Halifax Regional Municipality responds faster to emergencies with GIS App

June 15, 2020

Each emergency requires a unique response that is ideally supported by real-time data and collaborative decision-making. To enable this, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency (HRFE) configured a Situational Awareness Viewer app which is hosted on ArcGIS Online, and is used to quickly and effectively respond to emergencies – from fires to hurricanes to hazards. The app has given business units equal access to critical information and data-sharing capabilities, saving time in emergencies when every minute matters. As a result, human, equipment and financial resources are directed to where they are needed the most, particularly on the front-line.


Public safety organizations face challenges and threats that are far more complex and unpredictable than ever before. Extreme events such as floods, hurricanes and wildfires have created an environment where missions and priorities change daily and, in some cases, minute by minute. A few years ago, HRFE relied upon paper maps when responding to emergencies. Normally, in the case of a large fire, it could take hours to evacuate an area and arrange temporary housing and transportation for people impacted by the situation. Other departmental staff usually received very limited information about how these emergencies affected them. HRFE wanted a solution that could provide relevant municipal staff a comprehensive picture of an emergency and surface data in a simple, easily accessible way while increasing collaboration. A significant challenge was getting all the stakeholders together to visualize what they wanted to build. In addition, staff had different interpretations of the required solution.


From stakeholder discussions, HRFE identified their geographic information system (GIS) as the platform for building the app because it stored most of the information they needed for emergency response. Once the technology was identified, HRFE engaged an Esri Canada Professional Services consultant to help configure existing web services and build a simple prototype of the app. Esri’s cloud-based service, ArcGIS Online, and Web AppBuilder were selected because they included configurable templates and were regularly updated with each new product release, futureproofing the app. The consultant also suggested templates, widgets and other tools to make the development process quicker and smoother. The resulting Situational Awareness Viewer app enables HRFE to better respond to emergencies because it allows staff across multiple business units to access information and collaborate. To enhance the solution, HRFE is integrating ArcGIS GeoEvent Server into the app to monitor incidents and generate real-time alerts for staff. HRFE is also reviewing new widgets for additional functionality.

The app shows response plans for emergencies, such as an ammonia leak in a local sports arena. The app’s incident management widget provides easy access to HRM special populations, shelter and emergency facilities data.

The app is used for special event parade route planning, including street blockades and resource allocations.


The most touted benefit from the Situational Awareness Viewer app is that business units, with different requirements, purposes and structures, have gained equal access to information and data-sharing capabilities. This was proven during a significant fire in the Halifax Regional Municipality in the spring of 2018. When HRFE marked up the affected area, they closed off nearby streets from vehicle traffic. Traditionally, Halifax Transit relied on Google Maps and re-routed transit based on residents’ reports. This time, Halifax Transit had an authoritative source of data to streamline their operational processes. It was also easy to share information in real time. In addition, the Situational Awareness Viewer app has created efficiencies by saving time and re-directing resources where they are needed the most. The app is straightforward for staff to use and allows them to easily make changes to the data, creating a high adoption rate and reducing the need to rely upon specialists. Ultimately, the Halifax Regional Municipality can devote more human and financial resources toward front-line responses and be better prepared to handle larger events such as hurricanes and hazards.

Situational Awareness Viewer is now available as part of Esri’s Emergency Management Operations Solution

See how the EMO Solution apps work together to effectively manage a crisis. Contact Esri Canada today.

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