An extremely rapid yet accurate travel-time calculation system supplied by MapMechanics has proved a key element in the development of a significant new risk assessment tool that will eventually plot fire service response times to any postcode in the UK. It includes an interactive map display that allows users to select a time band and immediately see which areas can be reached by a fire service within that time.
The project has been mounted by RISCAuthority (Risk Insight, Strategy and Control Authority), an organisation that advises the insurance industry on fire and security risk, in conjunction with the Fire Protection Association (FPA). The aim is to provide a more accurate platform than ever before for analysing fire and rescue response times and resourcing.
Dr Jim Glockling, the RISCAuthority chairman, explains: “It was already possible for insurers to estimate the response capabilities of fire services on the basis of known variables – number and location of fire stations, opening hours, available resources and similar information. But in the past they were only able to use basic data such as crow-fly routes and approximate destinations. It has never been possible before to extend this knowledge to the level of real-world response times to individual postcodes.”
The problem, he says, is that there are more than 400 fire stations in the UK, and more than 1.7 million postcodes. “We realised that to model travel times from the nearest available fire station to every postcode would involve hundreds of millions of calculations.”
He adds: “The key risk was that if these calculations were not conducted efficiently, the data would have expired before it was even produced.”
The organisation has been able to come up with a workable solution by adopting a package of products from MapMechanics. They include GeoConcept, the powerful mapping and geographical information system; NAVTEQ Premium digital mapping for the UK; NAVTEQ Speed Limits Pro data; NAVTEQ Truck Restrictions data; and ForGIS Unit Postcode Points UK.
MapMechanics is a leading UK-based specialist in digital mapping and GIS and logistics software and services, and also runs www.allmapdata.com, a web site that supplies and configures a wide range of UK and worldwide mapping, business and demographic data.
GeoConcept has the ability to work out journey times between multiple sets of locations extremely quickly, using actual roads as the basis for its calculations, and was therefore well suited to this very demanding application.
In order to test out the capabilities of the system, RISCAuthority mounted a pilot study involving Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. The county has 30 fire stations, 13,500 postcodes and three different manning periods (weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays). In this area alone, the number of routing calculations was more than 36 million.
RISCAuthority postulated a maximum travel time for fire appliances of 30 minutes, which is considered a reasonable time window in insurance terms, and applied essentially the same form of route planning that would be used by a satellite navigation system. Use of NAVTEQ Truck Restrictions data ensured that it was possible to prevent the system from using routes that would be unsuitable for fire appliances.
By cross-referencing these timings with information on day of the week, available resources, scale of the fire outbreak and need for a high volume pumping appliance or other special equipment, it is now possible to produce custom maps showing the integrated risk management plan (IRMP) applied by the relevant authority for any postcode.
Many factors are taken into account – for instance, whether the nearest fire station has all the required resources, or has sufficient staff to deal with the fire in question. Where necessary, the next nearest fire station is assumed instead.
The system interface has been made as accessible as possible. For instance, users are able to adjust the day of the week and time of day by means of simple on-screen “sliders”, which change the on-screen map display in real time. Differential shading indicates the areas containing postcodes within reach and out of reach of a fire station within any selected time band. Users can therefore fine-tune the result according to whatever scenario is under scrutiny.
In the future, it is hoped to take account of additional factors such as congestion and traffic density. The mix of GeoConcept and map data has provision for this level of refinement.
The trial project was completed during 2012, and the findings have proved sufficiently robust to convince RISCAuthority that the system is scalable, and can take account of future changes in fire and rescue policy and resourcing.
In the next phase, due for roll-out by spring 2013, the scheme will be extended to eight more fire authorities, and the hope is that it can go nationwide within the coming year.
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