ArcGIS Survey123 is super easy to use and it's great out in the field. We've worked so hard to make a difference in the community, and it's nice to have a measure to make sure that we're making it in the right direction instead of just guessing.
City of Rochester Hills, Michigan, Streamlines Delivery of Fire Education and Resources to Community with Survey Management Solution
The Rochester Hills Fire Department aimed to transform its paper-based workflow for recording details of on-site fire education visits and installation of aids such as smoke alarms as well as reporting to the state.
ArcGIS Survey123 has supported more efficient tracking of on-site visits by enabling Jenn Whitbeck, the fire and life safety educator, to digitally collect data, reducing the amount of time spent on paperwork each week from 30 percent to 5-10 percent.
The threat of fires at residential and commercial facilities in the United States is high, with estimates from the US Fire Administration showing more than 350,000 fires at residential buildings and more than 116,000 at nonresidential facilities from 2012 to 2021. Losses from these types of fires exceed $8 billion. Fire and life safety education for the public, which can include CPR classes or creating an escape plan, can help promote fire-safe behavior among people of all ages.
Established in 1984, the city of Rochester Hills is a growing community located north of Detroit, Michigan. The Rochester Hills Fire Department is an all-hazards fire, rescue, and emergency medical service (EMS) department that provides an array of services from firefighting to search and rescue. A special division of the fire department, Community Risk Reduction (CRR), is dedicated to providing critical fire safety education to the community.
Jenn Whitbeck, the fire and life safety educator for the fire department, manages the delivery of education to the community by visiting schools, senior care facilities, and residential homes. She also installs aids like free smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, or bed shakers (designed for hearing-impaired individuals) through a state-run program. Details of these installations and any on-site visits, such as geographic location and device information, must be recorded and reported to local leadership and state officials.
To capture these details and track visits, Whitbeck would manually record data on lengthy spreadsheets, which made it challenging to share data and produce reports. She collaborated with Doreen Groth at Rochester Hills GIS to transform this paper-based workflow with ArcGIS Survey123. This app has streamlined data recording, saving time during visits and allowing Whitbeck to better serve the community.
The previous method for keeping track of Whitbeck’s community visits and fire aid installations involved manually recording details after each visit. Whitbeck used spreadsheets to capture data, which she describes as very time-intensive, estimating that it took 30 percent of her time each week. On-site visits are scheduled daily, so Whitbeck would have to track all details such as location and number of participants.
In addition, she must compile the data and provide a monthly report to the Rochester Hills fire marshal and a separate report to the state tracking installations for the state grant program. The paper-based tracking methods made it challenging to keep everything up-to-date with the number of on-site visits and increased the risk of errors due to the transfer of data from document to document.
Doreen Groth, City of Rochester Hills GIS manager, adds that the previous fire and life safety educator, John Lyman, also used a paper-based process that included printed paper documents and PDFs that he manually filled in. At the end of each month, he would sort through all the documents from weeks prior to gather the necessary data for reports.
“It was just a challenge to keep track of [everything]. And then to be able to measure the advances we are making as far as risk reduction . . . and were we making an impact in the areas that we needed to. . . .” says Whitbeck. “The paperwork took away from all the time that I could have been spending in the community or with our seniors or with our school-aged kids.”
Groth adds, “You should not work for your data, the data should work for you. And so, when you are entering all that data five times, you're scanning documents, you are hand counting and calculating your numbers, you are working for your data.”
Together, Lyman and Groth collaborated to come up with a way to streamline the information and set the foundation for where the process is today. Groth, who is a current Esri technology user, selected ArcGIS Survey123 to help streamline tracking and data collection. ArcGIS Survey123 is an intuitive app that enables users to create, share, and analyze smart forms and surveys. Groth was familiar with the capabilities of Survey123 and liked the ability to customize the data collection form.
Groth utilized a variety of resources when doing a deeper dive into Survey123 for this project, such as watching curated online video content and recorded Esri tutorials. By participating in multiple Esri User Conference sessions and joining the Esri Community for Survey123, Groth connected with other users and got her questions answered. She also read online documentation, adding that she “used the whole toolbox” to learn.
“As much, probably, [as] Jenn had learned about GIS is as much as I’m learning about the fire department operation and community risk reduction. This is just the beauty of doing [sic] [using] GIS because I’m getting in all those different areas where I’m helping people and at the same time getting a better understanding of my colleagues’ work,” says Groth.
For deployment, Groth began by creating a data schema, or the structure of the data, and discussing what details Lyman and Whitbeck needed, such as what data they wanted to capture. Groth also wanted to ensure she mimicked the existing workflow, so testing was an important part of the process. She then created a form for a one-way point of entry to capture information, which is accessible via a tablet or mobile device.
Groth describes Survey123 as a key part of a larger solution, and she also created a dashboard with ArcGIS Dashboards for fire department staff and leadership. This app delivers a set of capabilities that helps users solicit requests from the public, manage appointments, and monitor the administration of educational programs across the community. Groth said this made the entire process simpler and more streamlined.
Entering the data is still an internal process. Residents can call, email, or fill out a third-party form on the website to set up an appointment for an education presentation or alarm installation. Whitbeck and Groth’s next goal is to consolidate this part into their solution using Survey123. They are also planning to incorporate data from a self-guided risk assessment—a survey that's already accessible to residents—prior to the on-site visit. This is another valuable tool, enhancing fire and life safety conversations.
All information is pre-populated and ready for Whitbeck to review and utilize, improving accuracy and saving time. Whitbeck is also using digital Survey123 forms to track smoke and carbon monoxide alarm installations and conduct a more comprehensive fire and life safety survey.
A waiver is required for home visits, and Survey123 allows residents to easily sign the form. Once on-site visits are completed, the report is automatically created and ready for Whitbeck to review, and the dashboard is updated reflecting the efforts. For future improvements, Groth would like to replace the existing form on the website to enable online requests to be sent to ArcGIS directly. A fire safety risk self-assessment offers residents an additional valuable tool.
“The process with this is much more streamlined and straightforward. Your information gets updated in the dashboard. Everybody sees it right away,” says Groth. “Our data is just flowing where we need it to be.”
The Rochester Hills team has been using Survey123 for its new workflow since 2021, which has streamlined the tracking process for visits and improved efficiency. According to Whitbeck, the time it takes to enter data has gone from 30 percent of her total weekly work time to 5–10 percent. She says everything is instant with Survey123 and data is available at her fingertips.
Whitbeck and Groth both note how easy it is to use Survey123. Groth says the application is simple to learn and provides flexibility for users needing additional capabilities for customization, such as HTML formatting or formula-based calculations. “It really has a lot of potential, because I can utilize Survey123 through multiple steps of the workflow without switching between different GIS applications, and I think that's really great,” Groth says.
The ability to track visits more efficiently has helped Whitbeck daily. She can see the locations she has visited, which helps her determine where she still needs to go. Whitbeck then compares this information to their community data and incident mapping to understand where incidents occur and better target their outreach.
“Now we can overlay [data from visits] with our incident data. I think we're more comprehensive in spreading out our services throughout the city, so it's benefiting our residents as a whole, as opposed to impacting only our high-hazard areas,” says Whitbeck.
Nathan Mueller, the senior adviser for strategy and communications for the City of Rochester Hills, adds, “As a result of Whitbeck’s efforts, I think in Michigan, we are either second or third in terms of the number of smoke alarms that we give away for free in the state. I think a lot of it is [a direct] result of what they’ve created with their software and how it allows them to follow everything.”
The use of the dashboard has enabled leadership to easily view CRR data. For example, when the Rochester Hills fire chief asks how many events Whitbeck attended or how many people came to an event, he can access the data quickly and share it with relevant stakeholders. This data can also help the fire department when asking for additional funding, more personnel, or more training for their crew.
“It's an awesome thing. It just saves me time, but it also gives Assistant Chief William Cooke and Chief Sean Canto the capability to show that we might need more resources. So, it just gives them strength and power to be able to show what we're doing,” says Whitbeck.
Reporting is now much easier with revamped digital workflows. Submitting reports is now done with the click of a button, and stored electronic data makes producing reports much faster. The state has its own reporting protocols to follow for its program, including the location of devices in the home, type of device installed, and ages of residents impacted. Whitbeck says she is confident the data reported is accurate and up-to-date.
On-site visits are now more efficient with Survey123. Whitbeck can record details during the visit on her iPad and send a follow-up email survey later to the resident for feedback. Easier recording during the visit means less time spent on record keeping in the office. The digital survey has also increased participation, with an estimated 85 percent of residents returning the post-visit form.
Groth says they are receiving positive feedback from Rochester Hills residents about the new digital process, and other fire departments have expressed interest in transforming their workflows. In partnership with the state, Whitbeck and Groth exchanged ideas, best practices, and lessons learned that will help other fire departments share data and report more efficiently to the state in the future. The ability to now better track outreach efforts has helped CRR better provide education and fire safety tools to the community.
“I'm able to spend time in the data and compare it to our incident data and be poignant and make a difference in my community. With this system, it gives me my time back, plus it's giving me actual accurate data,” says Whitbeck. “And it makes me feel so good that I'm actually spending [more] time . . . out in the community.”