ArcWatch: GIS News, Views, and Insights

August 2018


Safety First

Fire Department Uses Esri Apps to Conduct Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Survey

By David Hamilton
Public Safety Industry Manager, Esri Canada

The Oakville Fire Department visits homeowners makes house calls to talk to residents of the Canadian city about fire safety.

The Oakville Fire Department in Canada used Esri technology such as Survey123 for ArcGIS and Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS to simplify the department's annual residential fire safety survey and gather better information from people who were surveyed.

Oakville, a town of 193,000 people, lies just southwest of Toronto, Ontario. The town's fire department conducts an annual door-to-door campaign to educate residents on the proper use and maintenance of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in homes as well as to talk about fire safety. This campaign is called the Home Awareness Program (HAP).

"We've conducted this public education program for many years; however, we haven't consistently collected data to help us track the success of our efforts," said Gary Laframboise, chief fire prevention officer for the Oakville Fire Department.

Prior to 2016, the town's firefighters used paper forms to record residents' feedback to questions on a survey about using and maintaining smoke detectors and CO alarms. The survey included these questions: How old are the smoke alarms in your home? Did you know that to properly maintain them, you need to test the alarms every month and replace them before their expiration date?

The app created using Survey123 for ArcGIS includes a map that pinpoints the location of the residence that was surveyed.

However, there was no system established to track and compile such feedback from year to year. Such a system would allow for analyses such as identifying at-risk households that could benefit from follow-up visits. To address this issue, the Oakville Fire Department contacted the town's information technology (IT) group and Oakville's strategic business services group, which included the geospatial services solutions team headed by Frank Goehner.

That's when the idea emerged to use Esri technology for the survey and follow-up analysis. "I had just read a blog about new field data collection apps in ArcGIS and thought that apps such as Survey123 for ArcGIS could be a good solution to address our fire department's needs," Goehner said.

Leveraging Oakville's Esri enterprise license agreement allowed staff to access and deploy ArcGIS apps without incurring additional software costs. A team that included staff from the Oakville Fire Department and the IT and strategic business services groups began to develop a strategy for building a new field survey app to support the HAP.

With more than 66,700 households in Oakville, it would be impossible for the town's almost 200 firefighters to inspect every house within a required two-month period. Since smoke alarms typically have an expiration date of 10 years, the team narrowed down the survey targets to homes built between 2004 and 2006.

ArcGIS Online was used to map building permit data from the town's permitting system and 4,500 homes were identified that met necessary criteria. Visualizing the data on a map allowed the team to see where the households were located and effectively plan how to divide the firefighters into crews and determine which neighborhoods to survey.

Team Builds the Survey App

Firefighters ask homeowners about the working condition of their smoke detectors and CO alarms.

Once the households were identified, the team created a mobile app in Survey123 for ArcGIS that firefighters could access on smartphones.

"We needed an app that would be quick to deploy and easy for our firefighters to use," said Goehner. "Since most of our staff were familiar with spreadsheets, we decided to build an Excel-based survey that [could] connect easily with Survey123."

Survey123 for ArcGIS includes a desktop tool, called Survey123 Connect, that works side by side with Microsoft Excel to help authoring Survey123 smart forms following the XLSForm specification. Authors can use the tool to preview XLSForm files as they edit them. It also publishes the forms in ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS and creates feature services based on the specified form for data collection.

Building the survey form in Survey123 for ArcGIS was relatively straightforward once the team decided on the questions to be asked, their sequence, and the exact wording.

"We wanted the survey to be brief and concise—something that could be done within five to six minutes," Laframboise said. "We designed the questions to provide fire safety information as well as gather data about the residents' level of knowledge about fire safety and prevention."

The team created a 10-question survey with conditional logic, where succeeding questions were asked based on the resident's initial response. For example, if a resident was home and agreed to take the survey, the app prompted the firefighter to introduce the town's fire home awareness program; point out that the resident's home was now more than 10 years old; and explain that the law requires smoke and CO alarms to be replaced within the time frame stated in the manufacturer's instructions, or a $235 fine could be issued for noncompliance.

Once the team finalized the survey's structure, the form was published in ArcGIS Online and shared with firefighters equipped with Android smartphones.

App Wins Over Users

The Oakville Fire Department also used Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS to get real-time information about the survey, such as where fire crews found that no one was at home.

At first, the team received some pushback from fire crews who were used to conducting the survey with pen and paper.

To help firefighters familiarize themselves with the digital survey, training staff within the fire department were assigned to teach them how to use the app. The trainers used how-to documents and video tutorials created by the town's staff. This turned out to be more effective than having the GIS team deliver the training because the fire department training staff members were more knowledgeable about firefighters' workflows and could speak their language.

The firefighters were divided into 50 crews of four firefighters each. About 10 crews per shift were deployed to do the surveys. Each crew was given a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone equipped with the Survey123 for ArcGIS app. Using the app allowed all data captured in the field to instantly be made available for visualization and analysis in the ArcGIS platform. This model also boosted productivity when capturing data, making it much easier to update the surveys.

To monitor the firefighters' exact location during the surveys and prevent any overlap, staff installed a GPS app on the phones, which significantly improved positional accuracy.

"Getting buy-in from Oakville's fire chief and senior management was not difficult after they saw the amount and kind of data collected via the app," said Goehner. Using Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS, another Esri app, staff created an online executive dashboard that gave managers a real-time, comprehensive view of survey operations.

In the nine-week period that firefighters conducted home surveys, the town gathered data from more than 4,000 households.

"For the first time, we've established a database with accurate information that we could refer to in order to identify at-risk households," noted Laframboise. "This will help us better analyze the data and plan more effective fire prevention campaigns."

Oakville Fire Department's HAP app also serves as a blueprint for other survey apps. The department plans to conduct a survey aimed at reducing cooking fires, which is the top cause of residential fires in the town. The department also plans to bring fire call information from another data visualization system into ArcGIS to analyze hot spots.

This article has been adapted from an article previously published in ArcNorth News, an Esri Canada publication and used with permission.