The New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) covers five regions across the country's North and South Islands. It operates about 440 fire stations and has approximately 10,400 personnel, including 8,000 volunteers.
In 2012, the NZFS responded to 68,061 incidents. Of these, 11,463 were fires, 5,996 were requests for medical assistance, 5,906 were rescues, 909 were natural disasters and 20,247 were false alarms.
The NZFS implemented a national automatic fire alarm monitoring system (AFAS) to monitor thousands of fire alarms in commercial and industrial buildings across New Zealand. When a fire alarm is triggered, it immediately sends a message to the system, alerting the NZFS to the location of the incident and whether the trigger is caused by a fire or an alarm fault. The AFAS is managed under a Code of Practice, with fire alarm connections to the system requiring certification to high industry standards.
Unisys has been supporting the NZFS' automatic fire alarm monitoring system since 1996. The NZFS was using a bespoke Unisys Alarm Transport Service (ATS) system, with a real-time framework designed and developed by Unisys. The system ran on Telecom New Zealand's X.25 packet switching network. Although the system framework was fast and reliable, NZFS wanted to remove the risk associated with relying on a single alarm connectivity provider – particularly as the X.25 network would be soon phased out – and migrate to a lower cost IP-centric environment.
"Our fire alarm monitoring system isn't just mission-critical for the fire service, it's life-critical for New Zealand citizens," said Stuart Waring, ICT Manager – Data and Intelligence, New Zealand Fire Service. "A fire can double in size every 30 seconds, so it is essential that the system is highly available and resilient, and can manage and prioritise alarm messages extremely quickly. We were moving onto a new, multiple alarm provider model and needed a high performing, scalable back-end system to facilitate transactions between the alarms and our Communication Centres."
NZFS wanted to migrate from its legacy ATS system, which ran on Telecom New Zealand's X.25, to an IP-centric environment. This would remove the risk associated with relying on a single alarm connectivity provider, reduce system maintenance and response-related costs, and ensure the speed, resilience and availability of the life-critical message handling system.
The NZFS engaged Unisys to develop a bespoke IP-based alarm monitoring and messaging solution known as the Signal Transport System Message Handling System (STSMHS). Unisys reused the ATS's core real-time framework and installed third-party PC and LAN hardware and software. It also conducted extensive system testing and staff training and workshops, and continues to maintain and support the application software and hardware platforms.
The STSMHS provides an extremely fast, reliable and highly available message transaction system that allows the NZFS to respond to fires as quickly as possible. The system enables the NZFS to more than meet its response service level requirements – ensuring it can better protect New Zealanders – and has significantly reduced the costs of maintaining the system and managing its alarm response. The STSMHS was invaluable in helping the NZFS coordinate its response to the Christchurch earthquake and aftershocks in 2010 and 2011. The service can also now receive and analyse a wider variety of incident information.
- Fast response times: Receives and categorises about 40,000 fire-related and alarm error message transactions per day in real time, enabling the NZFS to surpass its alarm response SLAs
- Proven scalability: Handled huge spikes in fire-related and alarm error messages during the Christchurch earthquakes with no loss of performance, enabling the NZFS to respond as quickly as possible to multiple incidences
- Reduced costs: Significantly reduced the costs of maintaining the system and managing alarm response
- Increased analytics: Generates regional polling reports, which help the NZFS better prioritise multiple events, improve understanding of emergency situations and check discrepancies with local and regional information
- Higher availability: Ensures maximum system availability and resiliency by implementing a new distributed operations environment across both Unisys data centres in Kapiti and Auckland