Situational Awareness For Emergency Response (or SAFER) is a unique program that gives Frisco firefighters, EMTs and police officers immediate access to building information, including 'real time' video in schools and city facilities, while responding to emergencies.
Originally designed for schools, SAFER provided Frisco's first responders school floor plans, campus photos – taken inside and out -- and aerial maps, plus lists of onsite hazardous chemicals, contact information for school administrators and 'live' video of hallways and common areas. This innovative tool is available to firefighters and police officers with a touch of a screen or click of a 'mouse' from inside their squad cars, fire trucks and ambulances. It allows first responders to begin planning how to handle the emergency even before they arrive at the school. Saving time can mean saving lives and property.
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SAFER was conceived in 2008 when Frisco Independent School District (FISD) administration approached then Fire Chief Mack Borchardt with the idea of providing the City’s first responders with CDs containing school floor plans to ensure the safety of students in the event of a school emergency. Chief Borchardt wanted to support the idea but was concerned about creating a situation where first responders had different protocols and procedures for responding to a school incident than all other incidents in the City. His experience also told him that providing CDs to every apparatus in the Fire Department fleet and every vehicle in the Police Department fleet, then keeping them up to date would be a laborious and administratively intensive effort. Having worked closely with the City’s Information Technology (IT) Department for several years, Chief Borchardt was certain that IT staff could develop a system leveraging Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technologies already in place. It was his steadfast support, coupled with the collaborative work environment already established among IT, Fire and Police departments and the FISD that prompted city staff to develop an alternative. Since there was a pending request for the FISD Board to execute a $350,000 contract for the procurement of the floor plan information, the Chief requested the FISD Board delay their approval allowing the City’s IT Department to get involved. In January 2008, the team began efforts to comprehend the scope of the pre-plan project and gather project requirements which ultimately led to an Interlocal Agreement (ILA) between the FISD and the City. The intent of the ILA was to develop, implement and maintain a pre-plan program, procuring software and hardware as needed. This pre-plan program was ultimately named SAFER, Situational Awareness for Emergency Response.
At the time, information to assist Public Safety with responding to a school emergency was mainly paper based and difficult to quickly access when needed. Only select emergency vehicles in each fire station had enough room to maintain rolling files of information. Additionally, there were few common systems or processes in place to communicate changes to the information between the agencies involved. An essential requirement when addressing this problem was to make sure that the way fire, police, and emergency medical personnel responded to a school event was as similar as possible to the way they trained for response to all emergencies so there would be no requirement for unique or one-off training to ensure preparedness.
Collaboration was key to the successful implementation of SAFER. From inception, there were four key agency stakeholders involved: Frisco’s Fire, Police, and Information Technology departments and the FISD Security department. Initial dialog between FISD and City staff that led to the project were founded on the principles of a partnership. FISD Administration was motivated and committed to working closely with City Fire and Police departments to ensure everything was being done to provide for the safety of students. This included the ability to electronically pre-plan incident response in the event of a catastrophic event.
During the Spring of 2008, the agencies were given the approval to move forward with the project which prompted a user group, representing each agency, to be formed initiating a four (4) month process to gather system requirements. This process resulted in the documentation of required features and functionality, allowing the group to determine the best approach for the effort. The time spent on this phase led to project efficiencies and the realization of numerous process improvement opportunities related to the effort.
Subsequently, the City released a request for proposal (RFP), accepting proposals for a ‘GIS Software for Emergency Response’. Included in the requirements for the solution sought was an application for each Dispatch and Command Center, mobile users, and a web-based application for external users. Subsequently, the RFP was awarded to a leading provider of public safety GIS systems, to include the purchase and implementation services for a suite of products for 9-1-1 operators, mobile users, and an Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) solution. Along with the procurement and implementation of the products, staff developed and implemented a web-based solution (SAFER Maps) for access by Emergency Management and leadership in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
The initial phase of the project provided emergency responders, command staff and dispatch with a common operating picture built on a GIS foundation allowing them to easily drill down into critical incident information at schools. SAFER users would be able to view and interact with the City’s Geospatial platform including dozens of layers of information, as well as the newly established AVL. In addition, users were able to access online pre-plan documents for a specific school, including up to date contact information for school administrators and detailed, geo-referenced floor plans for the schools. Floor plans include visual data such as room numbers/names, location of nurses’ offices, location of administration, location of special needs students, location of hazardous chemicals, and roof access. In addition, all facility video cameras, at the time, over 1500, were represented on floor plans with a hyperlink that enabled a live video stream from the camera.
Though the City’s GIS program provided a solid foundation for the SAFER platform, there was a monumental list of tasks queued up for the IT team to perform including hardware upgrades and installation, in-house software development, in-house integration development, and the creation of GIS data, training material and documentation.
During the ensuing decade, the SAFER platform went through a series of transformations, evolving into an even more beneficial application incorporating 20 additional integrations and dozens of GIS data layers. The original vision, to have “one way to respond to all calls” had become a reality. The partnerships with the original participating entities stayed strong, working together to gain greater value from the platform.
One such transformation and significant milestone occurred when the SAFER team pivoted the direction of SAFER. It was during this period that IT staff developed a custom software solution to completely replace GeoComm products that had served as the software foundation of the program. This product suite consisted of two web applications and an AVL app, all developed with in-house resources. This pivot was at the request of the Fire and Police departments as the functional requirements of GeoComm products were being met, they found end users were becoming increasingly challenged with the product’s lack of responsiveness. Since quick access to information during an emergency is key to any tool used by first responders and ‘every second counts’, this change was crucial to the continued success of the program. This enhancement and a recent modernization of the entire platform and user experience promoted SAFER to becoming “the most critical application used in the Fire Service as their primary resource when responding to calls for service”. The innovative and collaborative relationship that exists between Fire, Police, Traffic Engineering, and IT has yielded a product unparalleled in the commercial market, continuing the legacy as a unique environment that to date is unprecedented in the local government sector.
The SAFER Team is committed to ensuring the reliability, availability, serviceability, security and sustainability of the SAFER platform and all related systems, processes and integrations required for SAFER users to effectively accomplish their missions.