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Business Officer Magazine

Software Centralizes Data for Firefighting Efforts

Spotlight: Comprehensive and Doctoral Institutions, from "Business Briefs" department in September 2010 issue of Business Officer

By Brian G. Gutierrez and Randy Cobb

Since 9/11, the emphasis on disaster preplanning understandably has increased dramatically. One component of a process to mitigate losses and injuries resulting from catastrophic events is anticipating the prospect of fire damage to individual buildings across a university's campus—and quickly planning the appropriate response. Such planning can be a daunting task for a college or university without sufficient staff dedicated to safety or risk management.

First responders generally have only the 5 to 10 minutes from the time they leave the fire station until they arrive on campus to acquire as much information as possible about the location experiencing a fire. We thought that a computer software package allowing first responders to access floor plans and the location of fire sprinkler valves, roof access points, fire alarm panels, and many other details could significantly improve the effectiveness of their efforts and reduce fire damage risk.

Traits for Gaining Traction

When we were unable to identify such a solution in the higher education environment, we designed a system of our own, which we refer to as the firefighter information data organizer, or FIDO. When we approached local municipal fire and safety officials to discuss this project, they were overwhelmingly positive and offered immediate cooperation. We met several times to incorporate their needs and our own requirements into a single computer-aided design document depicting university building layouts and key access points.

We agreed that we needed to develop a software package that was user-friendly and easy to learn; accepted information in common, yet varied, software formats; created documents with consistent layout so users could quickly look up information while speeding to the campus for a call; and produced documents that were in a common language, allowing people to easily share and view the information.

Putting It All Together

After reviewing several options, we developed the FIDO system based on the Signature Scene product offered by Trancite Logic Systems. The basic product is a report-generating software package originally designed for police investigating crimes and vehicular accidents. We were able to customize the standard report to include the following:

  • A cover sheet to provide location information and a general description.
  • A template to include consistent information, such as building occupancy, number of elevators, building usage, number of floors, sprinkler and fire alarm information, and so forth.
  • A narrative section describing a particular building's unique features.
  • Diagram and attachment sections to create or import floor plan files as well as photographs and other images.

The information for each campus building is captured in individual PDF files, which are easily read on the laptop assigned to each fire engine and allow responders to quickly plan appropriate actions for the particular situation.

So far, the system has been used only informally in a residential fire drill situation. But we're so confident in its applicability to live situations that we've supplied a copy of the completed data files to our mobile Emergency Operations Center, should the need arise during a large or significant incident occurring on campus.

By collaborating with our community fire and safety officials, we've created a report that makes campus firefighting preparation simpler and more consistent for higher education institutions and their fire departments.

SUBMITTED BY Brian G. Gutierrez, vice chancellor for finance and administration, and Randy Cobb, director of safety, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth

Business Officer Plus