INTEGRATING FIRE OPERATIONS WITH IT AND GIS: IMAGING COMPONENT TO SUPPORT DIGITAL PRE-FIRE SURVEYS IN FIRE APPARATUS

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1 Lee Nichols Document Management / Imaging Specialist City of Winston-Salem Winston-Salem, NC INTEGRATING FIRE OPERATIONS WITH IT AND GIS: IMAGING COMPONENT TO SUPPORT DIGITAL PRE-FIRE SURVEYS IN FIRE APPARATUS Abstract: The imaging component of Winston-Salem s I.N.F.O. project links graphical information to specific addresses. It provides detailed information to firefighters while en route and on the scene. The Fire Department maintains various types of documentation. This varies from a standard pre-fire survey drawing to detailed hazardous material incident management information. Before the City began the I.N.F.O. project, emergency vehicles stored paper pre-fire survey drawings in a binder for only their own home territory. Space limitations prevented storing all pre-fire surveys. An application survey and needs analysis were conducted and several new operating procedures were defined by the Fire Department. These include standardize pre-fire survey drawings using Computer Aided Design, digitize the drawings with imaging technology, highlight with color using electronic annotation, distribute on CD-ROM, and store pre-fire surveys on a ruggedized mobile data computer in the fire vehicle. Document retrieval is now automatic based upon the E911 dispatch address. All fire emergency vehicles have the capability to retrieve any pre-fire survey, not just the pre-fire surveys in one home territory. INTRODUCTION The I.N.F.O. imaging system allows firefighters to view electronic documentation on a mobile data computer (MDC) in the fire apparatus. This information was previously accessed using paper and notebook binders. Now the Winston-Salem Fire Department uses a touch screen computer interface to access this information instantly. This system utilizes several software components to create and maintain the information. The core application was written in Visual Basic and comprises several ActiveX components. An off-the-shelf computer aided design package was used to redraw 1,384 pre-fire surveys electronically. These files were then Absolute Page Number 131

2 printed to a universal image format. For retrieval, the TIF (Tagged Image File Format) filenames were imported into a database of Computer Aided Dispatch information. Each image was annotated with color to highlight trucks, hazards, water supplies, and service disconnects. This color annotation was critical to allow the firefighters to quickly and easily distinguish the information presented in the pre-fire survey drawings. Hazardous material (HazMat) information was also imported into the imaging database. This allowed a list of chemicals and their quantities to be displayed along with the pre-fire information. In addition to the primary information on the pre-fire surveys and in the HazMat database, the Fire Department can view physically challenged and multiple address drawings. An example of a multiple address document would be an apartment complex or a trailer park map submitted to the Fire Department. Through the use of state-ofthe-art technology, the firefighters have been able to eliminate binders of paper documentation in fire trucks and improve their ability to access information during an emergency. DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT ENVIRONMENT The Fire Department maintains various types of documents to assist in the performance of their job. For any given location within the City, the following documentation may exist: 1) pre-fire survey drawing of a building and/or a pre-fire survey data sheet 2) hazardous material information 3) physically challenged evacuation plan 4) multiple address drawing Copies of the paper documents were stored in the cab of each fire engine and organized alphabetically by company name in three-ring binders. The previous Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) would display a Y in the pre-fire (PF) field to indicate the existence of a pre-fire survey. Retrieval was done immediately after arriving at a location. To speed the process, the binders had colored index tabs and the documents were highlighted in color. Personnel in each fire station are responsible for creating and maintaining their station s pre-fire surveys. Each firefighter studies their station s surveys to gain a better understanding of buildings in their home territory. This created a problem because the fire stations that are located in heavily populated urban areas must always have two engines waiting in the garage of the station. If one engine leaves the station on a call, another engine company from a less populated rural area will fill the vacant slot. This replacement engine company only had copies of pre-fire surveys for their home territory, but could potentially need to access information for the current home territory. Each fire engine required access to all pre-fire surveys, but, pre-fire surveys were created locally at each station so they varied dramatically. If a firefighter looked at a survey from another home territory which Absolute Page Number 132

3 was drawn with different symbols and highlighted with different colors, he or she may not have been able to quickly understand the information presented. The solution was to standardize the drawing tools used to create the drawings and then redraw them. This was necessary because all stations now have access to all prefire surveys. IMPLEMENTATION Pre-fire survey drawings were standardized using Computer Aided Design software from The CAD Zone, which was installed at all 17 fire stations. The pre-fire survey form was redesigned and data entry macros were created. The General Order dictating pre-fire survey creation and maintenance policy was changed to reflect the new processes. Formal training classes were conducted and the Fire Department has redrawn 1,384 pre-fire surveys. The CAD Zone software uses a proprietary file format (DW2) that can only be opened and viewed with its FIRE Zone drawing package. This software worked very well to redraw the pre-fire surveys, but would not have provided the firefighters with a quick and easy way of viewing the documents in an emergency situation. So, once the pre-fire surveys were redrawn, the Fire Department used two software packages to create standard black and white TIF files for viewing in the fire apparatus. Visionary Solutions ImPrint printer driver for Windows 95 was used to create the TIF image files by simply printing each drawing. The Integrator from New Team Software was used to automate this process. Several macros were created using the Integrator s scripting language. Once completed, the Fire Department was able to automatically print an entire directory of DW2 files to TIF files. The TIF pre-fire survey filenames were then imported into a Microsoft Access database along with information extracted from the City s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) database. Within the CAD database, each pre-fire survey has a five digit location identification. This LOCID was used to name the pre-fire survey drawings and automatically attach any CAD data without duplicate data entry. For example, Calvary Baptist Church s LOCID is and it has a two page pre-fire survey, so these files were named DW2 and DW2 when they were redrawn. This allowed the Fire Department to pull information from the CAD database and minimize the amount of labor required to create and maintain an imaging index. Automated processes were created using Microsoft Visual Basic that allowed the Fire Department to easily import flat-file data from the CAD database and verify the imaging database. The software platform chosen was Microsoft Windows 95 operating system and the Microsoft Component Object Model for development of the imaging component of the I.N.F.O. application. A customized solution was nessessary Absolute Page Number 133

4 because standard off-the-shelf imaging applications are not neccessarily usable through a touch screen interface. Also, the maximum amount of memory and highest processor speed available for a ruggedized mobile data computer are limited when compared to standard laptops. Since the MDC also would be running WinMDT (Windows based Mobile Data Terminal) and GIS routing software, a minimum memory foot print and processor requirement dictated that the City develop a custom solution with only the required functionality. A custom ActiveX imaging control was created to allow the firefighters to access the prefire database and images quickly and easily through a touch screen interface. The ActiveX imaging control consists of several ActiveX controls and application extensions. The LeadTools Pro Express ActiveX control (OCX) is used to view and annotate the pre-fire survey images. The capability to annotate the black and white images in color was critical because this provided the firefighters with the ability to quickly distinguish key features on the drawing. For example, trucks are colored yellow, hazards are red, water supplies are blue, and service disconnects are orange. By using black and white images and highlighting with color, the Fire Department was able to reduce the amount of storage space for the image data from 7GB for color images to 400MB. This was of great importance because the images are being distributed on CD-Recordable media, which has a capacity of 650MB, and the MDC only has a 1.4GB hard disk drive. Changing CD-Rom disks during an emergency situation was not an option. Another component is the Microsoft DAO (Data Access Objects) 3.5 Object Library application extension, which is used to search and retrieve data from the imaging database. By using these and other components, the City was able to effectively use the principles of Rapid Application Development to save time and money during the development of a custom ActiveX imaging control. The MDC in the fire apparatus has a container application created using Microsoft Visual Basic. This container houses the GIS routing ActiveX control and the imaging ActiveX control. In addition, the MDC is also running WinMDT. WinMDT passes the address information via DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange) to the Visual Basic container application, which in turn initiates the GIS geocoder to create and then display a route. If the location has a pre-fire survey, then an imaging system button is enabled and the firefighter can view the pre-fire survey information by pressing this button. Once the firefighter does this, the GIS routing ActiveX control passes the incident address to the imaging ActiveX control and the pre-fire survey is automatically displayed. If several documents exist for the location, then the firefighter is presented with a list of documents from which to choose. For example, a location may have a pre-fire survey and HazMat data associated with it. This application enables automated retrieval of critical pre-fire information instantly so that the firefighters can make key decisions quicker and easier in-order to save lives. Absolute Page Number 134

5 LESSONS LEARNED We learned that our time was better spent examining the current document management environment and re-engineering it to exploit technology, rather than applying technology to automate an existing system. We also learned not to overlook details on the documents. We knew that the prefire surveys were an important piece in the overall solution, but the shape and color of the symbols on the documents were just as important in the design of the system. Absolute Page Number 135

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