From hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, and Maria, to the wildfires in California, the demand for emergency response resources was intense. This kind of stress on overburdened emergency responders and the resources they rely on can be overwhelming. 

The ability of local, state and federal governments to quickly call upon and coordinate mutual aid support is critical to a successful emergency response when the size, complexity, and frequency of events are all increasing.  Time and again, especially in light of the large-scale natural disasters that unfolded the past year, the need for easing collaborative response to disaster situations becomes more and more pressing. 

In October of last year, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) partnered with the Intermedix Preparedness Division (soon to be Juvare) and Esri to build a next generation solution to better manage and track mutual aid resources often needed during large-scale emergencies. 

The IAFC has consistently offered support for state and local fire departments and emergency medical services (EMS) communities managing disaster response and recovery. For years, the IAFC provided the Mutual Aid Net, which is used throughout the United States to identify, request and deploy resources for mutual aid support. The new National Mutual Aid System (NMAS) will use the latest technology to help decision makers to accomplish these tasks faster, easier, and more accurately.

Launched in beta testing at the end of February, the NMAS is being tested in four states: California, Florida, Tennessee and Utah. By identifying available resources which could provide mutual aid to fill resource gaps, the NMAS will help fire, EMS, law enforcement and emergency managers create a more effective and resilient system.  

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 NMAS uses Esri’s ArcGIS platform to bring mutual aid management data into the context of geography, by integrating that information into the location intelligence technology that emergency responders around the world use every day. NMAS is paired with Intermedix Preparedness Division’s WebEOC, a crisis management software that helps emergency responders communicate more effectively, share important incident information, generate incident reports, and manage a range of procedural tasks in one, centralized, web-based environment.

Chief Thomas Jenkins, IAFC president and chairman of the board, sees the benefit of moving so quickly from concept to activation. “Ensuring that emergency managers and responders have real-time information and resources at their fingertips is an essential element in protecting their communities,” Chief Jenkins says. “I commend the fire and emergency service leaders in these four pilot states for seeing us through this important phase of the plan.”

Identifying the status and availability of resources for mutual aid support has always been challenging. However, in today’s environment where incidents are increasingly complex, and cross multiple jurisdictions, this need is greater than ever. The use of location intelligence to respond quickly and effectively is paramount. 

By incorporating geographic information into real-time capabilities, the NMAS tool enables public safety professionals to have a comprehensive awareness of where an emergency is occurring, when it happened, and exactly what is needed on scene.

In many ways, the NMAS is like Uber — just open the app and see the available emergency resources nearby.  Additionally, the NMAS allows users to request and filter specific needs and resources of fire teams (for example, a type 1 fire engine versus a type 2). Also like Uber, the NMAS will dispatch the resources which are positioned closest to where they are needed. Users will be able to see where the resources are coming from and when they will arrive in real-time.

In emergency situations, it is critical that response personnel have access to a simple, yet comprehensive mutual aid system for managing resources. The NMAS helps responders communicate more effectively, share important information, generate event reports and manage a range of tasks in one, centralized, web-based environment. These benefits allow the IAFC to effortlessly connect partner agencies and disparate organizations before mutual aid is needed to enhance collaborative response efforts.

“With everything going on in today’s world, there is a real need to provide clarity and access to simplified information to those responsible for managing the overall safety within communities,” Bob Watson, president of Intermedix’s Preparedness Technology Division, says. “WebEOC has aided in that mission for over 20 years and, because of that experience, we are committed to the vision and goals of the National Mutual Aid System and are proud to be a part of this initiative.”

The two most important factors in effective emergency response is understanding where resources are needed the most, and the ability to quickly relay that need to decision makers. This new tool accomplishes both of these tasks by providing the location intelligence needed to comprehend data that has a geographic component, which can then be used to collaborate with the necessary organizations. Making information more meaningful and available always leads to better decision-making, and during a large-scale emergency or natural disaster, it can help save countless lives, too.

Ryan Lanclos is the director of public safety industries for Esri.



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