The future of emergency management

Emergency management - image courtesy of Airservices Australia

What’s the state of your emergency services? If you’re looking for higher efficiency, you’re not alone. I recently wrote about upcoming key trends that organizations should look out for, and how they can respond in an effective manner. Read on for my article that was featured in Asia Pacific Fire magazine.

A number of related trends are shaping the future of the emergency services landscape. Their implications may vary but the common thread is that they are often driven by increasing societal expectations and concerns. The hyper-connectivity of today’s world is a driving factor as is the growing level of global disruption and uncertainty.

As a response to the implications of these trends, new governance structures are being established with the aim of ensuring that community and government expectations are met. Policy direction is being shaped by these new structures, which in turn is raising new capability requirements to facilitate policy implementation.

Trend 1: Increasing complexity of operating environments

Not only is the demand for emergency services increasing year on year, so is the complexity of the environments in which our emergency services operate. Community expectations are high and growing. As the Internet of Things (IoT) develops apace and social media becomes omnipresent, more data than ever is being consumed from a myriad of sources. Emergency services organizations are grappling with huge volumes of this data and struggling to separate the signal from the noise. While serving the community well, traditional Computer Aided Dispatching (CAD) systems can be limited in their ability to interpret such massive volumes of information and in many cases the complexities of the operating environments have surpassed human decision making capabilities. In order to manage this level of data saturation, leading organizations are turning to Advanced Decision Support capabilities which harness the power of predictive and prescriptive analytics. Such solutions provide a means to make sense of the operating environment and put decision makers in the best possible position to set our first responders up for success, while ensuring compliance and enabling auditability.

A real life example of operating environment complexity occurred in Melbourne, Australia on 21 November 2016. Thunderstorms were forecasted for the metropolitan area but there was no expectation that a major health emergency would be triggered as a result. As outlined in the Review of response to the thunderstorm asthma event of 21-22 November 2016 (Inspector-General for Emergency Management), a surge in emergency calls occurred at approximately 18:00 on the evening in question, predominately for respiratory related illness. The number of emergency calls logged during the peak of the event was an increase of 593% on forecasted call volumes. In order to co-ordinate the response, decision makers had to consider multiple factors including overtime arrangements, reallocation of resources based on need, utilization of additional multi-skilled personnel, recall of staff from breaks, postponement of breaks and staff fatigue levels. As the number of emergency calls increased, resources became increasingly stretched and were unable to immediately attend most new cases.

Trend 2: Public private partnerships

As noted by industry leader Bob Jensen (Senior Managing Director at Strat3 LLC), another key trend in emergency management is the move from government centric to a survivor centric approach and the establishment of public private partnerships. Building emergency response capability was once viewed as the sole responsibility of the public sector, but this model is now being challenged. Private sector businesses, non-government organizations (NGOs) and local community groups are partnering with public sector organizations to share learnings and expertise in order to facilitate the best emergency management response possible.

Capabilities can be developed in many ways but often a public private partnership collaboration model is the optimum approach. Before, during and after an emergency event, public sector organizations should ideally be operating in unison with businesses and non for profits/NGOs. Partnership arrangements may sometimes be formalized but in certain cases, informal agreements or memorandums of understanding (MOUs) are what is needed to establish a framework between the sectors.

Trend 3: Public demand for open access and equability

Frontline fire, police, State Emergency Service (SES) and ambulance workers are more visible in the public eye today than at any time in the past. The nature of events to which emergency services must respond is becoming progressively more hazardous, challenging safety and compliance. In parallel, public expectation of our emergency services is increasing. A correlation of this increase in expectation is a greater demand for open access and equability. The implication is that organizations must strive for, and achieve, a greater level of compliance than ever before.

Adhering to a rule-based decision making framework is seen by many thought leaders as the key enabler for organizational compliance. Such a framework can be drawn down upon during decision making and its values should ideally permeate and underpin the culture of an organization.

In order to thoroughly implement a rule-based decision making framework, a technology solution must be utilized to provide transparency and auditability and a means to measure compliance.

Communications strategies can be built upon the solution and in turn, a clear and open two way communication channel can be established with the most important stakeholder an emergency services organization has – the community it protects.

On the flip side, emergency services organizations are also beginning to view the community as more than just a stakeholder. Forward thinking organizations now see the community as a resource and an integral component of executing a successful emergency response. For example, data generated by members of the public across social media streams can be harnessed to provide decision makers with instantaneous feedback on what is happening on the ground. Thanks to technological advances, a situation can be visualized before first responders arrive on the scene.

Trend 4: Exposure to disruptive and traumatic events

Due to population growth and changing demographics (ageing population, urbanization), the net effect of the growth in demand for emergency services is being exacerbated. As demand increases, the regularity at which responders are exposed to traumatic events is also trending upwards. Repeated exposure to such trauma puts responders at greater risk of psychological injury. The Erosive Stress Pathway (Tuckey 2007) outlines how a person moving back and forth between traumatic operational incident exposure and negative organizational experiences is at a high risk of incurring a psychological injury over time.

Although exposure to some level of trauma is inherent in the work that our emergency services do, it is possible to mitigate psychological risk by implementing a fatigue risk management protocol. Such an approach will allow for at-risk employees to be assessed prior to shift commencement and for mitigating controls to be put in place to provide proactive support for these employees. It’s also worth noting that a fatigue risk management protocol can be used to facilitate and manage the return to work of employees who have incurred a psychological or physical injury.

Fatigue risk management protocols are widely used in safety critical industries such as aviation. Learnings from these industries are now being adopted and adapted by fire, police, SES and ambulance services in order to safeguard the wellbeing of their employees and mitigate fatigue hazards.

Case study: Airservices Australia

Airservices Australia is Australia’s air navigation service provider. The organization exists to provide safe, secure, efficient, and environmentally-responsible air navigation and aviation rescue firefighting services to the aviation industry in Australia. Airservices Australia provide air traffic control services using advanced and integrated systems, and DELMIA Quintiq is one of the enterprise platforms utilized.

Airservices Australia first partnered with DELMIA Quintiq in 2009 to establish a solution that facilitates the resource allocation and decision support needs associated with Air Traffic Control (ATC).

In April 2013, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) introduced new fatigue rules for operators and pilots. A fatigue risk management system (FRMS) was designed to create a flexible operating environment in which potential fatigue risks could be highlighted and managed. FRMS is an actively managed process where operators anticipate and address fatigue risks and amend their systems accordingly to ensure potential associated hazards are managed and DELMIA Quintiq provides best in class capability that enables full FRMS adherence by Airservices Australia.

As of 2017, the established DELMIA Quintiq capability will be rolled out to the aviation rescue firefighting services.

“This new tool greatly assists our decision-making around fatigue-related risk and its management,” said Jason Harfield, Chief Executive Officer, Airservices Australia.

Get the full story on Airservices Australia’s transformation here.

Need more information on how you can boost your emergency services management?  Here’s a great place to start.


This article was originally published on Asia Pacific Fire magazine.

(Image courtesy of Airservices Australia)'

Kevin Moran'

Latest posts by Kevin Moran (see all)