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Problems Sharing Information? A New Way to Manage Operational Information Flow

By Bob Pessemier, alumna, Masters in Emergency and Disaster Management, American Public University & former Lieutenant with the Kent, WA Fire Department

Most public safety agencies across the world experience the same major problem: effectively managing information flow. Nearly any after-action report from the last 10 years shows that most agencies experience:

  • Difficulty achieving and sharing situational awareness during a response
  • Problems identifying and communicating with all relevant stakeholders
  • Problems managing information flow in a timely manner

Information Flow is Critical to Effective Response

During incident response, public safety agencies must have the ability to act and interact flexibly with other agencies or stakeholders as circumstances change. Traditionally, an agency’s response to an incident was linear and hierarchical, essentially bi-directional. However, the complexity of today’s incidents means that this old approach is insufficient.

Without solid operational information flow, you cannot get the right resources to the right place at the right time doing the right things. For operational commanders and front-line units, information is the foundation of decision-making and action. The complexity of public safety operations often requires resources beyond that of a single agency or jurisdiction. This makes it imperative that coordination and cooperation is both effective and timely. Without solid information flow, the best operational decisions are not possible. The more complex the event or incident, the more this holds true.

[Related: Lessons Learned from the Isla Vista Mass Shooting]

Emergency response is always driven by data and information. Without reliable data and information, officers can’t know what has happened, what is happening, what is likely to happen, or how to best respond in a situation. The quality of information drives the quality of decisions. If incident commanders only use radios and incident-command boards, that can be problematic. In today’s unpredictable, constantly changing, and ever-complex world, agencies need to manage information better than ever before.

[Related: Strategies for a PIO to Share Information in Times of Crisis]

How to Improve Information Flow: PS-COMP

To be effective, agencies must achieve coordinated multi-dimensional information flow. The military and private sector have realized this need for many years and many have implemented operations management systems. Now is time for public safety agencies to do the same.

The new way to achieve better public safety response, higher levels of operational excellence, and multi-dimensional information flow is with a Public Safety Coordinated Operations Management Platform (PS-COMP). A PS-COMP is:

  • A carefully selected family of software applications that fill the gaps among existing applications. This platform provides agencies with the ability to achieve multi-dimensional information flow to any and all stakeholders for any type or size of event or incident. Agencies can receive, sort, filter, and share information to operate more effectively.
  • Designed to be a regional resource used by any and all agencies and stakeholders that need information for day-to-day or emergency operations. This platform provides an architecture of participation, which allows any stakeholder to participate in the information flow, and through its use, a community of action.
  • A modular and adaptable platform composed of building blocks (each block is a software application) giving each agency and each user a cafeteria-style list of applications and solutions to choose from. Each participating agency has access to an integrated platform that is agile, flexible, adaptable, cost-effective, and tailored to meet their needs. As needs and technologies change, the building blocks can be easily exchanged for new ones with added functionalities and capabilities. This ensures a viable and fully capable solution for the long-term.

A PS-COMP provides coordinated and multi-dimensional information flow that supports command and control, communication, collaboration, and cooperation among public safety agencies and all stakeholders. In this world of constant change and increasing complexity, such a solution provides a new approach to achieving higher levels of operational excellence for all public safety agencies, all stakeholders, and the public they serve.

The Washington Common Operating Platform (WA-COP) is an example of a PS-COMP. Past events and incidents in the Seattle area made it clear that regional public safety agencies needed a new way to manage and share information.

To improve the safety and security of citizens, public safety leadership should learn more about how to assess and integrate existing capabilities and how to implement the right components to improve public safety operational information flow. To learn more details about the PS-COMP, review this white paper.

information flowAbout the Author: Bob Pessemier is a former Kent Fire Department Lieutenant and Washington State Fire Academy instructor. He spent more than 20 years working in IT and is currently a technology solutions consultant for public safety agencies. Recently, he was the senior consultant for the Washington Common Operating Platform project managed by the Seattle Police Department and funded by DHS grants. Bob holds a Master of Arts in Emergency and Disaster Management from American Public University and an ITIL v3 certification. For questions related to PS-COMP, send him an email.


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