An emergency event in a neighbouring authority highlighted how hard it was to identify vulnerable persons during a confirmed gas leak, Falkirk Council resolved to find a faster, more accurate and secure method for quickly identifying those in need during any type of emergency incident where local residents might be in danger. Data was cleansed and uploaded to an electronic mapping system which allows us to identify vulnerable persons in a few simple clicks and has been hailed as quantum leap.
A project team was set up in August 2012 to address the problem of identifying the most vulnerable individuals within our communities for the planning and response of emergencies or disruptive events. The aim was to establish a process to quickly acquire, match and process data relating to vulnerable individuals from across a range of local authority and National Health Service (NHS) services to enable appropriate care and support responses to be put in place. Regardless of the number of hurdles faced in terms of data protection and the security of personal information, the team have overcome these and Falkirk Council are now in an enviable position in Scotland to identify vulnerable individuals ahead of any incident our community may face. The methodology to identify the most vulnerable ahead of any incidents has now been presented at a local and national level and recognised as an example of good practice across Scotland by fellow local authorities, the Emergency Services and Scottish Government.
When an incident occurred in the Falkirk Council area, a paper list of potentially vulnerable individuals was made available by Social Work making it difficult to determine who may need priority assistance at the time of an incident. Sharing personal data legally in advance of an incident was also a barrier, however close working with NHS and colleagues from our Legal Dept we can now share both NHS and Social Work data. This resulted in the creation of a Persons At Risk Database (PARD) allowing for near instant identification of vulnerable individuals displayed via electronic mapping. This is in stark contrast to the endless lists of paper previously relied on previously. The Database is a quantum leap in terms of a robust and manageable mechanism to identify our residents who may require immediate assistance in response to an incident.
The data now resides in a Geographic Information System (GIS) that is reliable, regularly updated, secure, user friendly and available for use 24/7. This was set up on virtual server with ICT given a security brief to ensure the correct protocols were used to securely store personal data. We chose anOpen Source GIS to ensure costs have been kept to a minimum.
In response to an incident, Social Work provided information to Emergency Planning using manually produced paper lists derived from the Social Work Information System (SWIS). This proved to be a lengthy and inefficient manual process. having the data held in GIS means we now have access to pre-identified shared information that can be accessed quickly, effectively and electronically in the event of an incident. This enables responders to view information on a digital map enabling a fast and effective provision of appropriate practical and relevant assistance to those individuals who might be affected. Having this information digitally allows for further interrogation to highlight, for example, individuals living alone or suffering from physical or mental disabilities. We now have the means to pro-actively test various scenarios using this technology to identify vulnerable individuals and, at the same time, identify areas, roads, homes and schools etc prone to flooding where individuals may become vulnerable. This has recently been described by the NHS as a ‘game changer’.
Emergency Planning can now pro-actively plan for the impact of an incident in terms of vulnerable individuals and test various scenarios. We are now more confident to reach those in need and quantify who may be affected in our communities in advance of any incident. The close working relationship we have with partner agencies such as NHS, Police Scotland, Scottish Ambulance, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and others within our Resilience Partnership allows us to come together in a multi-agency environment to ratify the information we have and identify any additional vulnerable individuals at the same time as allowing Social Work, NHS and the Voluntary Organisation attend to the already known vulnerable individuals.
The Vulnerable Individual Database has now been endorsed by the Forth Valley NHS Medical Director and the Director of Development Services for Falkirk Council. The project is being held up as good practice for other councils and Health Boards with a formal invitations from other partnerships to make presentations outlining the technical, legal and practical steps taken to achieve this complex process and offer the same level of success Scotland wide.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
We have revolutionised how the data is accessed and used and are now able to apply a level of scenario testing that would never have been possible under the old set up. Previously, users would print out an entire database onto paper and then attempt to manually find residents who may need assistance or to be evacuated due to a flood, gas leak, severe weather event or petro-chemical plant incident. The time taken to run this task manually risks life during time critical incidents.
Having the data cleansed and then stored in a GIS, the data can now be overlaid with other data sets such as the road network, bridges, schools, known flood risk areas and aerial imagery which allows for instant identification of vulnerable persons as well being able to quantify the number affected and even help rank which order the identified vulnerable persons should receive help.
The PARD now allows Emergency Planners to actively test out various mock scenarios to quantify levels of response needed.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The PARD project has officially been signed off as complete and Falkirk Council is currently helping other local authorities set up their own solution by offering technical advice, demonstrations and copies of all documentation used throughout our project. The PARD solution is constantly being fine tuned and will be demonstrated later this year to Ordnance Survey who have expressed an interest in the project.
The Scottish Government has also picked up our idea which is being hailed as an example of Best Practice and I have been touring with the Scottish Government representatives throughout 2018 to help give presentations regarding the project. The Scottish Government has recently sent letters to every Chief Executive across Scotland to highlight the solution and looking for an indication of uptake of any help.
The project recently won two awards at the 2018 Alarm Risk Awards in both the Partnership and Resilience categories which was also highlighted in local and national news.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Falkirk Councils Legal Dept - understood the need for the project and help set up Data Sharing agreements which are now used by other local authorities and a requirement after the new GDPR rules came into force.
National Health Service (NHS) - The NHS were shown the Falkirk Council solution and were so impressed that they decided to scrap their own plans for a similar system and instead agreed to supply their data to Falkirk Council for use within the PARD. This is a very big endorsement.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Scottish Government - In their own words "It is very doubtful if our national system could have been developed without the work, support and assistance of the Falkirk team."
Our local citizens benefit by having a system in place that allows the council to identify any of them classed as vulnerable in a near instantaneous manner during an emergency event where we would be coordinating a response with the Emergency Services.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
During a multi-agency preparation and response arrangements exercise for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the PARD was successfully tested at a National exercise. The results were immediate where all vulnerable individuals in the affected area were identified within 3 minutes of the request being made. This result was commended by our multi agency partners during the debrief process. We now have a system that is updated daily, is secure and accurate and accessible 24hrs a day. We have guaranteed a near instant and accurate response during any emergency scenario. Although the project is officially signed off the PARD solution is constantly reviewed to determine what further applications it can be applied to beyond identifying vulnerable persons. With the Scottish Government partnering with us and heralding the PARD as the definitive solution to be followed by all in Local Government it's expected that further uses will be developed.
Challenges and Failures
The problems posed by the complex issue of sharing personal data in the planning and response to emergencies or disruptive events have long been recognised. The terrorist attacks and severe events witnessed across the UK and beyond highlighted some of the problems of sharing personal information. To date, no single area in the UK can claim to have completely resolved the issues. Our project has overcome many barriers and obstacles, both actual and perceived, and throughout all of this there had been a commitment to succeed. Without the support and tenacity of individuals within and outwith Falkirk Council, our project would not be as advanced as it is today. Easily one of the biggest wins was selling the business case to our Legal Dept as this underlined what we were attempting to achieve and the reasons behind it and their guidance on Data Protection and GDPR has proven critical to the overall success of the project.
Conditions for Success
Communication - a clear message of what the current issue is and how it could be resolved was fundamental and was summed up in a very simple but thorough business case.
Buy in - the idea being sold at a senior level can not be overlooked. With our Director previously having been a lawyer there was an immediate understanding of what our innovation was attempting to achieve hence why it should be supported.
Sheer Determination of Staff - due to data being sourced both internally from another department and externally from the NHS there is always a form of resistance when sharing data and goes beyond simple security concerns. There where several rounds of discussions that required the involvement from ICT and the Legal Department who had to help reinforce the same message.
Resources - one way that the project was made easier and allows it to be transferable at a local and national level is the fact that the solution is relatively cost free having opted for an Open Source GIS solution.
The solution is already being used by neighbouring Local Authorities who have their own versions of the PARD solution.
The Scottish Government through the National Centre for Resilience commissioned a system to identify the vulnerable in an emergency to provide assistance to them to mitigate the effects of an emergency. The SG system draws very heavily on the information management and data systems designed by Falkirk Council. The Falkirk team contributed heavily to the design of the national system and many of the lessons learned and practices they designed are incorporated in the adopted system.
The Scottish Government have gone on record to state the following "It is very doubtful if a national system could have been developed without the work, support and assistance of the Falkirk team".
There is significant interest from various health boards looking to replicate what was achieved locally between Falkirk Council and its local health board.
Innovation takes passion! If you have a genuine innovation it means that you need to champion it to people who may not immediately appreciate something which could be a game changer. The message needs to be kept simple to allow the idea to be easily transferable to other parties whom you wish to involve. This may mean encountering set backs or rejections but again if you are passionate about your idea to begin with it will help you overcome any objections or reservations expressed by other parties.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
22 January 2017