Let's start by learning more about the vision across Northern Virginia to share information. How did this come about, and where was the project before First Due?
We had a few incidents back in the 1980s. In 1982 , we had both the Air Florida crash and a Metro Train derailment, and it was clear we needed a better way to communicate between agencies for major catastrophes and later on many types of incidents. The goal was to be able to work together across jurisdictions and share our resources to do what's best for the community. At first, this meant a common numbering system, which came up during major events when, for example, five engine ones would arrive. Our communication was okay; what we were not doing was "coordinating." We needed to coordinate the naming and numbering of resources to prevent confusion.
Then came AVL. AVL worked in those jurisdictions that had AVL, but as of today we are still working on CAD to CAD, which allows PSAP to communicate in real time and is making things cleaner and smoother. But even real time has its challenges. We had all been sharing resources for a very long time, but we weren't sharing information on each other's structures seamlessly through our computers.
How did this effect sharing pre-incident plans containing critical data on structures?
We were all doing pre-incident plans the traditional way. I'd make a copy of it, and then I would have to deliver it to all the surrounding jurisdictions that might respond in my area. As soon as I printed that pre-plan, it was outdated because something would change and nobody would go back to update it. Sometimes, we would give it to someone at a fire station, and it wouldn't get put into the three ring binder. Or it would get torn out of a three ring binder on the way to a call and not get put back in the right spot.
Because of events like 9/11, our jurisdictions became closer. On 9/11, units responded to areas they had not been responding to prior. That day highlighted the need to ensure that "all available" data/pre-incident plans should be available to all NOVA apparatus because we could always end up in a new area. Paper made it impossible to share and store all this information. With iPad's and Dropbox, it was getting easier, but not as good as it could get. You had companies responding to calls that they weren't normally responding to. Urban engine companies now needed rural water supply plans and rural engines need pre-incident plans for responding to incidents at high-rise buildings with FDC's and standpipes.
We had these three ring binders, bolted down to the dash or the dog-house of the firetruck with plans that needed replacing on a daily basis. Later, we started passing thumb drives around, but time moves forward so even those weren't accurate.
So how has First Due changed things?
Well, now you're getting 14 Fire Departments and their pre-incident planning POC/experts all putting information in the same place to be used the same -- way information that's always current and always accurate. Through First Due, our regional partners are able to get across what's most important and what's going to be the best for our personnel responding to a call in their response area and we can see the same for them.
Plenty of departments had 14- and 20-page pre-plans. Pictures tell a thousand words. We can scan alert tiles and icons on maps to rapidly understand what's going on with any structure a whole lot faster than reading. We have actionable data on any scenario in each other's response areas.
While en-route to a call, how are your crews working in First Due?
They start looking at buildings, viewing the icons, reading the information and tap into local live cameras. The officer can listen to the radio, and the driver can get you there. But now you have four sets of eyes working on this and four brains trying to assess or analyze a problem and begin to make informed tactical decisions before arriving on scene, which makes everybody a whole lot safer. And that's all great to hear.
How has this changed the attitude towards the value of Pre-Planning across Northern Virginia?
There was a lot of excitement about being able to go out and start doing pre-plans. Even those company officers who have been here for 20, 25 years, who after a while, they know their buildings fairly well, get the value of sharing that with others. That's the big thing that I was hoping for. There's been a change in the whole attitude across pre-plans, and the value is then recognized because we've come to expect quality information in First Due at the time of response.