The USFA’s NFDC is intended to provide accurate nationwide analysis of the fire problem, identify major problem areas, assist in setting priorities, determine possible solutions to problems and monitor the progress of programs to reduce fire losses. Due to the extremely outdated legacy data system known as NFIRS, antiquated technology, and the indifference of the nation’s fire service toward continued contribution to a relatively obsolete system, the USFA is unable to deliver on its charge.
The USFA mission is hindered by a lack of credible and timely data from the nation’s fire and EMS first response services. As a result, the USFA is ill-prepared to support and strengthen responders and cannot report on the nation’s fire problem. This applies to first responder preparedness and national readiness for initial disaster response. Without sufficient quality data on community risks, capacity of our fire and EMS departments suffers. They are unable to report on or make crisis management decisions around responder and civilian injuries, fatalities, property saved and causes of fire.
There are major gaps between the current/legacy system and the requirements for a new, modern platform that will readily inform community emergency response capacity and capabilities for day-to-day incidents and large-scale disasters. Due to the limitations with the current legacy system, the quantity, quality and timeliness of NFIRS data submitted by states and local fire departments is inadequate. The current antiquated system’s outdated code is not interoperable with modern systems, and regular fixes are costly. The legacy system is hosted with on-premises servers within the FEMA infrastructure and mandated to be shut down by 2025.
Further, the legacy system is not cloud-based, has a minimally acceptable level of security and does not have the capability for direct data capture, geolocation, analytics, dashboard reporting or data exchange via application programming interfaces (APIs). Gaps in the data standard used by the legacy system limit wildland fire data, community risk reduction factors and timeliness of data reporting. In addition to the gap in emergency resource capability assessment noted above, the lack of accurate, complete and timely all-hazards incident data means the federal government and state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) agencies are ill-informed and unprepared to identify the nation’s fire problem or the risks involving other hazards. Finally, the current NFIRS cannot share data with federal, SLTT, private sector or other equities via modern and dynamic APIs.
Data modernization solution
As we look to the future, the USFA is seeking new ways to address our evolving challenges. An important element of this progression is the USFA’s ability to collect, analyze and report actionable information in a timely manner. Working with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, we are developing a new, modern cloud-based data and analytics platform, known as the National Emergency Response Information System (NERIS). Additionally, we are developing an updated and streamlined core fire data standard that serves as the foundation for interoperability and data exchange with the new NERIS platform. Once developed and launched, the NERIS platform will replace the legacy NFIRS.
The goal of NERIS is to empower the local fire and emergency services community by equipping them with near real-time information and analytic tools that support data-informed decision-making for enhanced preparedness and response to incidents involving all hazards. NERIS will enable rapid integration and analysis of the best available and most authoritative data from a multitude of sources, now and in the future, including computer-aided dispatch systems, geographic information systems, physical and field sensors (e.g., Internet of Things), records management systems, APIs from other systems, and data services from entities such as the National Weather Service/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Agriculture. It will also minimize the burden on emergency responders performing data entry while providing them with high-value incentives through user-defined and actionable analytic tools that support intelligence-led decision-making at the local level.
NERIS will provide automated analytics to enable self-service dissemination of summary data and the decision support tools for the nation’s fire challenges to our SLTT stakeholders, as well as other interested persons such as those in academia and the private sector. To support this process, USFA staff will ensure the translation and usability of data and complex analyses from the NERIS platform. Additionally, data scientists and engineers nationwide will be able to leverage the data from this platform to conduct research and disseminate reports to both the fire service and decision-makers at all levels of government.
The vision is that a new National Fire Information and Analytics Platform (the platform) will be the premier source of information on the nation’s fire problem and on the SLTT fire services’ capacity and capability to handle the problem effectively, efficiently and safely. This approach aligns with and will measurably advance FEMA’s Strategic Plan in 3 areas.
- Instill equity in access to timely and quality information for fire departments, firefighters and the public.
- Lead the community in resilience by ensuring the availability of data to inform prevention and preparedness efforts and assess overall capability of frontline response agencies.
- Support and sustain a prepared nation through data-informed training and measuring readiness of frontline agencies and first responders.
The modernized platform and resulting datasets will empower the fire and emergency services community nationwide, along with USFA, FEMA, the Department of Agriculture/USFS, DOI and other entities by equipping them with an empirical basis for decision-making. Use of the platform will provide the community with new, more reliable predictive analytics to support enhanced preparedness and response to all-hazards incidents, WUI events, community risk reduction efforts, climate change threats and associated resilience and mitigation efforts, and future pandemic emergency response resource preparedness.
The new platform will be flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of the local fire service and first responders nationwide to ensure equity of service availability at the most local level and to enable local fire departments and emergency response agencies to access and use their own data for data-driven informed decisions.