5 Lessons We've Learned in 2016

Dec 14, 2016 2:45:04 PM / by David Blankinship


Technology moves fast and in 2016 it moved even faster than we could’ve imagined. It’s been a great year. Along the way we have learned so many valuable lessons. We are excited to share some of them with you here as a comprehensive wrap up to the end of 2016.

Here are 5 lessons we think you will find valuable:


A tech savvy generation of chiefs is taking charge of the future. Analytics may be the most important thing that quietly happened in 2016. We have seen a new generation of chiefs take control of data in their departments and demonstrate leadership with information in the Fire Service.

Lots of agencies work with data for numerous reasons; accreditation, efficiency, managing tight budgets, and community risk assessment. But this year we began to see a change in how this was happening. The lessons we learned can be boiled down to a simple idea; to make analysis work, you should get data out of where it has been stuck (CAD, RMS, AVL, EPCR systems). Next you must share data between systems. This means we began to see Fire Departments de-conflict data between CAD and RMS and find bad patterns of data within their systems (for example, identifying medical calls without patients, etc). By getting data out of silos and doing good QA/QC on it, we saw departments begin to share it throughout their organizations. That means showing Fire Stations and everyone in the department metrics that were LIVE (i.e. Unit Performance, Incident Metrics, Station Reliability, Standards of Cover, which incident reports were still open, etc).

This freedom of information movement had two startling and welcome side effects; departments began to normalize their data and connect their systems together to do data comparison, and Fire Departments began to decide to share systems together. And not just CAD systems like one might see in a County Communications Center. We saw different fire departments share situational awareness, performance data, and risk data all in the same software, all in the same dashboards. To be sure, everyone needs to be able to see their individual data, but they never HIDE it. They share it together, work together, and improve together. To us here at Intterra, we found this to be very refreshing. These departments are putting their desire to better serve their citizens ahead of their pride and outside of their comfort zones. We think this will become the new norm as data continues to become easier to liberate. 

The Lesson Learned:

Get data out of your systems and into a place where everyone can see it. Sharing information and data makes better departments, and the data your own department collects should be available for everyone to use. This way, every department can utilize the data to learn more and improve strategically and on the fireground.




Integration is easier than ever before, and all the while, traditional barriers are breaking down. Despite some entrenched technologies like old CAD silos, data is being shared and de-conflicted between systems, whether the old guard vendors and IT shops like it or not. Everything's coming together, and really, it’s a beautiful thing.

Integration means information is being shared all the way through the agencies; and now between agencies as well. Getting everyone on the same page has been critical to development. CAD, RMS, AVL and EMS data are the most commonly integrated data, and bringing it together has helped to shift the focus to  SOC, Unit Performance, Incident Metrics, Incidents by day of week, time of day, situation found, and EMS Performance. This integration also provided great opportunity for predictive analytics and insight into reliability statistics that help chiefs plan for stations, staff, and necessary apparatus.

The Lesson Learned:

Make sure all systems are on a path to being integrated together. And share the information with other departments as well. Technology has made new ideas and strategies easier to adapt to and use on a regular basis. It’s also allowed for data to be analyzed and applied more efficiently.

It's an easy pattern to follow:

  • Crawl: make your situational awareness data available live and to everyone.
  • Walk: Connect CAD, RMS, AVL, Staffing, EPCR and Inspections together so you can see everything that is happening everywhere.
  • Run: Share data from your connected systems with other departments - for performance comparison, for Mutual Aid Situational Awareness, everything. It makes us all better.




The wildfire technology ecosystem is mature enough to work seamlessly. Anywhere.

Even while the Chimney Top 2 fire is still winding down and the devastation to the towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN is still being assessed, there is an important story to tell.

The story is one that will go unnoticed by most; and that’s ok, but it is a glimmer of what’s to come. Even before these fires were raging, the State of Colorado Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA) had been ordered back East to use its infrared mapping capability to support operational firefighters on the ground. The MMA comes with an IR camera and processing software that sends information about hot spots and perimeters—including mapping, pictures, and video—to the Colorado Wildfire Information Management System, CO-WIMS. The sensor finds and maps heat and sends the information to CO-WIMS and firefighters on the ground while the plane orbits above.

Typically, the information starts to arrive about 20 seconds after the heat is seen. As the TN fires blew up, this aircraft was redirected to the area and met teams from Oregon, the USFS, support from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), and Colorado.

Quickly they began communicating with one another and transmitting data back and forth between their systems together. The Colorado MMA would shoot the IR Imagery of the fire and perimeters would be available to all the teams and fire managers seconds later. It was the same story with damage assessment, structure triage, incident mapping, resource locations and other heat detections.

Nothing ever minimizes the heartbreak we feel for the families who are so heavily impacted by these fires, but our job is to help minimize the devastation as much as possible. We learned that firefighters who had never met, that converged on this event far from an area that is accustomed to such events – all brought systems that shared information, shortened communication lags, and worked together seamlessly to help those that needed it most. It is a lesson about how things SHOULD be done, where technology is no longer a barrier, where information and communication is not a part of the problem. It becomes a way to make better outcomes happen. Faster. 

The Lesson Learned:

Make your technology open; make it seamless to share, without barriers. And make it easy to learn and teach so that someone who has NEVER seen it before can be up and running in less than 2 minutes from the back of an engine. Departments need to work together, and when they use the analytics available to them, they are able to make incredible things happen almost seamlessly, with very little friction even in devastating situations. This has been happening in pockets for many years, but this year it became common, and we hope in 2017 firefighters will expect it and be shocked when it doesn't work this way.




Technology is mobile, instant and easy. It is also a crucial part of the planning process. We’re in a business where managing major events, planned or otherwise, is routine. It is an everyday task. While it may seem like a strange life, we have found it to be the most rewarding line of work in existence. The good people here at Intterra wouldn’t want to live any other way.

Our software and clients make a difference in people’s lives for the better—every single day—and that is such an incredible feeling. We often find that the general public rarely hears about the First Responders that make the worst day of their lives better, and they never hear about the technology that drives the decisions those responders make. But now, this intersection between planned and unplanned operational incidents happens so often that it was a major focus for us again in 2016.

We kicked off 2016 in February by using SA with the Santa Clara County Fire Department and regional public safety agencies together to plan, manage, and support Super Bowl 50 in the Bay Area. Specific lessons learned related to the focus on coordination of all pre-planning with seamless transition into operations. The Fire and Law Enforcement Agencies site-planned all of the 103 Special Events related to the Super Bowl in Situation Analyst (SCCFD calls it iMAP). SA focuses on mapping all the venues with the touch of a finger on any tablet or phone as you walk through. And these plans, including the setup, start, tear-down, and termination times, are living maps that planners use and modify throughout the duration of the event.

The Lesson Learned:

Operationally, the same live maps we used to plan are used for deployment and response. Gone are the days when we relied on paper maps with 100 versions before an event. Instead we can rely on the most current plan all the time, shared by every planner, emergency manager, police officer, and firefighter that needs to see it. This is the future. Seamless mapping, planning, and operations ensure that nothing will get lost, and everyone is on the same page (which means that we can all enjoy Denver Bronco’s Super Bowl Championships even more). Bringing Planning and Operations together for special events shows us the future, and it is a pattern that is sort of a silver bullet. Now we can save money, improve communication through the planning process, and deliver ops surgically when and if the time comes.




The (Biggest) Lesson Learned:

There is no such thing as agency data existing in a vacuum. Sharing is becoming the norm. We’ve learned that we are all in this together and sharing integrated information, as well as technology and networking, is the best part of it all. There are virtually no communication barriers anymore. Information is available in seconds, and it puts everyone on the same page, keeping this unsure world a much more protected and secure place. This year we learned that departments want to work together, and they’re able to help each other in more ways than ever before.


Want to get in touch? Have some thoughts to share that you think the community would like to hear? We're always available to answer any questions you may have about us. Let us share some more pearls of wisdom and some valuable information about what we learned this year. Who knows, maybe you could learn something new. 


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Topics: success

David Blankinship

Written by David Blankinship

David is a 22-year veteran of the Geospatial industry. He started in the utilities sector, then spent 10+ years as the Senior GIS Analyst for Colorado Springs Fire. While there David deployed across the country supporting disasters and major incidents and thinking about how to get information to decision makers when they needed it, no matter where they were. As the CXO, David leverages best practices in user experience and innovating new ways to improve it – communicating from an executive and technical level with Public Safety Organizations and the Intterra dev and ops teams.