National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) Enhancements Project

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The United States Fire Administration (USFA), through the National Fire Data Center, plays a significant role in collecting and distributing data concerning the causes of fires and consequences to fire departments and their communities. Stakeholders at the local, state and federal level have challenged USFA to enhance NFIRS to be of a greater value to the fire service by providing current, relevant and accessible data to make more effective decisions, plans and justifications for fire department operations and administration.

The current version of the NFIRS application was developed between 1996 and 2000. The system's code base is a decade old and badly in need of modernization. Additionally, because of limited resources for the initial project development and on-going system maintenance, adequate functionality was never developed and implemented in several key areas of the system.

Recent congressional resources for NFIRS enhancements have been provided as outlined in the USFA Reauthorization Act of 2008 and have led to an opportunity for USFA to make long needed upgrades to the NFIRS. These upgrades began in October of 2008 with the development of a web version of the NFIRS client Data Entry Tool.

A comprehensive requirements analysis of the NFIRS system gaps was conducted in 2009. As a result of stakeholder interviews and analysis of the data conducted during the requirements analysis, 126 specific wants and needs (identified problems) statements were gathered, resulting in the identification of 10 different Strategic Need areas requiring improvement. An analysis of alternatives was then conducted to identify the viable solutions that would meet the strategic needs identified in the requirements analysis. From this work, a blueprint was developed for how to build a modernized NFIRS that best meets the Strategic Needs identified by the project. The blueprint is separated into phases with the most critical enhancements prioritized to occur first.

Strategic Needs

The comprehensive requirements analysis of the NFIRS system gaps resulted in the identification of the following 10 Strategic Need areas requiring improvement:

  1. Modernized system: NFIRS requires modernization in order to align with modern software coding standards as well to adhere to the DHS/FEMA Enterprise Architecture (EA). The solution must be web-based and improve system performance, usability, efficiency, scalability, and security including audit and archival capabilities.
  2. Data warehousing and mining: The As-Is NFIRS system does not facilitate a flexible and efficient way of retrieving data. The enhanced system must provide efficient and effective processes to get data out of the system. The system must support the up-to-date and timely data needs of data analysts, government agencies, non-government organizations, and the public. The system architecture must be scalable to handle increasing quantities of data, and be powerful and flexible to report on and export data in bulk.
  3. Data management and quality: The system must have enhanced capabilities that allow fire department users and State Program Managers to manage their data files and improve the quality of data entered.
  4. Streamlined output reporting and analysis: The system requires enhanced reporting capabilities to provide functionality offering robust reporting capabilities and analytical tools to make the most of the important data collected. Updated pre-defined reports, ad-hoc reporting capabilities, graphical representations of statistics, drill-down capabilities for details, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) queries and output are highly requested features.
  5. Timely incident reporting: Improvements to the system usability and analytical tools within the system are required for encouraging users to report incident data more frequently.
  6. Usability: The system requires improvements that provide intuitive ways to report incidents.
  7. Information sharing: The system must be capable for facilitating information sharing with other entities' systems using interoperable and flexible data-exchange technologies that are beneficial to the users.
  8. Agility to respond to change: The application must be able to evolve as user needs grow. The system must be agile so that it may respond to change by providing the capability to configure business rules, be easy to maintain, and be intuitive for users.
  9. Self service: The system should support self-help services to reduce the need for USFA and State Program Managers involvement.
  10. Vendor support: The system should support third party software vendors to validate their application data against NFIRS incident reporting standards. This will streamline the changing of standards with limited effect on the vendors.

The strategic needs will be addressed with the planned system enhancements. The solution chosen for updating NFIRS will modernize the system through new Architecture and new development, and entails re-writing NFIRS from the ground up. It will include commercial off the shelf (COTS) solutions for Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence/Reporting, GIS, and Business Rules Management. NFIRS will be re-written in accordance with modern coding and agency Enterprise Architecture standards.

In order to facilitate a modular approach to the NFIRS enhancement process, the work has been separated into the following five discrete phases.

  1. Data Entry Browser Interface. This feature provides for a totally web based data entry tool eliminating the need to download and install client software on the user's computer. Use of approved 3rd party commercial software as an alternative is still permitted. (Released July, 2010)
  2. Data Warehouse and Mining. This feature will provide flexible and efficient ways of retrieving and exporting data. (planned release date: Summer, 2011)
  3. New NFIRS Web Portal. This objective continues the modernization of the USFA solution by adding a web based portal, and implements a role based security model to give users single point access for the NFIRS data entry, report dashboards and access to administrative applications. While the individual applications would maintain a similar look and feel they will be encapsulated into a single location within the portal.
  4. Revision of the NFIRS Data Entry Applications. This objective provides a true integration of the portal with the Incident Reporting application as the core with the addition of a new rules engine.
  5. Enhanced User Interface. The final objective adds the remaining functionality to complete the NFIRS application. GIS will be incorporated into the Incident Reporting application as well as administrative applications to support system users.

Target dates for phases 3 through 5 will be identified as work progresses.

Once complete, changes to the system will result in the following:

Planned upgrades to the NFIRS system will not include changes to the standard (NFIRS 5.0). The NFIRS modules, data elements and codes will remain unchanged until work is completed on the system upgrades. Once the upgrades are complete, planning for an upgrade to NFIRS 6.0 will begin.