A review of the Cadcorp fire services conference, 2015, held in the headquarters of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service on 24 March.

SYFRS logo

Faced with reduced budgets and changes in demand, UK fire and rescue services are turning to geographic information systems (GIS) technology to help them make operational savings. This was the key message that emerged from the conference ‘Sharing local knowledge in the fire service’ held in the headquarters of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service on 24 March 2015.

The conference, which was sponsored by British GIS and web mapping software developer Cadcorp, attracted some 60 attendees all with a common interest in using GIS and web mapping. The event was an opportunity to hear from Cadcorp about recent product developments, but above all, provided an opportunity for attendees to learn from other fire services about innovative uses of the technology.

A paperless system for site specific risk information in Lancashire

A case in point, was a presentation given by Emma Marshall, GIS Officer at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (Lancs FRS).  Emma described how GIS technology is central to their plans to implement a paperless system for gathering and sharing site specific risk information. This includes details about the layout of buildings, the location of potential hazards, access codes and the names of key holders. Such information is invaluable for preparing crews en route to an incident, but only if the information is accurate, relevant, and timely. Emma explained how and why Lancs FRS was using GIS technology to improve the quality of such information; particularly its timeliness.

We heard that crews used to collect site specific risk information on paper during annual site visits. Their notes, sketch maps and drawings were taken back to station where the information was then transcribed into digital formats and made available to a variety of computer systems including mobile data terminals (MDTs). However, even when the information captured was accurate, relevant and transcribed without loss, the delays involved in transcribing the information meant that the process was failing to meet expectations about timeliness.

Today each station and Community Safety Fire team in Lancs FRS has access to an iPad. Originally bought for carrying out Home Fire Safety Checks, these mobile devices are also to be used in the field for capturing site specific risk information directly in digital form.  They will be used during community risk reduction events, in inspections, and at post fire incident enquiries. The iPad is able to display a detailed map of its current location together with any known risks which are indicated by means of standardised Civil Protection Common Map Symbols. The underlying mapping software from Cadcorp also indicates a property’s Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN). The iPad user can log the location of a new risk against the UPRN and can save an image of the map as a PDF document. On return to station this document can be attached to a digital site specific risk information form. The outcome is that updated information on site specific risks is immediately available for sharing – not just within Lancs FRS – but, via North West Fire Control, with any crews en route to an incident.

Civil Protection Common Map Symbology



Lancs FRS worked with Cadcorp to produce symbols which were in line with the Civil Protection Common Map Symbology 2012. By using this symbology, data can easily be shared with other authorities and organisations.



Managing water assets with GIS in Essex

Process automation was also at the heart of a GIS project described by Tracy King, Performance Improvement Manager at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS).  In 2012 the fire service thoroughly embraced GIS technology. Today, ECFRS has a web GIS which can be accessed by 1600 staff throughout the service; has integrated web mapping into its Incident Recording System  and it is able to display mapping overlays in its Command and Control system on a large video display.



The control video wall at Essex FRS which integrates mapping technologies supplied by Cadcorp




The most recent challenge which Tracy described, was how to enable the ECFRS water section to share in the successes of the rest of the organisation in using GIS technology. Within ECFRS it is the job of water section staff to maintain accurate and up to date records about the location of water mains and hydrants, by liaising with water companies.  As Tracy pointed out, knowing where to access water is critical to the successful operation of any fire service.

Tracy discovered that the Ordnance Survey base maps against which the section had been recording mains and hydrants dated from 2001 and earlier. These maps would not align with more recent and positionally-accurate OS MasterMap® Topography data. This was of little consequence for the internal operation of the water section: their records showed mains and hydrants in the correct relative location against topographic features. However, when the absolute locations of mains and hydrants were imported from the legacy GIS used by the water section into other GIS systems, they were subject to shift to the extent that hydrants sometimes appeared on the wrong side of a road from their actual location. Not surprisingly Tracy’s first task was to oversee the automated translation of old map data to new and more accurate coordinates.

Hydrants and water mains in ECFRS classified by water company, and positioned accurately against OS MasterMap® Topography data.

Having brought historical records up to date, the next task was to put in place processes for simplifying and automating the capture of new water assets. The decision as to where to locate new hydrants is jointly made by the fire service and the water companies. In the past, this would have involved them communicating by exchanging paper maps annotated with hand-drawn sketches and various notes. ECFRS is now working with the water companies to receive their CAD drawings in digital form, and will be able to import these directly into the Cadcorp GIS, applying a suitable transformation in the process. By using and reusing Cadcorp technology which the rest of the fire service have deployed, staff in ECFRS are now able to access accurate and reliable water data themselves. Water section staff can focus on creation and maintenance of accurate asset records and no longer have to mediate requests for information from other parts of ECFRS.

Automating coverage mapping in Leicestershire

We were reminded by Hiren Patel of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service (Leics FRS) that GIS technology has a valuable analytical role to play in relation to risk management. The production of drive times depicted as isochrones centred on a fire station, is a case in point. While it is an easy matter to manually plot distance from a station as concentric rings based on a straight line measurement, it is a completely different matter to create a drive time map based on actual or predicted drive times over a road network. The ability to optimise and simulate journeys is where GIS comes into its own. Hiren pointed out that isochrone maps produced using GIS will indicate the predicted time it will take to deploy a vehicle from a particular station to different locations. However, he described the not unusual scenario of an incident requiring the deployment of several vehicles, located at different stations. How could you best understand the ease or difficulty of deploying several vehicles to different locations?

Hiren suggested that you achieve this by aggregating multiple isochrone maps centred on multiple stations. He pointed out that it is however, a process-intensive activity, and one that would also require human intervention if run as a sequential exercise. For these reasons Leics FRS commissioned Cadcorp to write a script to automate the creation of the coverage maps required by the fire service.  The analyst simply has to identify the stations which are candidates for coverage mapping, and to specify the drive time to be mapped. The GIS application will return an aggregate coverage map which is coloured not by drive time, but according to the number of appliances that are likely to be deployed at each location, within the stated time.



Coverage maps at Leics FRS showing the road network coloured by the number of pumps that can be deployed to each location in a given time period.



The title of the conference was ‘Sharing local knowledge in the fire service’. This was meant to convey that a fire service gets the biggest return on its investment in geographic information when it allows and encourages information to be shared as a corporate resource.  However, it was apparent from the networking opportunities that the conference afforded, that there is another interpretation of ‘Sharing local knowledge’. This is that fire services have everything to gain by openly sharing their GIS experiences with colleagues from other fire services.