Situational Awareness for Emergency Management
© 2012 FrontLine Security (Vol 7, No 2)

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Enhancing Situational Awareness for Intelligent Emergency Management 
Awareness for Intelligent ­Emergency ManagementWhen a flood, tornado, chemical spill or other disaster occurs, it’s crucial to have a comprehensive view of where the incident happens and how it unfolds in order to deliver effective emergency services.

In Ontario, the City of Kingston has turned to modern Web mapping technology to enable real-time situational awareness and improve their ability to respond to emergencies. Kingston’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is based at the city’s fire and rescue headquarters. Since the ­centre was established 10 years ago, they have used paper maps, updated twice yearly, to assess incidents and plan emergency response. Compiling data quickly to make decisions was a challenge as they needed to gather information from numerous people and agencies by phone, email and online research.

To increase efficiency, the EOC turned to the city’s Information Technology (IT) department to create a solution for improving their ability to access and share data. The IT department manages all municipal location-based data using a geographic information system (GIS) and produces maps to support planning, engineering, ­utility management and community ­services. The GIS serves as the city’s core information system, capable of supplying large amounts of relevant and timely geospatial data.

“We wanted an efficient solution that would enable us to leverage the data and analytical tools in the GIS,” explains John Cross, Manager at the Office of Emergency Management.

In response, the GIS team developed a prototype of an Emergency Management Common Operational Picture (EM COP) application – a dynamic Web-based mapping application that allows users to ­visualize, analyze and query relevant information. The EM COP application pulls data from the city’s GIS, including fire and police services, roads, buildings, utility network and population demographics.

“Using Web mapping made sense as we already had a shared GIS environment,” remarked Philip Healey, Kingston’s GIS supervisor. “The EM COP application was easy to configure, deploy and put in front of our stakeholders.”

Providing Role-Based Access to Data
During emergencies, the Kingston EOC is managed by a municipal control group that includes the mayor, chief administrative ­officer, fire chief, police chief, other senior officials and subject matter experts. The GIS team is deployed to provide round-the-clock mapping and analysis support. Each member of this core group needs specific data to make intelligent decisions about their respective area of responsibility.

In the event of a chemical spill, for example, police may need information on transportation routes to block off affected areas. City engineers may need to locate underground infrastructure to shut off valves or pipes to ensure the safety of the water network.

“What’s great about this application is that it allows us to access the data we need to make strategic decisions based on our roles. It also gives us a clearer view of the incidents happening in our community – providing rich context so we can make ­better informed decisions to improve public safety,” says Cross.

A Collaboration Platform
In addition to pulling information from the city’s GIS, the EM COP application can integrate data feeds from other agencies, including the national Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS). This allows for increased collaboration with other emergency management organizations and a more coordinated response ­during large-scale emergencies. As well, it can be incorporated into mobile command units to support rapid decision-making in the field.  

The application has significantly improved the EOC’s ability to create situational awareness and enable decisions based on accurate, consistent and up-to-date information. It has also increased the return on the city’s GIS investment by expanding the system’s use to support emergency operations.

“Working with the EOC on this project gave us a better understanding of how they use geographic data to manage emergencies. This helps us enhance the application by integrating more data and tools that will help them carry out their mission more effectively,” notes Healey.

Kingston plans to add other operational information to the application including fire inspection plans, crime incidents and emergency dispatch data. The system’s interoperability opens up opportunities to integrate other solutions including incident management software to capture and track decisions made by EOC staff.

While the EM COP application is a prototype for now, it can be activated at anytime to support a real emergency.
Through Web mapping technology, the City of Kingston now has a powerful emergency management planning and decision support system that enables it to become more disaster resilient and better prepared for future emergencies.

Pierre Bilodeau is the Defence & Public Safety Industry Manager for Esri Canada, a provider of enterprise GIS solutions. He retired from the Canadian Forces in 2008, after 32 years of service as a Military Engineer Officer, including 18 years with the defence geospatial community. He can be reached at
© FrontLine Security 2012