response to emergencies such a fires or traffic accidents often requires a multi-agency response. But  despite high levels of commitment, poor coordination between relevant parties is quite often the greatest impediment to efficient incident management.

A close look on how agencies such as fire services, traffic police, law enforcement or civil defense works reveals that many emergencies have similar characteristics and trigger common responses.

But unfortunately,  capabilities to support emergency management have been developed by individual agencies and optimized for agency-specific goals and outcomes. The outcome is a zoo of different systems, databases and applications with different data formats which can make a coordinated response to emergencies and situational awareness much harder than necessary.

Regardless where you look, on national and state level or even in rather small local jurisdictions:

You will find many examples around the world, where  the very homogenous goal of multiple agencies to respond an incident is in fact supported by a very heterogeneous system landscape.

Just look at this example on how emergency services even in economically very advanced countries are challenged by suboptimal interoperability:
http://www.nsaaust.com/index.php/blog/entry/queensland-emergency-services-challenged-by-interoperability.

What if we could turn back time and start all over?

I am sure that many will agree that nobody would recommend an approach where each agency builds a different capacity for a similar task:

  • to take emergency calls,
  • to dispatch resources,
  • to have a real time situation awareness – typically provided by a map with multiple layers- and
  • to provide a mobile app to the  field force to guide them and to let them provide feedback to the control center.

But as pointed out above that is exactly the situation in many countries around the globe.

What do we see around the world to address this issue? 
To mitigate the negative effects on interoperability, many countries have applied a valid approach where an integration layer is built on the top of the network of similar or overlapping systems to facilitate a common operating picture.  A good example in  this regard is the great concept of the  Victorian Information Network for Emergencies (VINE) which is not a single system, but an information network for all stakeholders.

But what about the vision of a truly single system for all agencies?

The vision of a single incident management system for Police, Civil Defense, Fire Services, Ambulance and Social Services for a coordinated multi-agency response.

A maybe unlikely candidate to full-fill this very forward but hardly ever realized vision comes  from the southern tip of Africa.  Here we can indeed witness an example, where interoperability has been improved by getting rid of siloed applications for  better cross agency data and operations.

It is for sure the first of its kind in Africa that facilitates a coordinated multidisciplinary response to any emergency ‘by incorporating six primary public safety and security service providers across disaster management, fire and rescue, as well as policing, onto one single integrated technology platform.’  A single system for all services which tremendously facilitates interoperability but where each agency maintains the capability to operate autonomously at the same time.

But please read more here: New technology-based public safety programme could be an EPIC first

Klaus Wigand

Global Solution Manager for SAP Public Security and Future Cities
Industry Business Solutions
SAP SE

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