Managing a large urban fire department is extremely difficult. Multiple decisions made every day will have ramifications and unintended consequences that can have lasting effects on a department. With this knowledge, fire chiefs and command staff level personnel need enhanced analysis to make appropriate, data-driven decisions for their department and their municipalities. GIS can assist that need by providing in-depth analysis of multiple datasets and stitch them together to provide a global overall view of the requisite data.
From its rudimentary beginnings in the 1960s, a GIS “has evolved from a concept to a science.” As these beginnings grew into a profession with various technical aspects, GIS began to pervade into other professions, such as city/urban planning, remote sensing, weather forecasts, telecom services, transportation planning, and industrial applications. As the prevalence of GIS continues to grow in other professions, the fire service has been slow to recognize and incorporate the benefits of this technology. Until recently, the Dallas Fire Department was one of those fire departments that had yet to realize the full potential of this powerful tool.
A GIS functions as more than a way in which to make visually appealing maps. Maps are indeed a perfect tool for visualizing single point data streams and representing real-world attributes on a smaller scale. Everything from demographic data, political boundaries, and even response times can be encompassed in a GIS digital map. Unfortunately, most people do not realize that digital maps contain vast amounts of data behind every feature; and it is that data in the background of the digital map that actually matters. In fact, terabytes of data are created every day by large metropolitan fire departments. Everything and everyone associated with a fire department from firefighters, apparatus, supplies, payroll, and even fire stations, create usable data. Innocuous things, such as apparatus movements, speeds, firefighter work locations, and reports also create data points; and GIS has the ability to capture all that data and make sense of it.
As this research illustrates, resource allocation of fire department apparatus and fire station placement is a fundamental use of GIS analysis. When seconds count, the placement of vital life safety resources cannot simply be left up to institutional knowledge or gut feelings. As such, when relocating or placing new units into service, coverage analysis, hot spot analysis, and travel time analysis play critical roles in the resource allocation process. At first glance, these processes may seem very similar, yet each is distinctly different and provides a different perspective of data.
This thesis was designed to answer the question: How can geospatial intelligence enhance Dallas Fire Department’s bureaus, programs, and data analysis. Through this research, GIS analysis was leveraged to evaluate, and in some cases, incorporated into multiple programs and bureaus within the Dallas Fire Department. The incorporation of GIS technology has enhanced programs like Dallas’ RIGHT Care Program by providing the requisite data necessary to make data-driven decisions. In addition, this research has demonstrated how GIS applications can be used to enhance pre-incident planning, fire hydrant maintenance, fleet maintenance, and special operations response.
Furthermore, this thesis demonstrates that GIS technology can and should be used for strategic planning and policy development processes. In each instance, key demographic data and social equity tools must be incorporated into the decision-making process, so that minority and historically underserved communities are represented fair and equitably.
Uniquely, during the research phase of this thesis as new approaches and applications were discovered, my team and I implemented many of them in near real-time. Several of the GIS applications discussed in this thesis were used as case studies for the Dallas Fire Department (Appendices A and B). The overarching goal was to provide the reader with authentic analysis and a possible template for future GIS analysis within the reader’s own agency or jurisdiction. The contributions from this research have provided my team and I with the opportunity to complete actual projects and transfer knowledge from academia into tangible real-world applications.
Finally, while the effects of GIS were only analyzed in a few programs within the Dallas Fire Department, additional research into every departmentally sponsored program or bureau should continue. Leveraging the power of GIS technology beyond maps will increase efficiency and provide the essential data necessary to make sound, well thought-out strategic and tactical decisions.
 “What is GIS?, History of GIS.” ESRI, accessed April 16, 2021, https://www.esri.com/en-us/what-is-gis/history-of-gis.