Never Again: Today's FDNY Is Stronger and Better Prepared

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2011-09-06 Print this article Print

title=A New Operations Center} 

The FDNY took the McKinsey recommendations to heart and immediately began implementing new systems. As a direct recommendation of the McKinsey report, the FDNY implemented the Fire Department Operations Center. The FDOC primarily monitors incidents in the city, but it also has regional, national and global capabilities. It provides the department and its staff with situational awareness, information and intelligence for incident command and control.

At the launch of the FDOC in 2006, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "The expansion and development of the new Fire Department Operations Center is a critical new management tool for fire commanders in the event of a large-scale disaster or simultaneous, multiple emergencies around the city. Through projects like this, we're reaffirming our commitment to providing our first responders with the advanced resources they need to protect our city and keep all New Yorkers safe."

The FDOC has been operational for more than six years and is presently going through a technology refresh. It includes workstations, servers via virtualization, and audio/visual and radio communications equipment, said Frank Gribbon, the deputy commissioner of the FDNY.

"We are light-years away from where we were 10 years ago in terms of having a command center to tap into," Gribbon said.

After the technology refresh, Gribbon estimates the $17 million central command and information hub will become about a $20 million facility. Located at FDNY headquarters in Brooklyn, the FDOC is staffed by uniformed personnel who monitor fire and EMS activity across the five NYC boroughs.

The facility features at least 80 computers and 52,000 feet of network cable. The FDOC shares updates with numerous commanders in the field and provides important data needed to fight fires, rescue civilians, properly deploy personnel and protect firefighters from potentially harmful substances.

In addition, the FDOC has access to the Autodesk Crisis Command, which provides layers of maps that show the locations of nearby schools, hospitals, subway lines and other crucial data. It also manages the Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system.

One of the issues with 9/11 was that the lack of communication led to the over-dispatching of ambulances. The AVL includes GPS tracking of fire and EMS first-responder vehicles, which are displayed on maps color-coded to their current status. The tracking and movement of vehicles are based on specific cadences assigned to a specific status.

"For years we fought fires in a very traditional way," Gribbon said. "We fought the fire at the scene and handled everything on-site. During 9/11, because the buildings fell, we lost everything at the scene. Now we have to have a system that looks back."

Gribbon said the FDNY is working toward a system that will provide firefighters with on-the-scene computers that will allow the on-site commander to log into the computer, get details of the emergency and have that information wirelessly fed back to the operations center.

"Before, we had a magnetic board where we were literally moving magnets around to show where our units were," Gribbon said. "Now, we have an electronic log of what's going on at an incident, and it's wirelessly sent back to us."

Moreover, Gribbon said the FDNY now has access to live helicopter feeds to give aerial views of fires to firefighters on the ground-something that was unavailable during 9/11. "We also have floor plans and building info to tap into, and we have connections to different databases, maps, photos and other information from different agencies," he said. "None of that existed 10 years ago."

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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