FDNY replaced its 45-year-old computer system

Written by Colin Wood

The New York City Fire Department retired a 45-year-old computer-assisted dispatch system last week, following a four-year project to develop a modern platform that researchers say responsible, is more reliable and has new features to help keep people in the city safe.

FDNY Deputy Commissioner JonPaul Augier said the department launched the new FireCAD system at 3:43 a.m. on Aug. 2, a Monday when call volume is typically low. The new $22 million system, developed by Accenture, replaced an older CAD platform called STARFIRE.

“It was only so far that we could extend the technology on which STARFIRE was built in 1977 to meet the needs of today,” Augier said. “We could only bolt so many things to this app before it starts slowing down, before it starts freezing, before you have a crash here and there, you have to do a warm start, and these are things that impact how quickly we can deal with emergencies and get units into the field.

Of the many new features in FireCAD, greater reliability was seen as most important from the early planning stages, Augier said. At its peak, STARFIRE was 99.9% reliable, he said, which equates to less than nine hours of downtime per year. FireCAD was designed to have only 52 minutes of downtime per year, bringing its reliability to 99.99%, according to FDNY.

A key requirement of the project was to include an intuitive interface, which reduces the requires extensive training and facilitates the deployment of resources in the event of a fire, medical emergency or chemical, biological or radioactive hazard, Augier said.

“The look and feel is much easier on the eyes than the old black screen and green text you might have seen in a ‘WarGames’ movie,” he said.

But upgrading the interface goes beyond aesthetics – simplifying processes and making relevant data available to dispatchers can reduce response times to critical seconds and reduce the risk of errors. Officials examining a 2018 incident in Hawaii in which emergency personnel accidentally sent a false alert warning of an incoming missile found the incident was partly the result of a confusing interface.

The New York City Fire Department’s new system also has a more robust development environment, with ways to test and implement new patches or security features before pushing them live on the platform. platform. Changes to the old platform required a time-consuming coding process, Augier said.

FireCAD also has an administrative interface, he said, that allows dispatch supervisors to quickly and independently make changes. These can be as important as creating “temporary response zones” that can affect the entire city’s response matrix, such as during a major event like a marathon or a terrorist attack, he said. .

So far the system is working with only a few minor bugs, and Augier estimated that Accenture’s work on the project could be approved within a month. He attributed the project’s success to a planning and development cycle that included dispatchers even before procurement began in 2017.

“We dubbed it a CAD system for dispatchers, by dispatchers,” Augier said. “We didn’t just sit them down before procurement and gather the requirements and hand over a stack of requirements to a [business analyst] group and just say yes, go explain that to a technologist. Dispatchers and their training unit have been involved in all of the construction over the past few years.

Services for 911 new generationan upcoming IP-based emergency response platform, is not yet available, but FireCAD has also been designed to be compatible with it.

Augier told StateScoop that as a third-generation New York firefighter, he can clearly see how more sophisticated systems are needed to support increasingly complex work. In the 1930s, he says, his grandfather only responded to fires and the call of a bell – no information was needed beyond the location of the fire. In the 1960s, his father followed instructions from a city-wide intercom system that had been developed to relay more information – exact addresses and which fire company to answer.

“As these roles, responsibilities and emergencies have started to grow, it becomes increasingly complicated for dispatchers to manage all of these resources,” Augier said. “The ministry has really evolved into an all-hazards response agency. We’re like a life safety agency, instead of just going to fires. Our response matrix is ​​very complex and very dynamic.

Gordon K. Morehouse