Why information sharing?
Emergencies such as wildfires, floods and storms are:
- Extended: often lasting days or weeks rather than hours.
- Dynamic: moving and changing rather than remaining stationary.
- Complex: often involving multiple simultaneous individual incidents.
- Multi Entity: involving multiple organisations rather than a single organisation.
- Distributed: often being spread over kilometers or tens of kilometers rather than meters.
They have before, during and after phases and are effected by other types events for example:
- wildfires are effected by forest management, and
- floods are effected by urban development.
Therefore, managing these emergencies requires sharing information:
- between phases,
- between event types, and
- in real time between entities and distributed teams during the incident itself.
Error prone, slow and data silos
Current methods of sharing information are error prone, slow and result in data being siloed where it is unavailable in future incidents hindering continuous improvement.
Not seeing the whole picture
Each responder can only see a small part of the incident. To generate the complete picture of the incident, the operations center must manually piece together multiple descriptions, usually provided verbally, of what each responder can see. This is slow and error prone.
The spatial information bottleneck
Up to 70% of information shared during emergencies is spatial (map based). A Geographical Information System (GIS) specialist is usually required to share spatial information. GIS specialists are usually located within the planning function and hence are not ‘in-line’ for sharing information between many of the creators and consumers of information, including between responders and the operations center. That is, sharing information between creators and consumers of information who are ‘in-line’ requires the information to be ‘detoured’ ‘out of line’. This creates a bottle neck between the creators and consumers of information.
No single source of truth
As a result of the bottle neck in sharing spatial information, a common site in operations rooms is people drawing on paper maps to maintain their situational awareness. As soon as they do this, there is no longer a single source of truth.
No shared situational awareness
Solutions which enable:
- information to be transferred from responders to the operations centre but not from the operations centre back to responders or between responders, or
- require the browser page to be refreshed before changes are visible,
,reinforce the highly dangerous situation of everybody having different situational awareness – a lack of shared situational awareness.
This problem is particularly acute with solutions that:
- involve manually adding data (e.g. via pdf’s) from multiple responders to maintain a common operating picture in the operations center – in a rapidly evolving incident, this manual processing quickly overwhelms the operations center resulting in a loss of real-time situational awarness, or
- require responders to refresh the page on their browser on their device to see the latest changes (there is currently no mechanisim to force the page on browsers on distributed devices to refresh) – how do responders know when new data has been added and they need to refresh the page?
Effect of poor information sharing
Collectively, these information sharing problems result in poor access to information which leads to:
- poorly informed, or misinformed, decisions and actions, and
- reduced tempo of decisions and actions.
This makes it difficult for decision making and associated actions to keep pace with incident development which increases the impact of the incident and reduces the safety of responders and the community.
US research indicates that, on average, every one minute delay in implementing an appropriate action at the beginning of a fire, adds 17 minutes to the length of the fire.Waters and Fuller, 2020
Poor access to timely information at the incident level means accurate information cannot be passed to higher hierarchical levels in a timely manor – this includes higher hierarchical levels within a single organisation, at the state level or the country level. This reduces the ability of those at higher hierarchical levels to make timely and informed decisions which can have a compounding effect on the impact and safety at the individual incident level.
Solving this problem at higher hierarchical levels requires solving the information sharing problems at the individual incident level.