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|Last Updated: Monday, November 05, 2012|
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What is First Watch?
FirstWatch is a computer program that scans the real-time data streams that a fire or EMS department produces, such as computer-aided dispatch, and analyzes it, giving first responders important information on things such as response times, scene times, hospital delays, clusters of arson activity and other critical factors. According to Marc Baker, the Vice President of FirstWatch, the system looks for trends, patterns, anomalies and statistically significant occurrences in the department's real-time data stream, and then it sends out alerts about them to first responders on a hand-held device. They can both use this information to help make decisions during an incident and afterwards to make improvements for future response.
FirstWatch was originally developed in 1999 as a learning tool that helped first responders know ahead of time if they were responding to a bioterrorism or weapons of mass destruction call. Since then it has grown into a multi-faceted system that can help fire and EMS departments in many ways.
Monitors Outbreaks of Illness
One area in which many fire and EMS departments use FirstWatch is to monitor unusual outbreaks of illnesses in any given area. The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department uses FirstWatch in conjunction with the city's Health Department. Deputy Chief Rod Ballard of the EMS division of San Diego Fire-Rescue gets an alert if there is a cluster of illnesses over a short period of time that could point to a potential problem. He says, "If something is out of the ordinary, it starts a notification. Is this suddenly just an increase in seizures or did something happen that the Health Department needs to be aware about?"
Monitors Hospital Delays
In conjunction with San Diego Fire-Rescue, FirstWatch is currently developing a new tool for their system called the "EMS Hospital Status Dashboard". This program monitors hospital statuses, reporting delays and any other issues a hospital is having related to transfer of care. In the case of a major disaster, this will be helpful to paramedics as they decide which hospital to transport a patient to.
Monitors Call Response Times
One application that many fire departments and EMS agencies use is the response time performance system. It keeps track of how long first responders take to respond to incidents, giving officers valuable data that they can use to improve response time if needed. Chief Ballard explains how the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department uses it saying, "I have some triggers built so that if we don't get there in an allotted time, since our goal is to get our first responders there in 8 minutes 90% of the time, I will get an e-mail for the responses when we did not get there in the 8 minutes. So it helps us to look at what we were doing, what was going on and how we can use that data to make system improvements."
Other Uses and Features of FirstWatch
FirstWatch can also be used for situational awareness. For example, 911 dispatchers can use it when they are too busy to announce certain things over the radio. The system can be set up to automatically send out pages whenever an agency is sent out on an incident.
FirstWatch has a diverse set of capabilities, and each fire and EMS department can choose the types of data that they want it to analyze. The FirstWatch team initially sets up the system to monitor the data streams that the departments designate, and they provide maintenance and support whenever needed after that. Departments can set up their own alerts or triggers. In addition to monitoring it on their handheld devices, personnel are able to view all of the information that was generated over the previous 12 hours from anywhere that they have web access, and this information updates every 2 to 6 minutes.
Cost of First Watch
The developers of FirstWatch have implemented their system in 85 metro areas across the United States and Canada in fire departments and EMS agencies both large and small. Some of their current customers include the City of Los Angeles Fire Department, the San Francisco Fire Department, Seattle Fire Department and Las Vegas Fire-Rescue. First Watch Vice President Marc Baker says, "We want to keep the software affordable and easy to deploy. To us it's more valuable if it's deployed in more agencies so that they have the ability to not only monitor their data but also data from neighboring agencies." Baker says that the cost for the system is based on the incidents that a department monitors, the number of data sources they interface with and whether they are helping with aggregated views of real-time data. He says that the cost for large agencies can be around $200,000 for the initial installation and first year's support and then significantly less per year thereafter for support and maintenance. The cost for small agencies starts at about $35,000 for the initial set-up and first year, and is about $3,500 to $4,000 per year for maintenance.
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