interoperability of radio communications, incident management systems and data bases of information to assist in managing emergencies. We continue to embed technology into operations to help deal with the dynamic changing environment we serve, but is it enough?

The need for real-time communications across the tri-services when dealing with a dynamic and changing emergency is crucial. We have seen numerous incidents where the lack of shared real-time information has put emergency services and the public at risk. What we need, is to have a shared Common Operating Picture that involves all aspects of emergency management, in real time.

In Kingston, the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is a key component for support of major disasters or emergencies and is managed by the municipal control group that includes the city Mayor, Chief Administration Officer, Fire Chief, Police Chief and other senior officials. The EOC is responsible for the strategic overview, or the “big picture”, of the disaster or major emergency. The EOC does not directly control the emergency site but provides the support needed to help the front line emergency services. This is done through a coordinated communications approach and the use of the Emergency Management Common Operating Picture (EM-COP), developed by the City of Kingston’s Information Technology (IT) department.

The IT department uses a geographic information system, commonly referred to as GIS, to manage all municipal location based data. GIS supplies city users such as planning, engineering, utility management and community services with relevant and specific geospatial data. EM-COP was developed to allow stakeholders working within the EOC to visualize and analyze information at the incident site pulling data from the city’s GIS including road, utility network, buildings, municipal floor plans, and demographic information.

Awareness and Monitoring
Each supporting agency is responsible for specific incident management functions in the EOC, and needs specific information to make evidence-based decisions about their area of responsibility. EM-COP provides this information, allowing for a clear picture of the impact of an incident in the community. For example, during an emergency or disaster incident, police would have access to road information to allow for blocking and rerouting traffic, including working with public transit to reroute buses. The information available with EM-COP allows the city’s social services department access to the location of vulnerable occupancies or the population demographics of residents in need of evacuating and relocation. City engineers are able to determine the impact on critical infrastructure such as water supply, electrical and waste water systems. The integration of social media feeds such as YouTube into EM-COP further improves awareness and monitoring during evolving situations.

Previous to EM-COP, supporting agencies within the EOC would rely on printed maps and information that could be outdated within hours of printing. During an emergency or disaster incident, a request from the EOC for updated printed maps and information often took hours, impeding response and recovery time. EM-COP allows for near real-time data.

Pertinent information can be relayed from the EOC to incident command located in the mobile incident command post at the incident site to allow for increased collaboration with responding agencies. This ability provides support for rapid evidence-based decisions to reduce the impact on the public, environment or infrastructure. In a developing incident the on site incident command can access EM-COP inside the mobile incident command post, allowing users to access the same GIS information available to the EOC.

The EM-COP application has the ability to integrate data feeds from other agencies including the national Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS). This enables Kingston users to have increased collaboration with other emergency management agencies, allowing for a more coordinated response during large-scale emergencies requiring multiagency coordination.

Users can query numerous types of data, such as municipal floor plans and ortho imagery ­(geometrically corrected aerial photographs).

Plans are underway to add other operational information to the EM-COP application including fire inspection plans, crime incidents and emergency dispatch data. The system’s interoperability opens up opportunities to integrate other solutions including live video feeds from Unmanned Aerial Devices (UAV) and incident management software to capture and track decisions made by EOC staff. The EM-COP is only one component for overall emergency communications awareness.

The next evolution in emergency service will require a comprehensive tri-service emergency response. This will require the integration and coordination of true interoperability within the tri-services. This future includes an environment that will link all three emergency services with connected voice and data capability. This would provide the Incident Commanders, dispatch operations, and EOC operations with the ability to have a full view of all resources in real time for better efficiency. Technologies such as GPS/AVL (automatic vehicle location) will play a key role in providing the real time location of available resources. The sharing of information through a bi-directional CAD-to-CAD interface will enhance common operations and ensure real time information is shared across services. To attain such a high level of interoperability it will take strong leadership and support from all three services. We are not there yet, but the future of emergency response has great potential.

Fire Chief Rheaume Chaput, and Scott Davis, Emergency Mgmt Coordinator, are with Kingston Fire and Rescue.
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