The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service brought together eight services in 2013, under one national umbrella. The new unified service is using QlikView business intelligence software to bring together its data streams, both for external reporting and operational intelligence.
Stuart Chalmers, ICT business services manager for Scottish Fire and Rescue, recalls that by the time the new service came into being, on 1 April 2013, the organisation needed to have uniform statistical reporting in place, drawn from the previous eight fire services.
Before the amalgamation, the eight services had been using databases of differing types, some of which were automated systems while others were not, says Chalmers.
“Some were quite small, so there was no real business case for an automated system. We needed some form of analytics tool, but one that could grow with the organisation, meeting the tactical needs of the fire fighters,” he says.
Chalmers says they scanned the market, investigating “four or so tools”, but looking also at “comparators like the NHS and the police”. The police is now also organised as a national service, Police Scotland, by virtue of the same Police and Fire Reform Act (Scotland) 2012 as established the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).
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What sold it on the QlikView technology stack, he says, was the Expressor extract, transform and load (ETL) tool, which the supplier acquired in 2012.
“That allowed us to take the eight data feeds straightforwardly, and apply some assurance around data without our having to do hand crafting in SQL. And if we change our definitions, we’ll have flexibility for that. You need to make sure ‘bin fire’ has the same meaning over the whole country, whether Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, and so on.”
He says project resources were minimalistic. There were one-and-a-half full-time members of staff on the project, together with similar staffing from Atos. The first phase cost £80,000 in external spend, and the overall two-year budget is £160,000.
Data comes from incidents, and is spatial; fires happen in places. The service also conducts home visits to gather information and presents that data in quarterly and annual performance reports. It reports fire and rescue service statistics to the Scottish government website.
Managing data demands
But as well as external reporting, the service is looking to make its fire officers more data focused. Watch commanders in stations, station commanders, and area commanders (six or more stations) all have information needs of escalating strategic moment, from false alarm data, through HR planning, to public engagement.
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Managing events such as the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow involves data-intensive planning. The marathon route is one instance, where the service is tabulating which houses have had incidents, and pulling that information into "what if" scenario planning.
“We are also big proponents of open data. We are opening up data sets to partner agencies in the public sector. Ultimately the goal is, in three years’ time, to feed in to Data.gov.uk," says Chalmers.
“Further down the line, we will look at big data. That is interesting for us, with the internet of things. We are starting to see sensor data coming online. For example, if we get a call out to a hospital and can access sensor information, from sprinklers and so on, we can get a better picture of what we are going into,” he adds.
Chalmers looks forward to that working at a city level, with sensor data from devices in the built environment feeding into the emergency response to events such as the recent Clutha Vaults incident, near the Clyde. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are useful comparators for Glasgow and Edinburgh, with similar populations and geographies.