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“Decisions based on GIS platform should be faster than human decisions; only then can they have relevance in fire services”

Mr AK Sharma
Mr AK Sharma
Director, Delhi Fire Service

Having recently embarked upon the use of GIS platform in its operations, AK Sharma tells us more about how geospatial information is critical in fire services, and how the usage of geospatial technology can be maximised in fire operations

What are the challenges faced in fire services that can be addressed with geospatial information?

The most critical factors in an emergency like fire are time and accuracy. Efficiency and accuracy in our operations can make a difference between life and death. And to meet those challenges, we need assistance from various technologies, which are now available the world over, and in India as well. Geographic information system is one such technology which can help us in increasing our output, so as to meet people’s expectations which have been growing rapidly with the times.

How did Delhi Fire Service embark upon the use of geospatial technology?

Delhi Fire Service has just started with the use of GIS. We are one of the line departments of the government of National Capital Territory of Delhi which has taken up the project involving use of geospatial information by its various line departments. Under this project, several applications have been developed for each line department. For our department, they have developed an application on GIS for the shortest path, in case of any emergency, at any place in Delhi, and how we can reach that point without any hindrance.

The second is the resource availability, like the location of fire stations, so that these can be mobilised in case of an emergency. The third is the water resources available in Delhi, so that the same can be tapped in an area where an emergency has arisen.

What are the challenges you face regarding use of geospatial technology?

The data which has been provided to us is in such a form that we have not been able to use it at the fullest. The main constraint is the speed at which we are able to download this data; making decisions by taking information from the GIS platform is slower than manual decisions. This is one limitation we are facing but we are hopeful that in times to come, things will improve and we will be able to utilise this platform in the fullest potential and more efficient way.

How can geospatial technology be more efficiently used in your department?

Geospatial information is very valuable – in case of fire or any emergency, we need to know how fast and how quickly we can reach, the availability of nearest resources, whether we require any specialised resources, what is the level of supervision we have to respond to, what are the water resources in and around that area, is there any refuge area where the emergency has taken place, and the nearest police stations – since the law and order situation needs to be taken care of. Apart from that, we also need information on building per se – the height of the building, the number of floors, whether any fire fighting system has been installed and whether it is working, and how many people are there in the building at any point of time – for example, buildings like offices will have different number of people at different times whereas a place like hospital will have people round the clock including bedridden patients and medical personnel. Knowing the number of people can also help us determine the kind of medical assistance required in case of casualties – like how many ambulances required. So we must have such kind of information from the system. Any information which is available to us prior to taking up an operation will not only add to our knowledge but also help us in better planning, preparing ourselves in allocating our resources, coming up with better solutions and effectively managing our operations. But for such a situation, interdepartmental accessibility has to be there. Currently, only limited interdepartmental access to data is allowed. It is difficult to get geo-referenced maps at this platform; at times it becomes difficult to mark even new things which have come up, accurately, on these maps.

In case of any disaster, especially of a larger magnitude, there will be a number of issues involved – law & order, hospital information, refuge areas, rehabilitation, utilities. These departments should be on a single platform, exchanging information with each other, information on a day-to-day basis or on a regular basis so that they are not found wanting in case of an emergency. There cannot be an isolated domain. Information should be such that it should be available to one and all, to whosoever matters.

Addressing such situations can help in the system being more effectively used while dealing with emergencies in the capital city.

What are your expectations from technology providers?

We can only tell our problems; it is the technology providers who have to give the solutions. The technology has to be such that it is not an outdated technology. Accuracy has to be there; and it should have capabilities of faster decision making than human decisions. Our operators have a wide experience, often of more than 20 years, of working in control rooms, and they always bank upon their experience. But then there may be one odd experience where they may fail, and I want to avoid that. My technology has to be such that it reacts quicker than their brains. As a user, I would expect that when I put in data, it gives me an instant response. That is one thing that we would expect from the service provider. Plus it has to be an integrated system provision – it cannot be a standalone system. It has to be integrated with all line departments which are likely to be required at that point of time in an emergency.