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By Jeff Dulin, Assistant Director, IAFC Research Center


The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is an international nonprofit 501(c)(3) association representing the leaders of the nation's fire, rescue, and emergency medical services. Since 1873, the IAFC has provided a forum for fire and emergency service leaders to exchange ideas, develop professionally, and uncover the latest products and services available to first responders.


The IAFC has developed a partnership with Esri, a global market leader in geographic information system (GIS) technology, to create the National Public Safety GIS Platform. This online site is for data and situational awareness sharing. The IAFC realized that not all fire and emergency service providers had access to quality GIS tools or data. Through the partnership with Esri, the IAFC is building an online portal for those agencies to collect, share, and then view their data. In addition, the data will become part of national datasets to be used for regional and national responses.


Phase one of this three-phase project was the development of the National GIS Viewer to display relevant datasets that support planning, preparation, response, and recovery efforts. This viewer is also being used to support the ongoing development of datasets. Through the IAFC's online portal, the viewer serves as an open site where users can view the data and make situational awareness decisions. The IAFC is committed to offering this capability and makes it available, without charge, to anyone who registers for an account.


Phase two will be the updating and development of datasets that are of local or national importance. The IAFC was awarded the stewardship of the Fire Department Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data (HIFLD) by the Department of Homeland Security. This dataset is the baseline data for all fire departments and fire stations in the nation. Beginning spring 2017, the IAFC will begin an outreach to update and verify this data and provide a mechanism to maintain the most current data. Through an Esri application, fire department officials will be able to update their data and thus provide the most current information available to all who use the HIFLD sets.


A second part of phase two will involve the collection of local datasets by individual fire and emergency services agencies. The IAFC, in partnership with Esri, has secured a large number of Esri named user licenses to loan out to fire departments on a temporary basis. This will allow them to collect data valuable to national-level datasets. Along with information gathered through existing GIS layers, this collection will support the development of the first national datasets of emergency response data viewable in one location.


Phase three will be the development of an updated Fire Mutual Aid System. In 2008, in response to Hurricane Katrina, the IAFC developed the system that allowed them to move fire resources intrastate as well as interstate. The current project is to update the system to a more robust and geoenabled system using Esri's suite of tools. In partnership with the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation, work is under way to develop a new system that will enable not only the identification of appropriate resources but also provide mechanisms for assignment, routing, and tracking of resources and information sharing through mobile-enabled apps. The system will be developed to support existing state and national response plans and provide the latest capabilities available.  


This partnership is a crucial milestone for the IAFC in its mission to lead, educate, and serve. The IAFC has taken an aggressive approach to provide the latest and most technologically advanced solutions available to our members. This partnership with Esri will help advance public safety agencies into the next generation of service. For the staff at the IAFC, working on this project with Esri is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling projects they have undertaken.

By Mike King, Emergency Call-Taking and Dispatch Industry Manager • Esri Public Safety Team


The challenge of saving lives and protecting infrastructure is paramount on the minds of government leaders worldwide. Public safety organizations around the globe are making financial and architectural investments in next-generation solutions to replace outdated analog emergency call-taking systems, and forward-thinking executives with the vision and courage to drive change are building smart communities. Experience shows that successfully implemented initiatives begin with a core group of champions who work tirelessly to align resources and efforts with end goals.


Worldwide, Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) commanders recognize that every initiative's blueprint emphasizes a hub approach that enables departments and people to collaborate on information. To become smarter, they and the organizations they serve (primarily police, fire, and emergency medical services [EMS]) must examine the workflows and processes that encourage data sharing for timely decision-making.


When emergency calls for service are received, managed, and responded to promptly, the public benefits. Esri is helping communities around the world to build geographic information system (GIS) infrastructures that complement intelligent collaboration. From data collection and creation to analysis and community engagement, ArcGIS supplies an end-to-end solution that brings GIS value and capability to the entire community.


Public safety agencies face complex and unpredictable challenges and threats. While day-to-day dangers persist, new challenges—driven by extreme events involving social unrest, public health crises, and weather—are creating an environment where missions and priorities change rapidly. Our way of communicating is evolving at a rapid pace as well, and without improved capabilities, it's difficult to extract and analyze information from virtual warehouses.


Except in cases where first responders witness emergency events, the notification of a problem is first received by one of the thousands of dispatch centers around the world, officially referred to as PSAPs. Most PSAPs rely on technology that was developed over 40 years ago, and most of these communication centers still use analog systems, which are incapable of efficiently consuming Internet Protocol (IP) information. Consequently, the workflows and approaches PSAPs are relying on are no longer adequate to secure our communities.


To meet these modern challenges, PSAPs need modern approaches, technologies, and workflows. PSAPs need tools and capabilities so that staff can understand, analyze, and adapt to ever-changing risks. Today's PSAPs and first responders need to be able to quickly identify emerging threats and needs while collaborating and unifying operations. Improving information sharing and analysis is critical to effectively disseminate intelligence to first responders, commanders, and—when appropriate—the public. GIS technology can provide smarter, more integrated approaches that result in initiatives that are powered with the right technology, data, experts, and processes.


PSAPs are primary benefactors of—and contributors to—an ecosystem of technology and user collaboration where GIS data can be leveraged to support address database management, geographic service area maintenance, and resource allocation and visualization.


Integrating the PSAP mission with community initiatives requires collaboration, situational awareness, analytics, and engagement by the key stakeholders. Using location-based insight to create hubs of innovation that support the PSAP mission and foster data-driven decision-making can improve workflows, reduce response times, and help mitigate risk.


This unique collaboration will provide stakeholders with data (including big data and real-time analytics) from across police, fire, and EMS agencies, and heightened awareness will enable them to fuse advanced analytics and live data to allocate limited resources and optimize performance. Agencies will have the ability to map, collect, and analyze data from mobile devices, and all authorized users will be able to share critical information and data, make better decisions, and share appropriate information more easily with the public, resulting in increased awareness and citizen confidence.

For more information on Esri's focus in emergency call-taking, visit