Editor's note: Today, guest blogger Uzi Bashan, Fire Officer with Israel’s Fire and Rescue Commission, tells us how his organization relies on Google Maps for Business to quickly identify and put out tens of thousands of fires per year. Discover why forward-thinking organizations are investing in tools to help them prepare for situations in advance, including mapping technology. Read more about the six ways Maps are Going Google.

Israel’s Fire and Rescue Commission runs the nationwide emergency fire response system, dispatching a team of 1,850 firefighters to blazes large and small within minutes of fires starting. We operate 24 call centers that field 87,000 emergency calls per year, 44,000 of which are fire-related.

Responding to fires is a complex process. Call center operators quickly obtain details, alert the closest firefighters and report the incident to the national control center. Then, operators at the control center calculate the fastest route for the firefighting team, often guiding them through dangerous terrain. We used to rely on a GIS application, which was integrated into a larger nationwide network for managing and monitoring all fire incidents.The GIS application was plagued with slow response times, causing delays getting firefighters to fires: firefighters must reach fires within seven minutes, on average, before risks to life and property dramatically increase. Our old system took too long to calculate routes to fires, costing us precious minutes.

After the devastating Mt. Carmel fire in December 2010, which killed 44 people, injured dozens, and wiped out nearly 40,000 acres of forest, senior officers at the Fire and Rescue Commission realized we needed a more advanced fire alert system. This prompted our decision to deploy mapping technology from Google.

Now, using Google Earth Enterprise as our main GIS mapping platform, each call center operator has two screens - one displaying information from the national system, and the other displaying maps with Google Earth. Google Earth maps, with customized data layers, are automatically updated in real-time to show exactly where fires are and which firefighters are the closest to them. What used to take minutes now takes seconds.
Google Maps have a resolution at least four times higher than the old GIS system, so dispatchers can clearly visualize the area around a fire. Using custom information layers developed by the Fire and Rescue Commission’s IT team, dispatchers can get access to deeper information, such as building height and depth and type of terrain, within a few clicks. They can also visually locate the nearest water sources, including hydrants, reservoirs and private pools and ground-level details, helping dispatchers determine if a street is too narrow for a fire truck to pass. The information helps us make split-second decisions around which firefighter teams to send and how to get them there quickly.

Call center operators and firefighters alike are simply stunned at how Google mapping technologies have helped them do their jobs. With 99.9% up time, an easy-to-use interface, and automatic, real-time incident updates, Google Earth Enterprise provides the reliable tools we need to respond to fires quickly and safely. Now, our emergency responder can reach fires in seconds instead of minutes. And in a profession where every one of those second matters, gaining that time back helps us save lives and property across Israel.