Technology can do a lot to help keep firefighters and police officers safe. But sometimes public safety brain-trusts try to use technology to solve the wrong problem. The FDNY may have done just that. They recently deployed a software based Mayday system. It’s called the Electronic Fireground Accountability System (EFAS). A firefighter in trouble can press a button and the software notifies the incident commander. The FDNY thinks this will help reduce the number of line of duty deaths in the department. They hail this as “revolutionary”.
While it is commendable that they are making the effort, it is a technology answer to the wrong question. This is referred to as a Type III error: a seemingly right answer to the wrong question. This technology solution answers the question “How do we know when firefighters are in a life threatening situation?” By the time they declare a “Mayday” it’s probably too late. The right question is “How do we keep firefighters from getting into life threatening situations?” There is no technology solution to this question. There is a policy, procedure, education, and training solution, a risk management solution.
The key is to ask the right questions in the first place. Dig deep into the operational mission, culture, and incident reviews to find the real questions. A technology answer to an operational question will not, on its own, solve the problem.
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