10 Steps to Enhance Your NFIRS 5 / CAD Interface
Here's a 10-item checklist to help you create a rock-solid NFIRS 5 / CAD interface.
# 1. Make Apparatus reporting mandatory.
NFIRS 5 reporting requirements are satisfied with Incident data alone. State and federal systems are not interested in the response of individual apparatus. But these performance statistics are absolutely essential to local fire officers.
Make the on-scene incident commander responsible for the accurate completion of the incident report. Individual company officers should complete an apparatus report for their company response. A good CAD interface will make this reporting chore a breeze.
# 2. Check your Apparatus module Apparatus ID field for accuracy.
Here's one that frequently slips-by. Regional CAD systems sometimes add prefix letters to each Apparatus ID to identify the agency involved in the response. For example:
36Eng01, 36Eng02, 36Lad01, etc.
There's no problem with this numbering scheme in CAD. In fact having an Apparatus ID prefix allows all unit responses to be easily sorted for inter-agency reporting purposes. However, NFIRS 5 specifications only allow 5-characters in the Apparatus ID field. All other characters are simply ignored. So when reporting the example Apparatus ID's would be reported as:
36Eng, 36Eng, 36Lad, etc.
Remember to restrict your NFIRS 5 Apparatus ID's to 5-characters or less. Anything else cannot be handled within NFIRS 5 system definitions.
# 3. Include the time each apparatus begins its response.
Turnout Time and Travel Time are both critical performance measurements. However, calculating these measurements requires tracking the time the apparatus begins its response to a call. NFIRS 5 specifications do not track the time the Apparatus begins to roll to the scene. Your RMS package must store this extra data element and make it available for reporting. Miss adding this one data element and you will loose the ability to perform NFPA 1710 calculations.
# 4. Make sure you include seconds in time fields.
There is no federal requirement to track seconds in time fields. But without this extra resolution you can only generalize about the performance of fire department operations. Imagine building a house where every measurement is rounded-off to the nearest foot. It wouldn't look like much. If you are going through the trouble of capturing times from CAD, make sure those times provide the precision you need for accurate measurement.
# 5. Correctly record your Station ID field.
NFIRS 5 specification allow only 3-characters for station identification. Like Apparatus ID, prefixes added to station identifications can easily cause you to exceed this limit. In fact, some jurisdictions make the mistake of identifying stations as:
Sta01, Sta02, Sta03
When reporting these station identifications the federal government will only see:
Sta, Sta, Sta
Make sure you don't allow this key data element to be cut-off by the specs.
# 6. Make full use of the District field.
Take the time to divide your jurisdiction into districts. Make sure CAD delivers this district information or make the district field mandatory for data entry. NFIRS 5 specifications allow up to 3-characters for district fields so make sure you keep that in mind when dividing your response territory into districts.
# 7. Don't skip the Census Tract field.
Census tracts are like really big districts already pre-defined by the federal government. These large sub-divisions may not be very useful for response, but the federal government offers in-depth census data about the income, population distribution, etc. within each census tract. In order to tap into this federal data reserve it makes sense to track every incident to the census tract level. In fact, your CAD system may already be automatically capturing census tracts. Don't overlook this analysis resource simply because it's not an NFIRS 5 required field.
# 8. Create rich narratives that include CAD comments.
While narratives are a part of every NFIRS 5 data transaction, they are never used to calculate percentages or values. They are used to identify why a certain series of incidents fall outside an expected data range. This is essential when trying to resolve data "mysteries".
Make sure your officers take the time to fill-out narratives. If CAD comments can be automatically forwarded into the narrative, all the better. Keep this unformatted, free-form data full of pertinent comments and you will find many uses for this information in the future.
# 9. Capture longitude / latitude, if available from CAD.
Today many CAD systems are geo-based. Most new CAD systems automatically capture the longitude and latitude of each call. When setting-up a CAD interface make sure you capture these geographical positions and send them down to your RMS system. While there's no place to store them in NFIRS 5, this RMS location data will come in handy when plotting RMS data geographically.
#10. Include a Map Page reference, if available.
If your system uses map pages make sure you send them from CAD to RMS. Map pages are like miniature districts. If the data is available send it down to further enhance your geographic reporting capability.
CAD has the potential to automatically populate many NFIRS 5 and RMS fields. But make sure regional CAD data accurately and correctly populates your NFIRS 5 form. Inaccurate CAD loading may not be caught by data entry error checking. You must make sure your data is formatted correctly.
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