Big Data, Smart Data and Fire

  • Posted on April 23, 2018

Earlier this year, we predicted trends that were going to have an impact on firefighters and fire departments around the country. One of them was about the use of data. As a point of interest, the term Big Data came into existence in 1997 when two NASA engineers coined the popular term to refer to the challenges they were having processing and visualizing the large amounts of data produced after running airflow simulations around aircraft. The computer power they had readily available simply wasn’t enough to extract useful and meaningful insights out of the data. And while we continue to produce vast amounts of data on a regular basis, it’s relatively useless if we can can’t learn from it and apply it.

Bet here’s where it gets interesting. The evolution of big data has led to the advent of smart data. Big data oftentimes requires mathematical PhD’s combing through mounds of information to make any sense of the numbers. Smart data, on the other hand, is about creating platforms and systems designed to empower individuals or organizations to succinctly understand the landscape and act quickly – more quickly than they could act without this type of insight. In other words, access to the right data at the right time to make highly informed decisions that lead to a greater chance of a successful outcome.

For firefighters and fire departments, smart data tools that can anticipate where fires will happen next, insights into properties and inspection history, and understanding the right crew size for a particular type of fire can be a game changer.

Benefits of Big Data

Back in 2014, our friends at FireRescue magazine wrote a great piece about the role of big data in the fire service. It’s well worth a read. And while we’ll argue that it’s really smart data and the evolution of technology and platforms that truly delivers value for the fire service (basically, making big data accessible in a comprehensive, digestible, useful way), some of the areas highlighted in the article still hold true today:

Sharing: The right platforms and technologies will allow fire departments to share essential information with EMS agencies and vice versa. The benefits of sharing are twofold: 1) it removes the burden of one agency having to do all the legwork to collect data that could be valuable for both Fire and EMS, and 2) the sharing of data provides a much more comprehensive insight into the safety and security of the broader community.

Forecasting: Insights from data can help fire departments predict where the next fire in a city might occur. The data can also provide insight into which buildings in a city are considered high risk, and which are considered lower risk that will determine proper staff and resources when called to that building.

Response Times: As the article points out, this is often a complex topic with many variables, but it is not uncommon for this to be the one metric by which fire departments are evaluated and budgets are allocated. Greater observation into the process can provide a more comprehensive picture around response times and arm fire departments with solid answers when asked questions around response time. For example, there were 15 potholes on that route, plus a school, which affected our response time.

Big data – and, more importantly, smart data – are here to stay. Key investments in the right technology and technology platforms help firefighters and fire departments be far more effective – both when on scene and when engaging with the community. In both situations, preparedness and knowledge can make all the difference. To see what else we predicted for this year, download our 2018 Fire Department Predictions.