First responders in Anoka County, Minn., may feel a little safer responding to emergency calls these days, thanks to a new public safety data system initiative integrating data from 26 county agencies.
The new system, which was designed to improve the safety of responders and citizens by enabling fire and law enforcement agencies to share critical data during a response, was born out of the fire department’s need to replace their antiquated dispatch system.
“The fire department’s system was pushing 40 years old and didn’t include computer aided dispatch (CAD),” said Harlan Lundstrom, deputy chief of the Spring Lake Park/Blaine/Mounds View Fire Department. “Then law enforcement jumped in and wanted to upgrade too. So we started looking at redoing the whole public safety system for the county. We felt that, because we’re all in public safety, we should all be on the same page.”
Eventually the county emergency response agencies formed a committee to look for a solution that could benefit all.
“The original vision was that if you had an incident, no matter which agency responded, that incident would carry through and any agency involved would be adding to the incident record,” said Lundstrom. “In the end, you would have all the information under one incident record.”
Lundstrom added that the agencies couldn’t realize the original vision exactly because “no one vendor could provide it all.” But their new integrated public safety data system, which combines a CAD Mobile solution with records management system (RMS) software from FDM Software, allows them to come very close.
The county recently went live with phase one of the new system. Now, once an incident is dispatched, incident details are automatically saved into the RMS. Details such as time of dispatch, address and attendees at the incident are available for a later incident report without having to enter them again. The system is expected to reduce duplication of effort and minimize errors that can result from entering the same information twice.
“It has really simplified things. Before, if someone forgot to do an incident report for a call, someone may never catch it,” Lundstrom said. “Now, as soon as someone calls, that report is automatically created within the database.”
The new system also includes Incidents, properties and personnel modules. The Incidents module will capture the details of the situation so that agencies can analyze their response after the crisis, while the properties module will house vital building and contact information that police and fire need before they head into an emergency situation.
“Police going to a crime scene will know if there are hazardous materials on site before they arrive, which is critical to staying safe during a response,” said Ed Colin, president of FDM Software. “Building information is routinely collected and available to fire personnel through their Records Management System, but now certain records will be made available to police as well. For their part, firefighters will have access to particular police records about private homes that were previously unavailable to them.”
Using the new system, for example, firefighters will be able to access police data that indicates they’ve previously investigated a structure as a suspected drug house, allowing them to prepare appropriately before entering. Conversely, police can access the fire department’s building records to get familiar with the layout of a structure and any potential challenges before entering.
“Traditionally there is a lot of secrecy between agencies – they protect their information and don’t share it,” said Lundstrom. “But all the agencies have been working together really well so far. Our emergency responders have been pretty open to change and the possibility of sharing data. Our vision is that there should only be one piece of information, and whoever needs it should be able to access it.”
County officials hope the system will help create tighter integration between their public safety response agencies and enable smoother, more seamless and safer responses.
“It’s important for everyone in public safety to be on the same wavelength,” said Lundstrom. “There are also cost savings implications because we aren’t duplicating data. And when we seamlessly share information, we have a better grasp of what’s going on within the county. We’re knocking down the barriers between agencies and encouraging an environment where there’s better cooperation.”
In a later phase of the project, FDM will implement its analytics module, a business intelligence tool that provides a dashboard view of key incident information.
“Because it’s visual and hands-on," Colin said, "this tool makes it easy for chiefs and county officials to understand at a glance what is going on and to drill down for the details they need to make the best possible decisions."
Though this is the first county his company has created this type of system for, Colin said they are already receiving calls from other counties interested in finding out more.