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Mapping tool creates one-stop shop for resilience forum

By GeoConnexion - 13th June 2013 - 12:22

Almost every aspect of emergency planning, whether dealing with a fire or a flood, requires mapping. Many within the responder community already use digital geographic data in their operations; however, data tends to be stored in silos.

This causes difficulty, particularly when only one person is able to access critical data. In order to tackle this challenge, multi-stakeholder groups should be looking at combining the geographical data already in use for their operations to allow for seamless collaborative working.

In March 2011 following Exercise Watermark, Britain's biggest ever civil emergency exercise designed to test the country's response to large-scale flooding, Lincolnshire Resilience Forum (LRF) realised the potential that enhancements to data-sharing could make on improving their response. These changes included: the creation of a single point of access for all data collection and communication; to improve the data-sharing protocols of all LRF members and multi-agency responders; to establish service level agreements (SLAs) for good working practice; and to have more effective utilisation of existing IT infrastructure and software; to reduce reliance on paper-based mapping for briefing purposes.

Initially, Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Lincolnshire County Council Joint Emergency Management Service facilitated the sharing of information between the emergency responders and LRF members by agreeing and embedding multiple SLAs. However, the practical implementation and use of this data for information-sharing and pre-planning a potential event was being hindered by the fact that the capability of the existing platform was limited. A new LRF-agreed solution was required to allow local partners to view all this information in a time-critical multi-agency operational environment.

In 2011, Lincolnshire Fire & Rescue and the LRF began to develop a bespoke geographical information system. The aim was to create a Common Operational Picture (COP) which would enable all its members and other multi-agency responders to access and share sensitive and critical data in time-critical situations. This would involve mapping dependencies including key buildings, water supplies and electricity and gas transmission networks.

The geographic data was accessed through the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA). This centrally funded licensing agreement between Government and Ordnance Survey allows geographic data to be widely available, free at the point of use and shared between all public sector organisations. Having agreed to share a number of key datasets, the first step in creating the COP was to create a central data repository to store all conceivable pre-planned multi-agency data and PSMA geographic data.

This central repository, now commonly referred to within Lincolnshire County Council as the 'Geostore', has various permissions and access levels that safeguards sensitive information, such as the location of vulnerable people and critical infrastructure, and can only be accessed by key individuals within the organisation.

By deploying a bespoke geographical information system (GIS), the LRF has enabled all its members and other multi-agency responders to access and share sensitive and critical data. This dynamic platform enhances the ability for the LRF to respond to incidents in a timelier manner and offers a central point of reference for decision-makers at all response levels that use the COP as the interface briefing tool.

With all agencies providing data on a regular basis, the LRF is hopeful that policies and procedures can be developed to mitigate and hopefully eradicate the use of duplicated data, legacy data and data stored in silos. Now, the multi-agency data and related spatial datasets are layered onto various Ordnance Survey mapping products for further analysis.

When there is an emergency exercise or incident, such as a fire or flooding event, the COP can be displayed throughout the County Emergency Centre. The potential to stream to other strategic, tactical and operational locations in the county using existing IT infrastructure is currently being developed. When this is achieved the COP will be accessible to all members of the LRF regardless of locality.

Ordnance Survey data has played a fundamental role in underpinning this work by providing a tried and trusted common geographic framework from which to work from. As a core government activity, geographic data available under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement can be accessed by all category 1 and 2 responders, including non-governmental organisations.

"The COP platform was developed out of the necessity to bring the multi-agency environment into the 21st century kicking and screaming," says Andrew Baptie, Risk Management, Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service. "The geographical interface has all been developed in-house using existing resources at no extra cost to the organisation or budgetary expense; it showcases what can be achieved under the current financial constraints when you have a combined vision for constant improvement and the tenacity to succeed."

Data was contributed from a range of stakeholder organisations including Lincolnshire County Council, Joint Emergency Management Service, Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, Environment Agency™, National Health Service®, Highways Agency, Anglian Water®, Internal Drainage Boards, Yorkshire Electricity®, Lincolnshire Police, East Midlands Ambulance Service and the voluntary sector.

By creating a platform that brings together multiple sources of location-based incident and emergency responder information, the result is a one stop shop for key partners in a multi-agency event to update and utilise. The benefits of this are that all co-ordination groups can base critical decisions on the most current and accurate data using Ordnance Survey mapping products and the latest versions of all multi-agency plans and multi-agency data can be preloaded into the COP to enable point data links to all relevant information. This has enabled instant access to information and has reduced the time required for executive decision-making.

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