Fighting fires with data

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Fast access to relevant information in real time is essential for emergency responders to have the best possible chance of saving lives in any incident.

While some of that information is available to those responders now, it is often fragmented and dense, paper-based and non searchable, making fast analysis difficult, particularly in the four minutes or so first responders have before they arrive at an incident.

Enter OpsCentral. The Kiwi startup has developed a software platform using machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to gather vital data from multiple sources, make it easily digestible, and deliver it to emergency responders. 

The idea had its inception at Kiwi software business Provoke Solutions, acquired by the Bridgewest Group when it  was looking for a global partner to support its expansion into the US and to scale up its New Zealand operations. 

Provoke had worked with Fire and Emergency New Zealand for some time and recognised a gap in access to crucial but disparate data sources. As a result they had a great deal of knowledge around the struggle to leverage real-time data and how it could be more effectively used to improve effectiveness . 

OpsCentral founder and president Debby Murphy was part of that early discovery and is now preparing the platform for global testing with fire departments around the world, with goals to focus on Australia, the US, and the UK.

Urgent information for better decisions

“The more I  talked to firefighters, the more the same issues kept coming up. They were frustrated by trying to get good intelligence on the way to an incident, or during an incident.

The data needed encompasses everything from the weather and building information, to evacuation plans, hazard identification, traffic movement, and hydrant locations.

“They had some good information - in manuals in the truck and things like that - but it was really fragmented and hard to access quickly,” Murphy says. “They’re trying to find and absorb all that in four minutes while also trying to actually see with their eyes what is happening at the site. We can bring all these things together.”

There are other practical features that make OpsCentral suitable for responders. One is contextual visualisation. As Murphy says, it’s not enough just to provide the aggregated real-time data, it has to be presented in a way that can be read and understood quickly and be relevant to the current situation.

“We get a lot of compliments on our visualisation. We’ve done everything we can to make it as clear as possible. There are multiple views. We use traffic cams and even drone footage, and you can toggle between everything to get the best context.”

The data also helps responders with consistent, accurate reporting after an incident. “A lack of accurate, accessible information has made effective reporting difficult and time consuming.” OpsCentral will help fill that gap by being a single source of reliable information.

“Intersectional data is where the real value is. Knowing what the weather is doing and what type of incident you’re dealing with, where the crew is, gives those responders a much richer picture of what is happening and how to manage it. OpsCentral can do that.”

Murphy says while the testing is focused on fire departments for now, the company has plans to work with other emergency responders. The platform has potential applications in other sectors such as large-scale event management.

Commercialisation support

The potential scope of OpsCentral appeals to Bridgewest Ventures, which has entered into a joint venture with the business as part of the Callaghan Innovation Deep Tech Incubator programme.

“We are really excited by this one,” says John Robson, General Manager for Bridgewest Ventures. “This can be a global business early on.  It’s a really interesting combination of deep tech and a SaaS platform. And not just any SaaS platform, but a SaaS platform with purpose.”

Robson says it’s also impressive how connected Murphy already is with her initial target community, having regular contact with fire departments around the world and hosting an international roundtable forum covering leadership in the fire service.

As part of the joint venture Bridgewest has two seats on the board with OpsCentral and is in close contact with Murphy and provides her with access to key advisors and expertise.

For Murphy that support is extremely valuable. “It’s really helpful having Bridgewest Ventures there as a sounding board, and knowing it can connect me with other people who have the expertise I need, when I need it.

“It’s awesome, in the software space, to know you are using the skills you’ve earned across different industries on something that is actually going to make a difference.”

New Zealand’s Technology Incubator programme supports deep tech innovators to turn their complex products and technologies into high growth ventures. Under the new programme, and through official incubators, deep tech startups can access funding of at least  $1,000,000, strong breadth and depth of commercialisation support, and international and local connections.

New Zealand’s Technology Incubator Programme and core venture funding is powered by Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s innovation agency.


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Updated: 7 September 2022