Fairbanks Cuts Emergency Response Time by Up to Three Minutes
Imagine being a first responder with a service area larger than New Jersey – where extreme subarctic temperatures can turn even the most basic tasks into daunting endeavors. And where hundreds of miles of remote arctic wilderness means emergencies can cover nearly any situation imaginable.
This is the reality for the Fairbanks, Alaska Emergency Communications Center.
Located less than 200 miles from the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks is the northern-most U.S. metropolis and is often referred to as America’s coldest city. The city’s remote location in the interior of the state poses unique challenges to public safety agencies, as extreme winter weather complicates difficult situations already faced by first responders – situations where remote access routes become virtually impassable by weather conditions; where equipment is crippled by ice; and where dangerously low levels of visibility during the long, dark winters is not uncommon.
While the city of Fairbanks itself is only 32 square miles, the center also responds to emergency calls for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, a land area of more than 7,400 square miles, which equates to the size of the Garden State.
The challenge: Efficiently responding to such a large service area
Due to Fairbanks’ large service area, coupled with the region’s extreme weather conditions, the city realized it needed a solution that could 1) manage dispatching to ensure emergencies were properly addressed by the closest available resource, and 2) ensure the ongoing safety of police and EMS teams during the extreme winter conditions.
While its existing pen-to-paper processes had been serving it well for years, reality set in that finding an available responder for a single emergency was not an easy task. In fact, dispatchers were often required to make a minimum of three phones calls – between responders and ranking officers – to authorize a unit. Finding someone in the vicinity who was available on the first call was also a challenge, so it wasn’t unusual for there to be massive delays when assembling responders.
Additionally, because its servicing area includes both Fairbanks and the North Star Borough, the center required a solution that could create a centralized command center to handle all critical situations within both districts while effectively coordinating between the nearly 500 responders within the area.
The solution: Modernized processes managed from a centralized center
Given the inefficiencies of its paper-based system, Fairbanks began sourcing solutions that could modernize its response processes. After an extensive search, Fairbanks found the right tool in Superion public safety software. With Superion software, the city manages all of the Emergency Communications Center’s key functions, including computer-aided dispatch (CAD), records management (RMS), and mobile computing (MCT) in a single, comprehensive platform. The center also found an extended benefit through Superion Freedom mobile app, which brought comprehensive mobile capabilities to its multiple response teams.
It was this integration that ultimately served as the differentiator for Stephanie Johnson, dispatch center manager for the City of Fairbanks. “We have separate agencies that require resources from adjacent agencies or across our borough,” said Johnson. “Thanks to Superion, it’s very easy for us to build response plans that work seamlessly through the CAD system to the mobile app, and then the communication gets back into the dispatch center.”
Central to this integration has been the addition of mobile capabilities, which allow teams to be active no matter the weather conditions, as CAD and RMS data is now delivered directly to their smartphones and tablets. This frees first responders from the confines of a desk or office while still keeping them abreast of alerts, dispatch, status, GPS location and more. Additionally, these capabilities mean that they can access critical information without having to leave their vehicles, shielding them from Alaska’s brutal winters.
The results: A well-oiled, cross-jurisdictional response service
Since implementing Superion solutions in 2010, the Emergency Communications Center has noticed a massive decline in its response times, having shaved off 2-3 minutes per incident by automating first- and second-response plans. Specifically, the pre-determined plans are now built into CAD, allowing the system to automatically conduct a run order for responders as soon as the incident is input by dispatchers. This replaces an existing manual process, which required personalized outreach to the response teams to receive authorization to respond.
Not only does Superion’s smart public safety software allow teams to more accurately respond to incidents, but it also maximizes team efficiencies. “As the system identifies the run order, if one agency, say Fairbanks Fire, is tied up, and doesn’t have any available resources, then the emergency gets automatically routed to the next closest agency that has been pre-determined and pre-identified to handle this situation,” states Johnson. “Because everything is pre-determined, the dispatcher no longer has to be trained to remember everything, which has reduced training times and improved our accuracies.”
These automated systems have had the greatest impact on the fire department, which has improved their ISO score by three points, moving them atop of the ISO rankings. These rankings, which provide statistical information on area risk, take into account a department’s ability to respond, location of hydrants and training processes among other criteria to determine the effectiveness of the service. This achievement remains a testament to Fairbanks’ dedication to elevating its EMS services.
“The automation allows us to affect a dispatch quicker than what we were able to do before when our processes were manual,” states Johnson. “This has allowed us to achieve a lower ISO score due to our ability to quickly build a response plan and pre-identify who needs to respond [to the emergency].”
With Superion, Fairbanks feels more secure
Fairbanks is empowered to meet whatever demands of the vast geographic area may present. They credit Superion for bringing this confidence to their organization. According to Johnson, ”on day one, when we turned on the switch, it really made a big impact for our center in terms of what this could do for us.”