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Managing major incidents with planning & response technology

When it comes to large-scale events and incidents, responders must be able to effectively organize and utilize their resources. But major incidents cannot be managed like typical calls for service – they’re too large and too complex. What agencies need are the ability to coordinate simultaneous actions across diverse teams. In this podcast, Simon Welfare-Jervis, principal consultant for Hexagon’s Safety and Infrastructure division, takes you through the ways in which HxGN OnCall Planning & Response can support your agency before, during, and after these critical events.

ZN: How does your public safety agency handle major incidents? What do you do when there aren’t enough resources to effectively respond to the scope of an event? My name is Zach Nichols, and I’m here with Simon Welfare-Jervis of Hexagon Safety and Infrastructure division to discuss the ways in which the effects of these large-scale incidents can be mitigated. Simon, almost all of our audience is familiar with the role that CAD plays in public safety, right? The systems themselves, pretty much ubiquitous across public safety agencies. Can you describe to me and to our audience, briefly, the instances where CAD maybe falls just a little bit short of its intended goal?

SWJ: Yeah, sure. I think it’s probably a little unkind to say that CAD falls short. CAD is designed to do a very specific set of jobs, typically around short-term events that involve a fairly limited number of resources and that can be managed and resolved in a relatively short period of time. So, the majority of our customers would use the CAD platform in that way.

Where it’s not really designed to operate is when we have these more major, serious events that go above and beyond what a typical CAD event looks like. So things that are unplanned, major disasters, or things that are planned major events—sporting events, protests, industrial action, whatever they might be. And those events come with a level of complexity that CAD is really not designed to handle. Things like, perhaps, multi-agency, for example, and particularly across a more extended period of time, and really with a different management structure, a management structure all of their own that are specific to managing that event. And then it could be an event that goes on for weeks or months. And that’s really stepping, then, outside of the traditional role of what a CAD system is designed to achieve.

ZN:  So perhaps not necessarily fair to say “falls short of its goal,” but perhaps the scope itself maybe isn’t designed to handle these larger scale events.

SWJ: Yeah, I think that’s a fair description. So, you kind of have this niche market, I guess. At the end of that CAD is, where do we go from here? We’re dealing with 95, 98, possibly even 99% of typical day-to-day events in the CAD world and doing it very successfully. But then, so what? What do you add on top of that when we get to one of those bigger events?

ZN: And that’s a great question. What do we add on on top of that?

SWJ: What we add on top of that, as part of the OnCall suite, is a product called Planning & Response. And Planning & Response is an integrated product with our dispatch system, and that allows you to migrate from traditional day-to-day business into this new world for that specific event. So, escalating it up, if you like. It may start in dispatch, it may start in the dispatch world, the first call that might come in might be the terrorist event that’s just taken place. So that comes into your 911 center and is initiated in the dispatch world. But then we’re able to pass that from the dispatch world into Planning & Response. And Planning & Response is specifically designed to deliver all of the facets of managing all of those longer-term, bigger, more serious events.

ZN: And as I understand it, agencies are able to integrate Planning & Response with their CAD systems as they currently exist. Can you explain a little bit more about what that looks like and how those two interact with one another?

SWJ: Yes. So, I guess there are some realities around these critical incidents or major events, whatever you wish to call them. The realities are that day-to-day business carries on as usual, and the day-to-day contact point for citizens and people impacted by these large events remains your emergency response dispatch center, whatever country you’re in, whether that’s your 911 center or your 999 center or Triple Zero, I guess it is, in some other countries. That is still going to be the touchpoint for most of the information coming in. You need to be able to channel that information through your dispatch system and into the management of that critical incident itself. That’s one of the integration touchpoints between Dispatch and Planning & Response is to be able to keep the information updates, whether it be from citizens or whether it be from resources that you have out in the world dealing with that incident, keep the information flowing in through the dispatch world and automatically pushed through to the Planning & Response management team.

ZN: Right. And you mentioned that that product, as we’re calling it, is HxGN OnCall Planning & Response. Historically, I know that in terms of the planning and response area, we used to use IPR. Can you talk just very briefly about how the OnCall suite is going to change IPR and CAD integrations?

SWJ: Yes, sure. So you’re absolutely right, Zach. IPR was kind of the starting point for this product. That planning and response, the mentality approach to it, it was a product that evolved, actually, in Europe. Europe has traditionally used more structured approaches to these critical incidents, I think, and have been doing so for a bit longer. And so it evolved as IPR in Europe. And then what we’re embarking on now is bringing that under the umbrella of the OnCall suite, and that will bring with it tighter integration into our new OnCall Dispatch world. Not only are we going to have information flow through Dispatch from citizen input and from Dispatch user input, we’re going to be able to task back out into that dispatch world as well, because the reality of managing one of those incidents is that not all of the resources for managing it are going to sit exclusively under the Planning & Response commander. We’re going to be touchpoints back across to the day-to-day world as well.

ZN: That raises the question, especially as we’re starting to see this new form of integration, is there one particular sector of the world of public safety that you would say is going to be benefiting from this the most?

SWJ: Gosh, that’s a difficult one to answer.

ZN: Pretty even across the board, maybe?

SWJ: It is across the board. I’m going to kind of put this under the scope of our Safe Cities that we put a lot of our messaging under. It’s a really valid place for that to sit, because the information flow both in and out of Planning & Response is truly multi-agency when you’re managing one of these critical incidents. And so it could be anybody from social-services’ to utility-companies’ to emergency-services’ teams that are feeding into and feeding from the information flow and the management of that incident. So I think there’s a benefit across any of the organizations that are likely to be involved. And we talk in response levels, typically at kind of first-level response, second-level response, third-level response, and it truly could be anybody sitting within there. Volunteer groups will benefit from better management and better coordination of the response to these major incidents.

ZN: Well, let’s take it to the agency focus, then, real quick. As we’re shifting to Planning & Response through OnCall, is this going to better protect agencies? Or I guess maybe a more non-specific question is: How does it work to protect agencies?

SWJ: Oh, I think your first question is really relevant. The answer is absolutely, yes. And the answer to how, there’s probably two responses to that. One is that this application is specifically designed to not only manage it, but to capture a full chronology of how it was managed. So, all the information flow that was available and coming into the management team that’s dealing with that event, but also the tasks and actions that were taken in response to that. And the audit trail that it leaves behind in this application protects you against anything as extreme as public inquiry, which quite commonly follow this kind of event, or the response to this kind of event. There is typically some kind of after-action follow-up that happens. As I say, it could be public inquiry, it could just be some kind of local debrief of the operation. But to be able to capture the full chronology and everything that went on during it is really important in protecting yourself and your organization. And the second part to that, I think, in terms of who benefits from it from a protection perspective is the citizens of the city or town or municipality that you’re in. The better and more efficiently and effectively that that event is managed, perhaps the biggest winner is the citizens that are impacted by it.

ZN: And I think that’s probably the thing we think about the least, right? There’s so much focus in terms of how dispatchers are being able to respond, how call takers are able to respond, how the agencies themselves are able to function, but ultimately, that’s where most of this is going down the line, right?

SWJ: It is, yes. I mean, the role of the organizations managing one of those events is to recover to normality as fast as possible. And of course, the rationale or reason for that is to get life back to normal for the citizens that have been impacted. They’re not out there doing it for fun; they’re out there to restore normality to the taxpayers and the citizens that are ultimately paying them to do that for them.

ZN: Yes. And I think if you talk to a few of them, fun wouldn’t exactly be the word they’re picking, right?

SWJ: No. It’s not typically a fun environment. Yes, some of the natural disasters, the really unexpected ones come of out nowhere. But, obviously, we’re talking some particularly nasty and viscous, everything up to and including terrorist attacks that would get managed in this way.

ZN: I mean, like I said, I think those two points are particularly pertinent. Is there anything outside of those larger-scale views, any kind of hidden benefits, that agencies are going to be looking at for Planning & Response?

SWJ: Yes. I mean, without kind of going back over that audit one and overemphasizing that, I think the ability to be able to capture, not just from a review of what happened, but from a true lessons learned and improvement and planning for the next time. What we talk about when we talk about these types of events is a full lifecycle of the events, and it’s everything from planning to response to recovery to mitigation, and then back into the loop again. So the hidden benefit, if you want to put it that way, from having this audit trail of everything that happened, what the outcomes were, etc., is to be able to move from that recovery phase into a mitigation and preparation phase that better equips the city or the agencies involved for the next time that that event is likely to happen.

And that includes, even, running a training exercise, for example. A tabletop exercise is within the application. So we can use the data from real operations to benefit and learn and start the cycle again of, okay, how are we going to plan for, how would we do this differently if this happens again? And it’s kind of a funny way to look at things with these events. There are unplanned and planned events. But there should never be an unplanned event that you haven’t planned for, I feel like. And so that full cycle back around to say, we know that there’s going to be another flood, or there’s going to be another hurricane. We just don’t know when that’s going to happen. I used to work with a colleague, and his first question in these environments would be, “Do you have a plan for an alien invasion?” And everybody would laugh. And he’d say, “Well, why not? You don’t know that that’s not going to happen. It might.” And maybe that’s a bit extreme, but you get the point. You ought to be able to reasonably foresee things and have a plan in place. And the application is really designed to feed that process and help you store those plans, evolve those plans, refine those plans, and keep moving through.

ZN: That might be a next tagline, Simon. OnCall Planning & Response can help you in case of an alien invasion. I think we stumbled onto it here.

SWJ: I think we may have nailed it there with that one.

ZN: All right. Last question. So, we know that—and you kind of touched on it a little bit—that a lot of different agencies have their own preferred methods and ways of mapping out incidents. And I think the question that, if you are an agency listening right now, you really want to know, is Planning & Response going to be able to accommodate those preferences, or are they going to have to scrap them and move to a new way?

SWJ: That’s a really good question. They absolutely can keep their own plans and structures in place. Most agencies, either through some kind of regulation or through choice, have adopted some kind of structured response plan/system, I guess is a better way of putting it. So in Canada, for example, a majority of agencies have adopted what’s called ICS, Incident Command System. It’s a structured system for the organizational chart, the kind of team that gets put together. And there are standardized forms, for example, that are required to be printed and presented at various points through the lifecycle of the response piece of the operation. And so, in Canada, as I say by way of example, we’ve incorporated the ICS structure directly into Planning & Response so that agencies can, out of the box, use what we know is the standard.

Similar thing in Germany. There’s a federal standard in Germany, which is in the product in Germany. And yeah, we can accommodate. We acknowledge that even if you take an out-of-the-box recognized system like that, everybody wants their own flavor of it, as well, that works for their agency, whether that’s just because they think there’s a slightly better way of doing it or because they’re a different size. A smaller agency might take a different approach than a larger one. But yeah, that absolutely can be accommodated as standard and stored within the application, ready for the next response. So when you’re putting together those plans under that structure, they can all be housed directly in Planning & Response and then just brought to life and brought into action when the time arises.

ZN: I want to give a big thank you to our guest here today, Simon. For more information about our topic, please visit www.hexagonsafetyinfrastructure.com. If you want to listen to additional episodes or learn more, please visit hxgnspotlight.com. Thank you everybody for tuning in.