Technology on fire

A new partnership between Bloomington Fire Dept. and IU uses data-driven technology to save lives

WHEN SECONDS COUNT. New display screens project critical information about a 911 fire call—building materials, the quickest traffic route, location, and more.

A 911 call comes in. There’s a fire in Bloomington. Before firefighters race to the scene, they need critical information quickly so they can extinguish the fire and save lives. Every second counts.

A new collaboration between the Bloomington Fire Department, Indiana University, and software company Netage uses real-time data to help local firefighters work quickly and with the best possible information. Called “Project Innovation,” the initiative is essentially an IT solution to help visualize 911 fire calls.

In May 2016, IU IT experts installed a new display screen and software to project critical information about a 911 fire call—building materials, the quickest traffic route, location, and more. Firefighters receive that information in real time, in the station, and on tablets in the fire trucks. Previously, they relied on phone calls and emails from 911 dispatchers—and a paper map of Bloomington hanging in the station’s stairwell.

Bloomington Fire Department fire truck

Data on the go. Firefighters will have access to the project's real-time data in the station—and on tablets in the fire trucks. 

“This project is just the first step for us in using data-driven technology to save lives,” said Jayme Washel, deputy fire chief for the Bloomington Fire Department and a third-generation firefighter. “Seconds count in emergency settings, and having a screen display different layers of information, like real street mapping and traffic patterns with real-live speed feeding into it, is invaluable. Going forward, the Bloomington Fire Department wants our citizens to know we’re doing all we can to enhance our response times.”

The initiative is essentially an IT solution to help visualize 911 fire calls.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton praised the project’s use of data to safeguard the public.

“This project is a very exciting collaboration between Indiana University and the City of Bloomington, particularly our fire department. I’m a big believer in transparency, sharing data, and using data to get better at what we do,” said Hamilton. “We are pleased to be working so closely with IU to get better at fighting fires and protecting public safety.”

IU’s Scientific Applications and Performance Tuning and Research Technologies groups, both part of University Information Technology Services, have been working with IU Informatics Professor David Wild to bring this tech solution to the city.

Wild’s research involves linking and data mining multiple datasets to solve real-world problems. Although his main focus is in healthcare and biomedical data, he also researches applications in disasters and emergency response. Wild’s research area comes naturally—in his spare time, he’s a certified volunteer firefighter and an emergency medical technician.

“This project will provide key, timely information to firefighters responding to incidents in Bloomington,” said Wild. “And it’s just the starting point. We are keen to see this collaboration grow, so Bloomington emergency responders can get access to state-of-the-art technologies to help them with their incredibly important job.”

As director of systems for IU Research Technologies, Matt Link manages the technical side of the project. Like Wild, he has intimate knowledge of fire and emergency medical operations, having served as a volunteer firefighter/EMT with Benton Township (Ind.) Volunteer Fire Department for 10 years.

With the help of the third-party software solution RESC.Info, developed by the Dutch company Netage, Link and his team work to visualize the incident information for the Bloomington Fire Department. The software is hosted within UITS’ Intelligent Infrastructure and is accessible for research to Wild and evaluation to IU Emergency Management and Bloomington Fire Department.

Down the line, Project Innovation team members hope to work with IU Bloomington Emergency Management to explore how access to RESC.Info can improve the university’s situational awareness. Specifically, collaborators hope to work with the University Architects Office to investigate how IU can provide building-related information (such as where fire panels are located and if hazardous materials are stored in a building) to the Bloomington Fire Department.

Once the system has been perfected, Link is eager to spread awareness about data-driven technology’s role in emergency management.

“I’m looking forward to sharing this system with other colleges and universities,” said Link. “Emergencies have changed over time, and higher education officials are dealing with different things every single day. Whether it’s an outbreak of mumps or a gas line that breaks on campus, having pertinent information in real time gives first responders the ability to make the best decisions they can.”