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For Mobile Access to Fire Data, is 100% Connectivity Even Possible?

Kelli Turner | Oct 23, 2013

I attended a webinar last week hosted by Hanover Fire and EMS entitled – “How mobile is your fire data management system?”   I thought I was going to learn all about lightning fast access to critical data... like something you would see in a movie:

TEXT NOTIFICATION CONTAINING REAL-TIME CRITICAL DATA: You are about to encounter hazardous materials that change form constantly. The molecules that make up the substance include parachlorobenzotrifluoride and will cause a rash that resembles……………….

Or maybe…………Highway 81 is closed due to an over-turned trailer. Detoured routes are causing heavy traffic. We found a route that nobody knows about but you will have to be teleported to the scene instantly.

Well maybe not THAT high-tech, but I was ready to be beamed up!

While I did learn a great deal about the importance of remote access to pre-plans; safety concerns with hazardous materials being stored at the scene of an incident; and the risks associated with not knowing which hydrants are in working order……the consistent theme among the presenter and attendees was that there is NO such thing as 100% connectivity.  It doesn’t matter if you live in a bustling metropolitan city or a rural hide-away – connectivity is an issue.

 

3G – 4G….RG3? What does it all mean? And why can’t I post a selfie to Facebook when I am in Bronco’s stadium??

3G and 4G refer to the generation of mobile technology networks. 3G is the network expansion which allowed direct internet connections, wideband data access, simultaneous voice, data, music, and telephone, plus network based apps all rolled into one.

4G is a network in the planning stages. 4G includes a network specification for 100 megabit to 1 gigabit data transfer rates while highly mobile worldwide. It also includes high quality service requirements for multimedia support (real time audio, high speed data, HDTV video content, mobile TV, etc). 4G is coming, but is not fully available yet because the specs are still being worked out.  The biggest differences between the two are 1) the rate of data transfer and 2) signal quality.

There are many factors that can affect signal quality and data transfer speed including physical obstructions; weather; signal sharing; network distance and range; and network usage and load (which explains the selfie/Facebook dilemma at the Broncos games).

In Hanover, Virginia – 30% of the coverage area is 4G; 60% of the coverage area is 3G; and 10% is unidentified. Those statistics, along with a fair share of thunderstorms, were strong enough for Hanover to decide that a hybrid system for accessing mobile data in the field was the only safe choice. 

 

Hanover uses a combination of high-tech mobile solutions, automated static files, and paper as their answer to accessing critical data – anytime, anywhere.

When available, Hanover utilizes network coverage to transfer data but they do not rely on it. Hanover utilizes fire data software that relies on Microsoft® Merge Replication Technology. The software is designed to provide mobile users with the same access to information that is available from their fire records management system in the stations. With data replication, they are able to input and access their records in the field and their data is cached until the sync process is complete, ensuring that no information will be lost if the connection is disrupted. This also means that they can access that up-to-date critical data when there is no connectivity.

One of the goals at Hanover Fire and EMS is to push the data power as far down into the organization as possible. That means that access and input of data is available to everyone in the organization who needs it. Sometimes things are just plain easier to see printed out so Hanover leaves it up station management to decide if they want crews to have binders with updated pre-plans and sometimes they do. Although they allow the data to be available in multiple formats, they make sure that the data in the binder, on the truck, and at the scene is current and all from the same source.

For Hanover, access to the critical data is what is important.

“We think about all the technology and what exists on the internet and that is great! Then we think….what if we didn’t have access to it??”
– Captain Lawrence Roakes – Hanover Fire and EMS.

Now that is a powerful question!

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