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Embracing change: The transition to NERIS for incident reporting

The new National Emergency Response Information System is being developed to reduce data entry burdens on firefighters


In a data-driven world, it is imperative that fire and EMS organizations have timely and accurate information at their fingertips.

By Tom Jenkins

In the fire academy, I doubt any candidate firefighter is excited or intrigued about incident reporting. And beyond the academy, many firefighters see incident reports as nothing more than a chore, a first cousin to taking out the fire station trash. However, in a data-driven world, it is imperative that fire and EMS organizations have timely and accurate information at their fingertips. This information allows fire departments to properly allocate resources, understand their community’s risk, and assess the performance of response units.

A shift in culture

It is time for our attitude and cultures to change. “America Burning,” published over 50 years ago, highlighted the need for information to combat public apathy and governmental rigidity in allocating resources to fire and other emergency needs. While our existing incident reporting system tries to collect information relevant to emergency risk, the demands and risk of our industry mandate change and adaptation.


In May 2023, the U.S. Fire Administration, Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, and UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute entered a contract to develop a new emergency response information system for our country. This system, the National Emergency Response Information System (NERIS), will replace the existing reporting system and be the premier source of information for our nation’s emergency responders.

Obtaining incident information will always rely on a firefighter who understands the need and takes the time to properly input the situations encountered and what firefighters did to solve the specific problem. The good news: NERIS is designed with the firefighter as the top priority. Through augmentation and automation of data, leveraging geospatial technology, NERIS is being developed to reduce data entry burdens on firefighters. The variables that are entered by firefighters also reflect a more robust set of modern values. Incident types, actions taken and other information have been systematically refreshed to ensure that the questions we’re asking of firefighters have real-world value.

Implementation and benefits

NERIS will require a major update to the current records management system software, or alternatively, the use of a free app for collecting incident data. Once the new system is in place, it will be able to integrate information from the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. This integration will enable a comprehensive “story” of each incident, from the moment the call is received to when the last fire company departs from the scene.

The primary beneficiary of this transformational project is the local fire department. The system will provide basic analytics and reports to local fire departments, an offering that is likely to grow over time. This information and analytics will be the first time that some of our country’s 27,000-plus fire departments have seen a dividend from any of the data they’ve submitted. Furthermore, the design of the system will make information available much quicker – in “near real-time” – for the state, regional and federal agencies also using it to understand the character of risk and response.

Preparing for the transition

NERIS isn’t a pipe dream, nor an abstract project slated for completion a decade from now. The system is charging full steam ahead to replace NFIRS in late 2025.

For your fire department, the time is now to start asking questions and considering how you’ll want to transition to the incident reporting process. Some important steps include:

  • Designate a point of contact: This should be someone who is very familiar with the existing software(s) you’re using and who isn’t planning on retiring in the near future.
  • Evaluate current software: Determine what software you currently use and whether that company, if appropriate, is preparing to transition to the new NERIS setup.
  • Understand your geography: Gather information regarding your department’s geography. Your response boundaries and other special geospatial elements are important to NERIS since it can help determine your performance and risk.
  • Familiarize with operational details: Make sure your point of contact is properly familiar with the operating details of your organization. NERIS will include information on the baseline resources and operational framework for your fire department, making it important that this person understands many details of your agency.

A significant leap forward

The transition to NERIS represents a significant leap forward in the way we approach incident reporting. By embracing this change, we can ensure that our fire departments are equipped with the tools they need to effectively respond to emergencies and protect our communities.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about NERIS, visit the NERIS program page or email at

Learn more about NERIS:

About the author

Tom Jenkins is a research manager with UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), focused on the National Emergency Response Information System (NERIS). Prior to joining FSRI, he served as a career firefighter for over 26 years, retiring as fire chief for the City of Rogers, Arkansas, after leading the organization for 15 years. Jenkins also served as an adjunct professor for Oklahoma State University, Drury University and Northwest Arkansas Community College. Jenkins holds a bachelor’s degree in fire protection and safety engineering from Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma. He is a regular presenter at national conferences and serves in various capacities on numerous boards and committees, including NFPA 1710.