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Nearing the Horizon: Improved Incident Reporting, Better Incident Data

Prepare your department for the new national emergency response information system. Get #NERISReady!

Posted: June 29, 2024

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Incident reporting is more than just paperwork. In 2023, fire departments across the United States submitted more than 30 million incident reports. When information from those reports is analyzed, it’s used every day to make firefighters and communities safer. Many leaders apply the intelligence from fire data analysis in guiding policy and budget decisions at the local, state, and Federal levels. For example, fire incident data has been used to inform priorities for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, which as has awarded over $8 billion to the nation’s fire service since it was established in 2001.

When it comes to incident data analysis, it has never been a question of what is possible. The challenge has been what is achievable by a local fire department – in the face of limitation in skilled staff, time, and available technology. Local fire departments across the Nation are facing increasing challenges recruiting and retaining firefighters and equipping them with the training and equipment required to meet performance standards. Leaders often turn to the “data” in seeking insights to help answer difficult decisions on staffing levels, station brown outs, response time analysis, resource prioritization, amongst others. How many conversations about data inevitably lead to questions that start with those four simple words: “what if we could…”?

What if a solution to overcoming these challenges is near the horizon? The launch of a new incident data reporting and analysis platform is just around the corner. Starting in May 2023, USFA embarked on an endeavor to build a new platform, the National Emergency Response Information System (NERIS) to overcome the very challenges local fire departments face in reporting incidents and analyzing incident data to inform critical decision making. NERIS is being developed as the replacement for the legacy National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and will be launching in the late Fall of 2024.

Removing barriers in collecting fire and all-hazards incident reports. NERIS will use responsive design that will ensure its accessible on all types of mobile devices, tablets, laptop computers, and desktop computers. It will also provide flexibility in how fire department submit incident reports. Fire departments will have the ability to directly capture incident reports using a NERIS-provided data capture app to produce more accurate, near real time incident data. Additionally, NERIS will allow for integration of certain local incident data from local computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and records management systems (RMS), thereby increasing the speed and accuracy of local incident data received and reducing manual data entry burdens on local firefighters.

Incident data and analysis that is flexible and responsive to changes in our communities. Our world is rapidly changing, and we are facing new and increasingly complex threats and hazards at the local level on a nationwide scale.We’re experiencing increased fuel loads in residential structure, aging and vulnerable infrastructure, energy transition to new fuels and battery technologies, wildland-urban interface fires, community conflagration, and unsheltered populations living in encampments to name a few. NERIS is being developed to allow for consistent data collection and analytics on emerging fire and all-hazards issues – ensuring the ability to quickly address new and unpredicted hazards and risk.

Responding smarter. With NERIS, incident data, when analyzed, provides the intelligence needed to inform a fire department’s strategies and tactics. By participating in a national incident reporting system, fire departments can compare their performance and outcomes across varying incident types, times of day, and at different staffing levels. Incident data collected and analyzed in NERIS will include geospatial information, modernized incident types, and actions & tactics - resulting in higher value, more actionable analytics for local fire departments. It will also include optional time stamps to record key emergency incident scene benchmarks to better assess incident performance and intervention. The future of incident data analysis isn’t simply documenting what happened, it’s discovering what worked.

Prepared with these insights, fire departments will be able to provide the empirical evidence often needed in advocating for the funding, resources, training, and support needed to handle not only today’s problems, but also the evolving challenges of tomorrow. As we look to the future with NERIS, local fire service nationwide will be equipped with the data-informed intelligence needed to achieve our mission in protecting communities while ensuring that all firefighters make it home safely and healthy.