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Q&A: What fire leaders should consider when vetting new technology

Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer gives tips on what leaders should consider to make sure the technology they are considering provides real and reliable organizational value


Sponsored by IDEX Fire & Safety

By Laura Neitzel, FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff

Even when fire leaders are convinced that they should embrace innovation, like all public safety officials, they have an obligation to make sure they are making wise investments with always-scarce financial resources. The planned obsolescence that compels many consumers to buy a new computer or smartphone every couple of years simply won’t work for the fire service. Fire chiefs must plan for the future and ensure that technologies they acquire today can be upgraded or added to without great additional expense or technical difficulty.

Fire leaders must consider multiple factors when choosing new technology, including how the investment will provide organizational value.
Fire leaders must consider multiple factors when choosing new technology, including how the investment will provide organizational value. (Getty Images)

In this second Q&A on innovation in the fire service, I asked Spokane, Washington Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer for advice on what questions fire leaders should ask to ensure that any technology they acquire provides real and reliable value to the agency.

WHAT TECHNOLOGY-ADOPTION SUCCESSES HAVE YOU SEEN IN RECENT YEARS? 

One of the brightest technologies adopted by the fire service has been embracing digitally encrypted LMR communication systems integrated with FirstNet and other technologies to bridge the interoperability gap. Interoperability became a trigger word after 9-11. However, most of us admired it from afar and bought more radios, added talk group capacity, but never truly designed systems that integrate. We have that capability today, and it is finally affordable.

The advent of globalized intelligence sharing on a common platform for improved situational awareness is finally a reality. Data can be gathered from disparate sources, analyzed, and displayed to create a common operating picture for operators in the field and strategic level decision-makers alike. Agencies operating in criminal intelligence or the wildland-urban interface worlds have utilized these platforms and have surprisingly pushed their capability past what had been thought possible. Some of the programs have evolved to provide real-time data (including airborne and video surveillance), in-theater, to operators via phones and tablets. The volume and detail of available information have evolved incredible and shows no signs of slowing down.  

Lastly, impacts from the global application of automated intelligence (AI) combined with the Internet of Things (IoT) have just begun to scratch the surface of impacting the fire service. AI is currently being used to support and analyze and solve the most complex global challenges like pandemic proliferation and impacts of global warming. However, AI also is used daily by the fire service with deployment applications, speech recognition, and personal assistants. AI will continue to evolve past our typical applications and become an integrated tool in our lives.  

IoT will continue to connect our devices to the internet. Most agencies already utilize this technology with onboard apparatus systems, heart monitors, medical devices, and other daily tools connected to the internet via WiFi Technology. IoT will continue to evolve into every piece of equipment used by the fire service, including biometric monitoring for firefighters, SCBAs, tactical decision-making tools, highrise and building interfaces, residential monitors and cameras, life safety systems, and more. IoT's security and stability remain a primary concern amongst technology regulators and the industry – however, the technology's adoption does not reflect any indication of caution by consumers.

WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD FIRE AGENCIES ASK OF ANY TECHNOLOGY BEFORE TRYING IT? 

The rate of innovation in our industry has been phenomenal. Fire Chiefs' challenge is to adopt the right technology that provides a real and reliable organizational value. There are several vital considerations. 

 

1. Agnostic platform. Leaders should require platform-agnostic technological integration. Agnostic software is free from any ties to a specific platform such as Mac OS, Windows, or Android and will work equally across several platforms. The integration allows for software and systems to "plug into" existing technologies, be upward compatible, and work seamlessly regardless of updates. Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems are wonderful examples. A robust CAD system must meet customer's integration needs regardless of size, mobile data program, application, or records management system. CAD systems that are closed or only allow certain vendors to integrate with their product are generally poor choices for the organization that want to prepare for the future.

2. Processing needs. Consider the processing needs of individual devices, servers, and cloud-based computing and information storage. Precisely, processing capability is measured by the individual unit or central processing unit (CPU). The CPU is the essential part of any computer and is commonly composed of the main memory (e.g., hard drive, RAM/ROM), control unit, and arithmetic-logic unit. CPU capacity seems to improve every week; however, there seems always to be a desire to improve performance (e.g., consider the processing power needed for GIS-based programs). Information is power, and the fire service is often time-compressed. Equipment should be specified to manage multiple applications without delay for today and five-years into the future.   

3. Bandwidth. There remains an insatiable appetite for bandwidth. If you are in my generation, you likely remember dial-up services, lots of busy signals, and AOL. The current workforce in the fire service spans nearly three generations, and all three share an expectation of speed for computing applications. Even with the deployment of 5G and other high-capacity WiFi solutions, the technology continues to improve with no sign of meeting saturation. Chiefs should specify technology that is leveraged for big data at the fastest speeds imaginable.  

4. Cybersecurity. Likely most relevant considering the current societal challenges, cyber-security should be a pivotal factor to consider before employing technology. Unfortunately, we are in an era of the most sophisticated type and prevalent global cyber-terrorism, where the risk of breaching public trust and personal information can cause irreparable damage to the fire service organization. Leaders must be made aware of the substantial risks and take action to improve upon continuously.

5. Business value. Leaders must ensure a business value with the technology and commit to supporting and sustaining it. Purchasing technology is the easy part. Building a knowledgeable team to integrate and support the technology is a prerequisite to innovation.

Leadership has fiduciary responsibility for ensuring any technological investment and its ongoing operation provide the best possible business value. The metrics used to measure innovation in the fire service include deployment statistics compared to benchmarks, improved community risk reduction measures, employee health metrics, and many others. Leaders need to pay close attention to the measured results, compare to expectations, make changes, and start the process again.

For more information, visit IDEX Fire & Safety.

Read next: Q&A: Why and how fire leaders should embrace change

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