The Crucial Need for Modern Communication Tools in Fire and Rescue

A high-rise apartment in the downtown core is burning. Although some residents have made it out, others are still trapped inside. Time is now of the essence — the more efficiently firefighters are able to mobilize, the greater the chances that everyone can be pulled to safety.

You know this. You also know that effective mobilization begins with effective communication and coordination. With promoting collaboration not just amongst internal personnel, but also with volunteers and community groups.

To achieve this, one must first understand the challenges one faces.

Scattered Departmental Communication

Fire departments are unique amongst emergency response organizations. For one, they’re far more distributed. A firefighter might not even interact with someone who works a different shift from them, while firefighters from two different stations are unlikely to meet face to face with the exception of large-scale events.

Typically, organization-wide messages such as daily briefings, operational updates, and community events are shared via email or on the fire station bulletin board. Unfortunately, neither of these channels provides any real opportunity for discourse. There is no means of guaranteeing that communication sent this way was received or understood, which has the potential to create several issues.

Miscommunication and Confusion

What happens if someone misses an email about a new process or policy. Or a bulletin about an issue with a particular piece of equipment? Or a notice about an important organizational event?

Within fire and rescue, this sort of communication can cause more than inconvenience and inefficiency — it has the potential to put people’s safety at risk.

The Churning Rumor Mill

In the absence of effective internal communication, people will often leverage tools like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. In addition to being highly insecure, these channels further stifle internal dialogue. They further promote the formation of communication silos and further facilitate the spread of harmful rumors and misinformation.

A Top-down Disconnect

There’s also no inbuilt way for personnel to communicate with leadership. If someone has questions or concerns about a particular update, their only recourse is to either reach out via phone/email or hope for a face-to-face talk. This can cause staff — volunteers especially — to feel ignored and out of the loop, feelings which can easily build into unhappiness and resentment.

This disconnect impacts more than employee morale. It also has an adverse effect on decision-making. Because personnel do not have a direct line to leadership, leaders may find themselves lacking critical information both during emergencies and a department’s day-to-day.

Bringing Outside Agents Into the Loop

A single fire department typically works closely with multiple community groups, manufacturing/industrial facilities, power plants, and public venues. Each of these groups has its own communication platform and processes. As a result, staying in contact with them often requires a department to leverage a complex web of communication channels.

In addition to external stakeholders, a fire department may work with thousands of volunteers, particularly during wildfire season and colder months. Although many of these volunteers will be with the department for the long-term, others may only offer their time for several months. Ensuring each of these volunteers receives the right information at the right time can feel akin to balancing a series of spinning plates, to say nothing of training and onboarding.

This is frustrating enough for day-to-day communication. But during an emergency in which every second counts, you need to be able to communicate with your volunteers quickly and efficiently. You need to be able to mobilize any or all of them at a moment’s notice.

The Need for New Technology

Inter-organizational collaboration, departmental unity, and effective mobilization are the core of an effective fire department. Unfortunately, existing methods simply aren’t up to the task. Between legacy processes and third-party channels, there is simply too much complexity.

Fire departments need to modernize communications, and not solely for the sake of efficiency. Today’s workforce grew up in a world of convenience, in an era of intuitive software and streamlined technology. Volunteers and permanent staff alike are increasingly acclimated to instant communication and real-time collaboration.

A workplace where briefings are still done via email and physical bulletin boards will be jarring at best, and repellant at worst. If you’re to connect with a new generation of firefighters, dispatchers, and other volunteers, you need to update your systems. To keep them informed, engaged, and safe, you need to provide them with real-time, unified two-way communication.

They need to be able to identify and contact leadership at a moment’s notice. They need centralized, easy access to both critical and non-critical communication. And most importantly, they need the ability to connect with their colleagues, even those that work different shifts or in different stations.

Unify Your Emergency Response With Unio

Fire departments face a host of unique communication challenges, even relative to other first responders. They need to connect seamlessly and simultaneously with external stakeholders, permanent staff, and seasonal personnel. They need to unify a distributed workforce and ensure that, especially during an emergency, everyone has access to the information they require.

And they need to achieve all this via a medium that’s reliable, intuitive, and secure. Here’s where Unio comes in. A platform inspired by and designed for the unique needs of first responders, it simplifies fire and rescue communication in multiple ways:

  • Integrated newsfeed. A digital replacement for the fire hall bulletin board. Keep personnel across departments connected and informed. Engage staff by allowing them to like, share, and comment on updates.
  • Dedicated groups. Determine, at a glance, what division and team each volunteer works with and who to reach out to if there’s a need to contact leadership. Invite representatives from external stakeholders/community groups, making it easier to keep them informed.
  • Priority messaging. Get the right information to the right people at the right time, whether providing updates to on-scene firefighters, debriefing a team after a call, or requesting assistance from off-duty volunteers.
  • Simplified communication. Intuitive voice, video, group chat, and file-sharing make the onboarding of new volunteers or external stakeholders effortless.
  • Reliable infrastructure. Built on BlackBerry’s infrastructure, Unio keeps personnel connected even in situations where radio communication would typically fail.
  • Security and privacy. Unio’s end-to-end encryption is compliant with multiple regulatory frameworks, including HIPAA, GDPR, and PIPEDA. And with Unio, you control your encryption keys — we do not, nor will we ever, have access to your data.

A high-rise apartment in the downtown core is burning, and there are people still trapped inside. Multiple teams from different fire stations arrive simultaneously, including several off-duty volunteers. Communicating through Unio, they’re able to mount a far more effective response than would otherwise be possible.

Before long, the fire is out, and the crisis dealt with.

In an emergency, every second counts — and with Unio, you can make every message count, too.

Learn more about how Unio empowers first responders.

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Whether you need to improve engagement, augment your workforce, or modernize your business, MobiStream’s got you covered.