The National Mutual Aid System

Blog Post created by b_martinez-esristaff Employee on Jun 22, 2018

By Mike Cox, Fire; Rescue, and EMS Industry Manager; Esri


Natural and man-made disasters test public safety agencies at the local, regional, and state levels on a daily basis. These no-notice events often require regional, statewide, or interstate mutual aid. Such incidents can create an environment where missions and priorities change at a moment's notice. The processes that organizations have relied on for years often put stress on agencies seeking assistance during the initial stages of a significant incident.


Modern challenges require a modern approach. Agencies and organizations need tools and operational capabilities to adapt to fluid risks and to support a variety of mission requirements. Today, we must be able to identify the need for assistance, request the appropriate type of resources, locate available resources, deploy them in a timely manner, and analyze the success of those efforts. Through the power of geospatial technology, organizations can now adopt a smarter, more integrative approach to mutual aid.


The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has identified the need for this approach and, through a partnership with Juvare and Esri, is developing the National Mutual Aid System (NMAS). This application will incorporate the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Homeland Infrastructure Foundation Level Data (HIFLD) being collected by fire departments across the nation. During large-scale emergencies and disasters, it is critical for response personnel to have easy access to a mutual aid system for managing their resources. The IAFC will manage information sharing, event reporting, and task management in a central, web-based environment that allows the IAFC to effortlessly connect to partner agencies and organizations during response efforts.


The IAFC has several initiatives that impact the implementation of a national mutual aid system. These initiatives support the vision of the IAFC and advancements in the use of GIS in the fire service. This includes supporting leadership, governance, and policy development during the implementation of GIS technologies. GIS allows us to increase responder safety, reduce risk, and build stronger relationships with our communities. These geospatial tools improve outcomes through spatial analytics and data-driven decision-making.


These initiatives include the IAFC GIS Portal, which links fire chiefs to data. This portal allows fire departments to access existing data layers, create their own data layers, and share data with other stakeholders. This portal (available at https://www.iafc.org/topics-and-tools/resources/resource/iafc-public-safety-gis-viewer) educates fire service members on the value of GIS resources. Using GIS web maps allows responders to share data across jurisdictional boundaries during significant incidents.




The portal provides access to Esri's ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World data including Tapestry Segmentation data. Tapestry classifies US residential neighborhoods into 67 unique segments based on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. The data allows departments to get insights so that you can identify your community members and people in need.


The IAFC promotes the use of GIS field applications for real-time data collection. These applications are changing the way incident commanders are making decisions. The ability to collect incident intelligence in real time allows for better data-driven decision-making.


Geoenabling field data collection, mutual aid coordination, and logistical support brings the response process into the twenty-first century. This allows us to know where the resources needed for a response are located and where they should be deployed.



Recent hurricane responses in Texas and Florida provided case studies on the effectiveness of the technology to support response. The implementation of these field applications provided incident intelligence in real time during the response. Urban search and rescue teams were provided with Esri's Survey123 for ArcGIS field application and just-in-time training during the response to the hurricanes. These teams were then able to collect and submit real-time data to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), command personnel, and Emergency Operations Centers during the response. The use of field applications and operations dashboard views allowed decision-makers to coordinate resources based on an assessment of actual field conditions.


IAFC National Mutual Aid System

The IAFC's Mutual Aid Net program began in 2008. It includes a static resource database involving multiple states. There was an identified need to provide geospatial data to support this program. NMAS is the result of this need. It is everyone's everyday mutual aid application.


What NMAS Is

NMAS is the evolution of the Intrastate Mutual Aid System and Mutual Aid Net. It leverages the technical innovation and expertise of WebEOC and Esri, combined with the practical experience of the IAFC with state and local partners.

In October 2017, the IAFC, leader in emergency response worldwide, entered into an agreement with Esri and Juvare to build the next generation of NMAS software. In partnership with Esri and Juvare—the global leaders in spatial analytics and health and safety solutions, respectively—the IAFC is excited to bring this valuable contribution to the next stage. The new software version combines Esri's powerful geographic information system, ArcGIS, with Juvare's crisis information management software, WebEOC, to better manage and track emergency service resources during large-scale emergencies that require mutual aid.


NMAS is designed for all-hazard mutual aid coordination at the regional and state levels, including systems such as Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The IAFC is working with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service fire and aviation management on Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS) data exchange capabilities.



Localities will enter and manage their resources in NMAS. Single resources, strike teams, task forces, or mission-ready packages will be entered by the authority that has jurisdiction, and the resource availability will be determined at the local level.


During an event, localities and states can create an incident report in the NMAS application. This incident data will provide responders with a common operating picture of the response.



The requesting locality can then request resources and filter the available resources by type, location, and cost. 

The NMAS application will send a request to the resource owner, which may accept or deny the request based on the needs of the resource owner.


The system will then route mutual aid resources to the event location. This routing will allow the requesting agency and the resource provider to track resources on the map and know their status during the response.



NMAS will provide unparalleled information sharing, decision support, and situational awareness capabilities to jurisdictions, regions, and countries around the globe. NMAS develops the ability to visualize where resources are, where they need to go, and the response time for immediate decision-making and action. NMAS allows for real-time data exchange between system administrators and responders in transit and at incidents.


GIS provides the ability to manage data with a visual perspective that easily communicates the resource status during a response. It also allows public safety officials to analyze multiple datasets to determine how these incidents will impact citizens, infrastructure, and the environment.


If you have any questions or comments about NMAS or the use of GIS for public safety, please feel free to contact Esri fire, rescue, and emergency medical services industry manager Mike Cox (mike_cox@esri.com), or Jeff Dulin, assistant director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (Jdulin@iafc.org).