New brunswick emergency communications network improves interagency response, enhances public safety

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Courtesy of IHS

For nearly two decades, Ernie MacGillivray, Director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) had a vision of an information management system that could enhance public safety in this Canadian maritime province and surrounding jurisdictions. The goal was to enable agencies to share information across mandates, jurisdictional boundaries and levels of government.

MacGillivray's vision was realized in 2008 when EMO began to partner with ESS to create the Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MA-SAS), comprising of protocols and a Web-based application that enables partners to share alerts and incident information in the form of text and graphics. EMO's partners include local, provincial, state and federal emergency management agencies.

The MA-SAS application is powered by Essential Emergency™, the Essential Suite® crisis management solution from ESS. MA-SAS enables dispatchers to create alert notifications, using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), which contain a detailed summary of the emergency and map graphics that display the location in software such as Google Earth or Bing Maps (formerly Microsoft Virtual Earth). MA-SAS technology enables emergency personnel to transmit the CAP alert so other responder agencies can quickly consume the information for immediate review and response.

'Our new MA-SAS takes content from an authorized issuer, sets a security aspect, and serves it up in real time on a map and within a log. Commanders and responders can quickly and easily see patterns, trends or cautions with a graphical view that you don't get from just reading thousands of words,' said Mr. MacGillivray. 'Comprehension is faster with an image. MA-SAS tells the story of what's going on, what it means and what we're doing, on a map. During a crisis, that is very powerful.'

'That got incident commanders excited, including officials from emergency agencies in many Canadian Provinces and several New England states that have expressed interest in the MA-SAS system that plugs into Essential Emergency,' Mr. MacGillivray added.

MA-SAS also leverages Essential Suite's multilingual capability to transmit messages in both English and French, without costly specialized translation development. This is the first collaborative solution on the market that distributes and translates alert notifications across disparate crisis management systems.

'We've succeeded. In fact, we've gone beyond our wildest expectations with MA-SAS within the Essential Emergency solution,' exclaimed Mr. MacGillivray. 'We were contracted by our federal partners to build a prototype incident management system with two parameters – secured and restricted access and public access to share information on a Web-based site.'

Directors from National Emergency Management Associations (NEMA) or the Canadian Council of Emergency Management Organizations (CCEMO) can subscribe to MA-SAS. The system is easy to use; personnel can learn how to use it within five minutes.

Subscribers to MA-SAS can receive information via an RSS feed or GeoRSS feed on a PC or mobile device 'I wanted to be able to tell the story with a picture and that's what we've been able to achieve,' said Mr. MacGillivray. 'Senior emergency directors don't have time to read thousands of emails that arrive during a crisis. They need a way of filtering the most essential information out to the teams.'

The vision is to eventually have agencies across Canada use one standard, one protocol and one tool. The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) developed the criteria for CAP compliance. Driving organizations to meet the CAP standards is the key. This is a standards-based approach.

In October, 2009, New Brunswick is conducting a major hurricane exercise in Maine with agencies from the New England states and Eastern Canadian Provinces. This will be the first use of the system in an international exercise. A total of 11 provincial and state jurisdictions and two federal governments will utilize MA-SAS. Canada Command will be signed into the system, getting information in real time during the exercise. New Brunswick plans to showcase MA-SAS at annual conferences too, presenting to fellow colleagues across Canada. They recognize that for smaller municipalities, it may be their only opportunity to interface with a major crisis management system, allowing a seamless collaboration across agencies.

'The idea is if we are within our own systems, we can click on a link and share information via an RSS feed and view critical data on a map. You don't have to change your hardware or software. You can work with whatever system you have by subscribing to MA-SAS. It contains the communal aggregator function. That's a lot easier and faster, plus the information is more likely to be used. The speed of comprehension for any incident will be reduced from hours down to minutes or seconds - thanks to the new system.'

For instance, an agency preparing for an event like an H1N1 virus outbreak would benefit from MA-SAS' ability to display multiple alerts, as well as display dots and icons on a map where outbreaks are reported, and where agencies are responding at incident sites. The ability to filter these dots and icons on maps provides incredible advantages for an incident commander.

'When the really bad days come, we need to be able to depend on our neighbors and friends for help,' said Mr. MacGillivray. 'Better information sharing and communications improves understanding. The chance of rescue increases the faster you communicate. The main difference between a rescue and recovery is speed. It's about interoperability - bringing different agencies together with a common operating picture and understanding. It's about real-time information sharing - visualizing what's going on across jurisdictional boundaries and levels of multiple governments. For big events, we must have a common operating picture and understanding in order to cooperate and work well together.'

The Challenge

  • Significantly reduce time required to notify agencies about incident for which outside assistance may be needed.
  • Enable efficient interoperability among agencies that don’t operate across a common IT platform.
  • Mitigate errors from manual data entry and translation of emergency alerts.

The Solution

Essential Suite® including

  • Essential Emergency™

The Results

  • Reduces emergency alert notification from hours to seconds – instant delivery
  • Improves chances of rescue verses recovery.
  • Improves speed of comprehension from hours to minutes or seconds for instant understanding thanks to graphical aspect.

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