5 Trends to Focus On in 2017

Dec 29, 2016 10:28:47 AM / by David Blankinship

5 Trends to Focus On in 2017

As we wrap up 2016, it's important to take a look at things that are going to have a significant impact on 2017. By exploring these trends now, it's more likely that you'll be able to capitalize on them and create a more productive year for your department and all of the people involved within your jurisdiction. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data are accelerating the pace of progress in Public Safety just like every other aspect of our lives. And the must-discuss item that will underpin all of the trends we discuss in Public Safety Technology for 2017 is FirstNet. The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) network will begin to emerge this year. The bidding is over, the paperwork and the lawyers are finishing up. Time to get down to business: providing emergency responders with the first nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety.

FirstNet paves the highway on which all situational awareness, data, and information will flow. Everywhere. It means obvious things like easily connecting people and devices with better bandwidth. But it means so much more. It means that it can lay a common technological approach and create the opportunity for unforeseen development and evolution within Public Safety technology. In the past, the market was too fragmented to attract investment. Every department had virtually the same types of systems, with little opportunity for connectivity between their systems, between departments, and between data centers. We're thinking it all changes with this network. This will have a profound impact on us all beginning in 2017, but there are other changes and trends that will also have a significant impact in the coming year. We are data people and operators which means we tend to focus on data trends more than others. For this post, I will narrow my trends down to focus on the items I think will have the biggest impact on public safety, which might be a slightly different list than my comms-geek brothers and sisters.

So in the light of this once in a career tech development, here are the few key takeaways we think will benefit you in the coming year. 

1. Data Comparison Between Departments

It can be hard for any fire chief to answer questions from policy makers, especially ones along the lines of how their department is performing and relating that to NON-FIRE personnel. It can also be difficult to get raw data out of your current systems, especially when systems like CAD, RMS, AVL, and EPCR are often administered by others and aren't well linked to each other. Even if you can get this data, it's hard to de-conflict between each different system. More difficult still is answering the question about how your performance compares to other agencies like yours.

We have seen a trend in progressive departments that is solving this problem in two stages. 1)Recognize that the power of analysis comes from integrating systems within your agency before you do anything else. Then, 2) using that integration to connect with other agencies that have done the same thing. When you compare your analysis to what other departments are doing—apples-to-apples—you'll be able to learn something that will benefit your department.

We are lucky we work in such an evolving field. We anticipate 2017 being the year that agencies link their Situational Awareness and Performance data together, into a single view, with one another permanently. Departments are extending the familiar concept of Mutual and Automatic Aid to their information systems. Because these districts are seeing a bigger picture of live performance and operations, they can drill down into their jurisdiction or any part of the analysis. The data is linked, shared, and analyzed by everyone and anyone in the system, which effectively breaks the silo's systems paradigm. Bonus trend: We see these agencies focusing a lot on making sure that the User Interface and User Experience of the joint systems are so easy to use that they can use them on any device, and can be taught in less than 2 minutes. This focus on the heavy lifting of integration combined with pure ease of use in the software finally allows them to make real progress with deployment strategy, patient outcomes, and situational awareness.

Actively communicating and sharing data between departments will eliminate all the guess work involved, and also save you some money on hiring consultants to tell you what you can figure out by looking at the data and actively communicating. We think this trend will most likely make your 2017 a turning point in telling the story about how well your department is performing and engaging your whole staff in any needed areas of improvement.

2. High-pace remote sensing integration and remote technology

You might think this is the year of the drones, and you're right. But what does this mean? We believe 2017 will finally see them seamlessly integrated into frontline systems, but it's more than just more guys flying drones.

High-pace remote sensing is having the technology to instantly acquire data, process it, and have it automatically link intel into operations without clunky workarounds. Simply explained, it's using systems like drones, sensors, cameras, etc. and allowing (cloud) software to automatically interpret the images and transmit them everywhere, seconds after capture. This allows departments to ditch the data analysts and free up operators to get what they need quickly, with very little friction or room for human error. Since the machines will do most of the work and run processes as they gather and analyze their data, the only person that matters in the processing chain is the operator in the field that gets information exactly when they need it, without being a Ph.D. or waiting for the drone operator to show up. 

This is such a cool thing! This allows us to capture camera feeds, other sensors, and high definition aerial data, both of which are incredibly useful for digitally understanding our incidents. 

Speaking of digital skies, Overwatch is one of many new drone companies that creates the smart drones used in high-paced remote sensing (used because the data it gathers is so far unmatched). Using these systems, we are finally able to generate precise maps of any area in real time. They are an example of a new breed of sensors that seamlessly integrate with Situational Awareness systems used on every engine and command post in the area. Practically speaking, we are ready for our systems to do one simple thing: shorten the time it takes Incident Commanders to understand what is happening. By focusing on integration, we can make the technology fade into the background, and provide images, thermal, and other meaningful information right into the hands of NON-TECHNICAL firefighters.

3. Standardization/normalizing data between departments

While related to the first two trends, this still deserves its own slot: Fire Departments are seeking ways to share analysis with each other. They're looking for the means to create performance measurements that they can compare to see how they are doing.

This is more than just wanting to compare ‘How fast do we get to calls?’ or ‘How fast do we get out of the station?’. It is a desire to look for patterns of activity in their cities, understand what is going to happen, and really have insight about whether or not what they are doing is affecting outcomes for people. Ex. Are we using the right protocols and drugs during medical calls? Are we saving as many people as we can with our EMS deployment model? What are the real risks to our community? Many departments have begun linking their systems and data together permanently. They are breaking down the walls between themselves and making data common between themselves. This doesn't mean they are losing control of the data. What it DOES mean is that they are beginning to share live databases so they can evaluate deployment strategies based on a ton more data than they have individually. It also means that they can use larger datasets to gain better insight into community risks, patterns of calls, focus on unit reliability, and get better information on practical measures like Unit/Hour Utilization. To Fire Chiefs, this will be pure gold in 2017.

Linking non-fire service data is a trend here too. We see fire departments linking to assessors, occupancy data, inspection, and permitting data as well. And while many will study events that occurred because of the failure of these 'pedestrian' integrations, the real trend we see is the benefit departments will gain linking information that gives them insight and control over the other 99% of life that is performed everyday in the community. Linking to data that shows us where events will happen, why they happen, where risk REALLY lives, and what we can do about it everyday. Improvements in integration of these datasets support planning to assure that the fire service is progressing in service delivery for the safety of the public. It can assure we are all contributing to information together and sharing what we know with everyone who needs it to minimize risk and loss.

Related and obvious: More and more agencies and departments will be wanting to look at solutions for Common Operating Pictures (COPs) in 2017. Lots of agencies are behind the 8 ball in this, and sharing what you know is the key to public safety. 

4. Data Accuracy 

In 2017, it's of the utmost importance that we continue to focus on Data Accuracy and Accessibility in the industry. You can't argue with the data. Timely and accurate information is what sends you home to your families every night, and the right data in the right hands at the right time is what keeps our communities safe. We will see Public Safety Agencies mature using data. We expect that more and more. Departments will treat information and analysis the way they treat apparatus. Think about how much time and effort your department spends choosing the next engine. All the specs, the tools, usability, and efficiency of each space. The trend in your data life is the same. Make sure new systems can talk to each other. Make sure that everything shares information and makes it easy to access and use for everyone on your staff. Just like there are lots of systems on a new truck that work seamlessly together, you need to consider how well will your other systems work together. If it doesn't make it better, easier, and faster, you're doing it wrong.

Making sure that the data is accessible quickly and efficiently is key. An example: NFIRS is having a hard time meeting the challenges of today’s fire service due to its own limitations, so it's up to us to do everything we can to ease that pressure. The old model of collecting your data at the end of the year and sending off a snapshot to another government agency is broken. Modern day decisions mean accessing and using information in real-time, not years later. These are the systems being built in 2017, and they will be the difference between success and failure in today's fire service. Data-driven decision-making based on incomplete data will lead to incomplete decisions, which can lead to failure. 

In this trend, we see a trend to put data entry and access as close to the firefighter in the field as we can in a way that’s not obtrusive. This means thinking about how to 1) automate/minimize data entry, and 2) make it easy for firefighters and staff to collect information in modern ways; In the field, on smart phones and tablets, and with systems that know who they are and what they are doing that can help them with their jobs. The goal is to easily track the information we need, not to turn all of us into scribes. Your software should help with that, not make everyone in the station an IT nerd.

Making sure data is accurate and shareable was a key point of 2016, and it will continue to be important in the coming year. 

5. Communications 

Younger personnel are beginning to circumvent traditional departmental communication mechanisms (email, etc) because these systems are not meeting their needs. It’s a societal issue, but it is impacting us as well in the fire service. How are your firefighters sharing information? I mean really communicating information with each other, not just what you think they should be doing? Ask yourself why they are doing this. They want accurate information and they want a lot of it. But they don't want it to be hard to get or use. That's why they are using their own devices, mapping, social media communication channels, and even creating their own apps. Understanding this in your department and getting ahead of this trend would be huge. How can you make comms easy and take advantage of the channels your firefighters are already using? It starts with understanding why they are doing it then challenging yourself to think about how to harness all that energy and motivation for the good of the agency.

We should also be thinking about cross-discipline information sharing – fire departments sharing with police departments, police sharing with paramedics, etc. Leveraging the data we communicate with each other creates better service delivery for the public and a safer community overall. We are already making leaps and bounds in the communication department, but as 2017 rolls around, we can expect new ways to effectively communicate our data and what we see and know to the right people all the time. This will make a world of difference. As we alluded to above, we see this as a growing trend in inter-agency information flow. We already see completely different cities and counties connecting their everyday systems to one another. This isn't just for big incidents, it isn't just for CAD or situational awareness, it's for most systems, every day. They share the costs and the data. They see each other's performance and analysis, and they compare it to their own. This is an area that requires a mature approach. This is the purview of Chiefs that are moving forward, not scared of transparency, and willing to learn with each other. It requires courage to be sure, but it gives us a way to support each other as we manage for the future.


If it's anything like 2016, 2017 will undoubtedly be a wild ride, but we're up for it, and we hope that you will be too. Making a difference in the lives of firefighters and the communities they serve is why we started this business. We couldn't be more motivated to continue pushing our technology and breaking boundaries. Make sure to check back here, on our blog, for future updates and more breaking news.


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Topics: Planning

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.