South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue (SYFR) operates across Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, serving a population of 3 million. The service relies on a brave and experienced team to both respond rapidly to incidents as they occur and proactively prevent injury and death by making fire risk assessments of people’s homes, businesses and public buildings.
As part of the Safe and Well partnership scheme, SYFR has a major focus on targeting and protecting vulnerable citizens, known to be the most at-risk members of society in the event of a fire. Every afternoon, fire crews make home visits to complete fire risk assessments and fit new fire alarms. By taking this action, it is hoped that in the event of a fire a vulnerable citizen will have more time to call for help and exit a building safely, thus preventing serious injury or worse.
Vulnerable citizens include the elderly, those with a physical disability, people suffering from mental health or dementia who live alone and many other vulnerable types that may struggle in the event of a fire. Fire Crews get frustrated when their home visits are not targeted as effectively as they could be. This means their time and resources could be put to much better use if they had better information. The data they seek about vulnerable citizens is typically held by any local council, social services and charitable organisations, but getting them to share it has been a major challenge.
Challenges in South Yorkshire
As the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) does not regard the sharing of vulnerable citizen data to be of ‘vital interest’, the fire and rescue service is often left on its own to try and negotiate data sharing agreements with each organisation. GDPR has made the situation more difficult regarding data sharing and the willingness of some local authorities to even consider it.
Steven Locking, IT Manager for SYFR, said: “We are doing our best to help the most vulnerable people in society, but our work would be much more effective with a little help from local partners. It can take several months to put a data sharing agreement in place and in the meantime, some of our most vulnerable members of society remain at risk.”
Barnsley MBC steps up to provide hope for the future
SYFR has been on a crusade for years to try and get local organisations to collaborate and share information, ideally in an automated way that is safe, secure and requires little or no human intervention. Before SYFR could realistically look at a technical solution, it needed to find a willing partner prepared to implement the necessary legal framework that would allow information to flow between them.
Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) was sympathetic to the cause and prepared to move many obstacles to make this happen. After a short consultation period, legal agreements were drawn up and signed that would allow information to be shared from datasets held by the council about citizens that matched the ‘vulnerable’ criteria, as set out in the Safe and Well partnership scheme.
Getting to the technical bits
Having finally got one of the largest councils in the region to agree to collaborate was just the start SYFR was looking for. Locking commented: “Once we had a willing partner agree in principal to work with us, we moved fast to systematically find a technical solution that could be fully automated or work in any way as required by our partner. The technology had to work with any IT system and integrate data into our CFRMIS solution. We intend to showcase this collaboration to other potential partners in the hope that they will also get on board and want to share information, so any technology we selected had to be able to handle multiple organisations and their different software applications.”
Locking had already been working to define and implement a Digital Transformation strategy for the fire and rescue service. The consultancy practice he had selected to work with suggested he speak to SPINR about its hybrid data integration product. “Getting SPINR involved early in the conversation with the council was a blessing. It quickly got to grips with what was required and developed relationships with the key people there. Before we had the legal agreements signed, SPINR was fully up-to-speed on what it had to do, having already run simulations using test data.”
Good outcomes from good data
This is just the beginning of the implementation of SYFR’s data sharing vision, but it is an exciting step that will see SPINR as a key component in the aggregation and enrichment of information about vulnerable citizens and their needs. This will help fire crews keep these people safe for as long as they choose to live in the region and under their care. However, the importance of this data sharing relationship cannot be underplayed, as it also works to protect the fire crews themselves by advising them what scenario they may be dealing with when they make home visits.
Tom Carter, CTO at SPINR, said: “What we have seen here is how data sharing between organisations can significantly impact people’s lives for the better. It would be disastrous if all the work put in by the team at SYFR didn’t come to fruition in this way. We’re of course delighted to play our part, but equally pleased that at last the processes are being put in place that will make a real difference. We believe strongly in leveraging the power of data to improve people’s lives, a key foundation of why we created SPINR.”
Locking concluded: “We were looking for a partner that could help us share data across separate organisations in a secure and compliant way. As a consequence, we now also have a solution that can help us integrate our internal systems and that may help accelerate our Digital Transformation journey. Working with SPINR provided a technically brilliant, compliant solution and its willingness to get things done was great. It was also significant that the team at SPINR understood the problem and cared as much about the outcome as we did, which made all the difference.”