Friday, April 27, 2012

Hide of the Naug

One of the nice things about bicycle commuting is the enjoyment of sights, sounds, and smells that would likely go unnoticed from the driver's seat of an automobile. This week, the scent of lilacs in bloom and the bumper crop of bunnies along the Rock Island Trail have been particularly pleasant. Wednesday during my daily ride, however, the find of the week came into view in the pre-dawn glow near Capital Avenue and E Street.  I returned with my camera at lunchtime to collect a snapshot of these exceptional specimens:

For those of you unfamiliar with the Hide of the Naug, these were once a common sight in these parts, found first in the new apartment living room. In a few years it would move to the rumpus room of a split-level in the suburbs, later to a dorm room, and in its twilight years to a front porch, before finally being hauled to the curb. Ah, many a roach clip and baggie I pulled from such cushions in my youth.  Alas, this particular subspecies is somewhat endangered these days.  You can read all about the history of the Nauga here, and the various products made from its hide.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The fire station optimization study outlined in my last three posts contemplates building either three or four fire stations, but using existing staff and apparatus--not additional personnel. It provides a nice increment of improvement in LF&R's coverage, and I believe it represents an exceptional return on investment.  In actuality, the City's Capital Improvement Program has included new fire stations for several years, but has been stalled, in part because of the City's inability to fund the large ongoing cost of new firefighters for new companies.

Cities all over the United States have been laying off police officers and firefighters, closing facilities, and in some cases even going bankrupt.  We have been spared some of the carnage here in Lincoln, but all of my peers in public safety management recognize that we are facing a new reality in government, and have to come up with new solutions.  Looking at the fire coverage problem from another vantage point has allowed us to come up with a more viable option for serving the City as well as we can with the resources citizens are willing and able to provide.

Another unfunded project that lingers in the City's Capital Improvement Program is a police substation in southeast Lincoln. This would be a facility where about 40-50 police employees would report to duty.  Officers would pick up their cars and equipment here, attend the shift briefing, and hit their beats.  This is where their locker room, report room, supplies, evidence drop-off, interview rooms and so forth would be located.

A south Lincoln police station is imperative, because officers working in deep southeast Lincoln are presently deploying at shift change from police headquarters downtown.  The time lag and fuel usage is horribly inefficient.  Two other substations of this type (27th and Holdrege and 49th and Huntington) work very well, and we are long overdue for a similar arrangement in the southeast area.  As cities grow, you inevitably see police stations decentralized in this fashion for the same reason: time and gas.

So, if we have a couple of fire stations in southeast Lincoln in our future, and a police substation as well, why not be roomies?  It is an attractive idea. We could share land, parking, locker and PT facilities, restrooms, foyers, hallways, multi-purpose room, and probably have some savings in basic stuff like concrete, HVAC, and footings, data, and more.

I'm betting a joint facility would be significantly less expensive than two separate facilities. It would also be a nice step in something else I've been up to as public safety director: improving the working relationship between police and fire personnel.  We've made some nice strides in the past few months, and this would be another good step in that direction.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fire station optimization: Part 3

Using GIS and five years' historical data, the workgroup studying how to optimize fire station locations produced three options, that call for building either three or four new fire stations. These new fire stations would be staffed using one of two ways: either moving an existing company from its current station to a new location, or;  breaking apart double companies from a station that currently houses both an engine and a truck.  In essence, these plans spread out LF&R's current resources to cover a larger geographic area, but without adding personnel and in a way designed to preserve unit reliability and effective response force to the greatest extent possible.

To be sure, Lincoln will need to add entirely new resources at some point in time (particularly medical resources.) But any of the three options presented by the workgroup provide a significant increment of improvement in our current configuration until that future tipping point.  The most aggressive capital construction plan, "Option A," builds four new stations, which we have labelled as C, K, M, and N--just to avoid confusion with the numbers used to designate the current fire stations.  Option A closes current stations 10, at 1440 Adams St., and Station 12 at 84th and South Street.

This final map shows the much larger area that falls into the pink polygon that represents four minutes travel time from fire stations in this new configuration.  The 4,182 yellow dots that were outside four minutes in 2010-2011, are now mostly covered.  Compare this map with the previous post, and note how much better we would now be positioned to cover some of those dark gray areas where Lincoln will be growing in the next 25 years.

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Overall, building these four fire stations and redeploying existing staff and equipment would result in a 60% reduction in the number of addresses inside the city limits but currently more than four minutes travel time from a fire station.  That's a pretty nice increase in coverage.  The other two options are smaller capital improvement plans that build three new stations instead of four, but they both still represent a significant improvement in coverage. In today's dollars, it would cost about $2 million (plus the cost of land acquisition, if necessary) to build each fire station.

Fire station optimization: Part 1
Fire station optimization: Part 2
Fire station optimization: Part 3

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fire station optimization: Part 2

We asked a workgroup to take an analytical approach to study the location of fire stations. In the past, the selection of station locations was basically an educated guess, but in the last decade, LF&R has developed some excellent capacity to apply data and analysis to such decisions.  Captain Julio Talero, Batallion Chief Eric Jones, and EMS Supervisor Scott Wiebe used historical data from the depaprtment's database, demographic information, and the City's enterprise geographic information system (GIS) to produce recommendations on how improvements can be made by re-positioning a few fire companies, without adding more personnel.  I am incredibly impressed by the quality of their analysis. We also asked for options, and they produced three, all of which provide a significant increment of improvement to LF&R's capability.

The workgroup's recommendations considered three factors: geographic coverage, unit reliability, and effective response force.  The first is pretty obvious: how well does the plan do in putting resources within timely reach of the locations in the City where critical incidents such as fires and medical emergencies are likely to occur? The second, unit reliability, acknowledges that at any given time a given fire company may not be available: the crew could already be out on another incident, or in training, for instance. Finally, effective response force refers to the ability to assemble enough people and equipment to do the job. You cannot fight a structure fire with three firefighters, and two paramedics are not going to be able to deal with trauma patients at a traffic crash for very long before they need a lot more personnel to do the job properly.

Maximizing coverage, unit reliability, and effective response force is a matter of finding the right mix of both spreading out and concentrating resources.  Finding that mix involved the application of demography, geography, and mathematics, informed by historical data about the fire and EMS workload, census data, and projections for Lincoln's future growth contained in the City's Comprehensive Plan. Focusing on geographic coverage, the pink area on the map below is the area that LF&R can travel to on the street network today within four minutes from Lincoln's current 14 fire stations.  The dark gray area is the 25-year growth area of Lincoln, and there is a faint white border overlay that depicts the current city limits.

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There are 8,469 actual addresses inside Lincoln's city limits that are outside the pink area: more than four minutes from a fire station.  That number will grow dramatically as Lincoln expands into the dark gray area representing the 25 year projected growth.  The 4,182 yellow dots on this next map represent the actual dispatches of fire and medical units in 2010 and 2011 that were inside the city limits, but more than 4 minutes from a fire station.

Click image for larger view

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fire station optimization: Part 1

Over the past several months, a workgroup at Lincoln Fire & Rescue has been studying potential changes in how and where the department deploys its resources. The study was publicly unveiled this week, and although it has been covered in the local press, I'm going to write a few posts summarizing the 78 page report in a little more detail than the news stories.

Since Lincoln last added a fire station (Station 14 in the Highlands, in 1996-97), Lincoln's population has increased by about 50,000 and its geographic area has grown by just over 20 square miles.  The past three fire chiefs have advocated adding new fire stations to deal with this growth.  New fire stations require buildings, apparatus, and staff. The real cost, however, is not so much in the capital outlay, but rather the ongoing cost of personnel.  It takes 12 firefighters to staff a new engine company, and that's about a million dollars in salaries and benefits. You build the building once, but if you add personnel the payroll is in perpetuity.

Chief Huff and I just don't think it is likely, given the fiscal realities of local government both nationwide and here in Lincoln, that the City will be willing to take on an additional two million dollars in annual personnel expenses needed to staff two new fire stations anytime soon.  So we asked a different question: if we re-position our current personnel and equipment by moving some fire stations, what increment of improvement could we achieve in our ability to respond effectively to the needs of a growing community?

When you think about it, this is an approach that the school system has used quite effectively.  There are many building in Lincoln that used to be schools: Willard Community Center, Hayward Park Condominiums, Whittier, the Cotner Center, come immediately to mind. To be sure, Lincoln Public Schools increased the number of schools as Lincoln's population grew, but they also dealt with changing population demographics by moving to where the customers were.  The fire department used to do the same thing, but hasn't relocated in the past half-century.  Nonetheless, there are several buildings around Lincoln that used to be fire stations, but were sold or re-purposed as the City grew and the fire department spread out decades ago.  Here's a great example: check out how the old fire station lives on, it's architectural detail quite identifiable in the facade of today's F Street Community Center at 13th & F Streets:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Real time crime

One of the presentations I saw last week in Kansas City was an interesting web tour of the Real Time Crime Center at the Ogden, Utah Police Department.  Using a webcam, the center's manager gave us a tour of the facility, and showed us the kind of work they do.  It is described well in this video:

Ogden's information resources are rather similar to Lincoln's, with the exception of their much larger network of recorded CCTV cameras, and their broader implementation of license plate readers.  Still, most all of the information mined by the center and sent out to officers is readily available in Lincoln, and then some.  Their approach is interesting: a group of officers back at HQ who both perform the same functions as our Crime Analysis Unit, and who can also grab information and try to get it out to officers in the field quickly when officers are dispatched to priority 1 and 2 calls.  They essentially watch the dispatch queue, and react proactively to assemble supplementary information they think would be valuable to the officers who are responding, and ship that to the officers' mobile data computers.

Lincoln's approach is a little different: trying to make the same kind of information available to officers in the field, either with push technology, location-based services, or in interfaces that are simple enough for rank-and-file patrol officers to use effectively.  Recently, we've been experimenting with a few two-person patrol units--essentially turning the patrol car into it's own mini-version of a real time crime center. Our location-based services application CrimeView NearMe (P3i), is another example of this approach.

I think both of these approaches has merit. Ogden staffs it's center with four full-time employees, one civilian and three sworn--quite an investment of personnel in a City of about 85,000 population.  If you had the same ratio in Lincoln, with 258,000, that would require a dozen staff.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Where there's smoke, there's fire

Another significant structure fire last week was the result of careless disposal of smoking materials.  This makes about five of these in the past couple of weeks.  Discarded cigarettes are a leading cause of fatal residential fires in the United States.  Batallion Chief Jeannie Pashalek and Chief Inspector Bill Moody did a nice job after one of this month's fires briefing the media on the dangers of cigarette butts. A week later, though, the same act: tossing a butt in a plastic trash can, destroyed a duplex in pretty dramatic fashion. There is a rather obvious relationship between these two graphs:

click image to enlarge

Friday, April 13, 2012

Support your local dispatchers

It's National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, during which we should all take a moment to thank the men and women who serve in our local public safety answering points, more commonly known as 911 centers. Dispatchers are the first first responders, and play a critical role in public safety.

Here in Lincoln, our public safety dispatchers and staff of the Emergency Communications Center have a difficult job to do in a less-than ideal environment: a windowless basement room that has flooded twice in the past decade.  They are tied to the chair during the peak hours, and seldom get relief.  When I was working a half day with Megan a few weeks ago, a supervisor came around about an hour before the end of her shift, to let her know that she would have to stay for another 4 hours of involuntary overtime. "Oh, well, so much for the dance recital," she said.  Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation.

Dispatchers are the lifeline for police officers and firefighters when the chips are down during critical incidents out on the street.  Day in and day out, they do a remarkable job, and I salute them!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On the horizon

I was in Kansas City Monday and Tuesday meeting with a group of police and public safety managers who were invited to see some of the best emerging software technology for geospatial analysis.  Some pretty amazing developments have taken place in recent months.  I was particularly impressed by a product from Azavea, HunchLab, which uses science-based statistical analysis to anticipate such phenomenon as crime hot spots, burglary risk, and future service demands.

I believe Azavea and the Omega Group are doing some work together, and I foresee that this could result in some good things being incorporated into the CrimeView products LPD uses so effectively.  I also got to see some of the new features coming in the next release of CrimeView Dashboard, one of which, Spatial Notes, really caught my eye. It's similar in concept to the location-aware bulletins we are implementing in NearMe (the application formerly known as P3i).

Friday, April 6, 2012

Something to think about

Earlier this week, I was the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Nebraska chapter of the International Association for Identification.  The IAI is a professional association of people involved in forensic science and criminal identification.  Think of them as the CSI association.

The conference was at the beautiful Peter Kiewit lodge at Mahoney State Park, midway between Lincoln and Omaha.  About 100 people were in attendance, including many investigators from Nebraska law enforcement agencies.  There were several vendors displaying their wares.  I'm always pretty interested in any kind of gizmo that comes packed in a Pelican case, so I enjoyed my coffee while perusing crime scene gear before the conference kick-off.

The participants are all involved in forensic investigations: fingerprints, DNA, trace evidence, and so forth. But I talked about another aspect of criminal identification: the collection and analysis of data, specifically, the trail of electrons people leave behind as they go about their lives.  Once again, I used myself as an example, walking the audience through the places I had been and things that I had done already that morning, where I had left my own electronic breadcrumps.

I hope I gave the conference participants something to think about.  It's a topic I have blogged about on prior occasions.  I think we are still just scratching the surface, however, and that the collision between the technology of mining electronic evidence and concerns about personal privacy looms as an issue that will create some significant public discussion in coming years.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

End of an era

The announcement this past weekend that the original location of Valentino's pizzeria is to be demolished was greeted with a certain amount of melancholy by folks of my generation. It marks the end of an era. Everyone who lived in Lincoln during its heyday has fond memories of this most venerable institution. It was the site of my first date with Tonja, in 1969. Actually, it was a double date with my brother and his girlfriend: I wasn't old enough to drive. Like other great places (Arthur Bryant's at 17th and Brooklyn comes to mind, and the Runza, at Park Blvd. and Hill St.), there just is no way to improve on the original. Tonja saved this receipt from our junior year in high school, about a year after that first date, and pasted in a scrapbook. Notice that a large pepperoni was $2.25!