Winter ice storms in Toronto. Spring flooding in Calgary. Summer wildfires in Kelowna. Large-scale disasters are on the rise across the county, and every disaster brings multiple agencies struggling to obtain and share critical information. National efforts to advance information sharing are in place, but communication between multiple systems remains a weak point.
Now, a revolutionary information sharing collaboration between Kelowna Fire and FDM Software in North Vancouver is breaking new ground.
A wealth of real-time information about emergency situations can now be shared using an innovative new FDM software interface that connects to an existing national web-based situation awareness system, which could serve as a model for other public safety agencies across the country. The project was funded by the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), a federal program led by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS) in partnership with Public Safety Canada.
The FDM-Kelowna Fire partnership began back in 2003, after a wildfire ignited in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park and flashed through the city of Kelowna, destroying nearly 250 homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 32,000 residents.
“The entire province was on fire,” says Brian Moore, Dispatch Supervisor with the Kelowna Fire Department and Deputy Emergency Program Coordinator with the Central Okanagan Regional Emergency Program. “The Kelowna wildfire was the largest-scale disaster we had ever dealt with.”
There were tough lessons to be learned from that catastrophic summer, Moore notes, most importantly, that communication was ineffective: There was no way for critical information from firefighters, paramedics, pilots, RCMP, the Canadian Armed Forces and stakeholders such as federal and provincial authorities and insurance companies to be shared quickly and effectively.
Introducing the Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System
The embers from the wildfires had barely cooled before Moore was compelled to seek a more effective information sharing method during an emergency. Moore met with Ed Colin, president of FDM Software, to brainstorm solutions.
They initially envisioned an emergency management component of the FDM Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management software systems already in use by Kelowna Fire. That potential component, however, needed to be part of a broader Canada-wide system in order to be useful to the many stakeholders needing access to real-time information in a large scale emergency. In 2012, Moore’s research led him to a pan-Canadian initiative known as the Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS), which is led by DRDC CSS.
“I knew I was onto something big, and that MASAS was what we had been looking for. The next big challenge was to connect FDM and MASAS,” said Moore.
About the same time, FDM was hearing about MASAS for the first time. “It was immediately apparent that the potential for a nation-wide capability was real, and that FDM should play a leading role in its advancement,” said FDM President Ed Colin.
MASAS, which has been in use since 2011 through an operational pilot funded through CSSP, allows emergency managers and responders across the country to share situational information using their own application(s) or basic web-hosted tools, ensuring a more efficient and effective response to natural disasters, serious accidents, crime, and acts of terrorism. The content, displayed as easy-to-understand icons on a map – a house with flames represents structure fires, waves represent flooding – can include forecasted weather, road closures or natural hazard alerts such as earthquakes.
“The collaboration between Kelowna Fire and FDM is an excellent example of the real-world impact of Defence Research and Development Canada’s Canadian Safety and Security Program funding,” said the Honourable Ron Cannan, Member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country, on behalf of the Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of National Defence.
Funding Fuels Information Sharing Initiative
In 2013, the Kelowna Fire Department and FDM Software in North Vancouver were awarded funding under the Canadian Safety and Security Program to develop an interface with Kelowna Fire’s computer aided dispatch system to push real-time incident data to MASAS.
The FDM MASAS interface enables dispatchers to automatically receive information from the MASAS network about specific emergency situations. The component also allows the publishing of emergency events from the FDM Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system directly to the MASAS network for the benefit of other agencies.
“Brian Moore was absolutely driven to find a better way to share information during an emergency, and we at FDM were more than happy to do our part,” said Colin. “Brian and Kelowna Fire deserve a big hand for obtaining funding for this project, and spreading the word to the Public Safety community about the benefits of becoming part of this initiative. FDM is now making this component available to all FDM CAD agencies across Canada to show our own commitment to this outstanding initiative,” said Colin.
“Our challenge before the FDM-MASAS system was implemented was the time it took to relay real-time information to other first responders and stakeholders in an emergency,” says Moore. “It typically took 15 to 90 minutes to activate the Regional Emergency Operations Centre and to understand the magnitude of an incident. Now all we do is turn on the lights and fire up MASAS. Everyone now knows what everyone else is doing. It’s making a tremendous difference in our planning, response and recovery for planned and emergency incidents of all sizes.”Media contact: