New tech saves time, money for first responders

Springfield fire, other agencies can plan better because of new imaging system.

Local emergency agencies are expanding their use of the Clark County auditor’s mapping technology to better plan for disasters and to conduct more frequent and less-costly training.

And the technology is planned for mobile devices soon, so first responders could preview building layouts, locate fire hydrants and measure distances while en route.

That, officials said, will help emergency workers better understand what they’re dealing with, like what might be in a manufacturing facility, and know what equipment, like the length of fire hose they’ll need before they get to the scene, which potentially will save time and lives.

The auditor’s Pictometry system, which uses aerial photography with more detail than the publicly-available GIS (Geographic Information System), allows those agencies to get a 360-degree look at the scene in perfect weather conditions, despite what current conditions might be.

Auditor John Federer gave the example of a foggy night. A resident who reports an emergency at a house might give a description of the house, but fire personnel wouldn’t be able to see those details of the house because of fog and darkness. But if the emergency personnel cross-reference the scene with imagery in the system — which is only taken in perfect weather conditions — they’ll be able to find and take care of the situation faster.

Springfield Fire Rescue Division is one local agency using the hybrid technology of digital maps and photography.

For now, it’s mainly used to plan for incidents at high-risk and densely-populated buildings like schools, manufacturing plants, the hospital and apartments, Chief Nick Heimlich said.

They’ve been building up that information since it became available to them via the auditor’s office about the first of the year.

“(The auditor’s office) wanted to show us the system and what they had been doing with regard to the school system, specifically, and their school layouts because they thought that was an important function,” Heimlich said.

“It’s of interest to us because when we went through the school building process here, that was one of the things that we wanted to make sure was that, when we were done, we had architectural floor plans for all of the school buildings.”

In a demonstration, Heimlich showed the division’s customized images of a local school building, to which it added details like floor plans, entrances and exits, room numbers and door locations, and city water lines and fire hydrants, from all sides of the building.

That will help them visualize the scene and train for any potential incident that could happen there, he said.

His department has also used it for training in which firefighters and command staff can do scenarios more often and at less cost than than other types of hands-on training, increasing the confidence and knowledge of personnel, Heimlich said.

Recently, the division used it to gather information for its post-incident report on the Carter Jewelry Building fire downtown.

And dispatchers have access to the system to relay information to responders as necessary.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Springfield Police Division have their own customized access to the system, though much of that detail is classified due to tactical reasons, Clark County Auditor’s Office GIS Director Shayne Gray said.

But officers can use it to preview the layout of a home before the execution of say a search warrant and for other purposes.

The Clark County Emergency Management Agency used it last year to map power outages following the derecho wind storm last summer and to send canvassing teams out to check on residents who were affected, Deputy Director Ken Johnson said.

Their focus is also on planning for potential incidents at places like chemical facilities and for natural disasters.

“One of the applications we’ve explored in exercises is kind of what happened at (R.D. Holder Oil Co.),” Johnson said of the massive fire that destroyed the Pike Twp. facility about a year ago.

Chemicals ran into a creek near that facility. If the system had been rolled out to emergency management officials at that time, it would have been easier to mitigate that, Johnson said.

While detailed data with the system has been available to the auditor’s office for several years, it’s the introduction of web-based applications that’s allowed for heavier use by more local agencies.

The system’s main purpose, Federer said, is to make property re-valuation easier, cheaper and less time consuming, but it was apparent emergency agencies could put it to good use as well.

Federer said his office has expended much effort the last 11 months or so to build up the system with details like where city water lines and fire hydrants are to share with other agencies.

And those worried about “big brother” watching their every move shouldn’t be, Federer said.

The photos are taken only once each year, mainly in fall, and are intended to show differences for property records, he said.

“It is static. It’s not something that it’s this way today and tomorrow it’s this way,” Federer said. “As great as this is, we’re not tracking people with it. But we do track buildings with it.”

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