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The Fire Services in Friesland, a province in the North of the Netherlands, combines many open source components in its system for a real-time analysis of emergency information.
This system combines data from local fire services, municipalities and national and regional governmental organisations and transmits the results to the fire trucks en route, which then use it to plan their best approach to the emergency case.
For applications involving geographic information systems (GIS), the Fire Services uses open source software by default, says Robert Lievers, who works at the Fire Services operations division. "We also appreciate the financial aspect. Open source allows us to deliver stable application at low cost."
Open source's learning curve is steeper than that of most proprietary applications, Lievers says. "Yet in the long term that is actually an advantage."
This type of software allows the Fire Services to remain independent from IT vendors, explains Lievers. "Why chain the organisation to a contract that offers a proprietary solution that does not fit?"
He comments that his organisation is only starting to discover the many possibilities of combining IT and GIS systems. "When an organisation is starting on such a path, it needs to remain flexible. It is another reason to use open source."
The Frisian Fire Services combine many open source GIS applications. Examples include GeoKettle, (a tool to combine geo-data from many different sources into one data warehouse), QGIS and Mapwindow (two geographic information systems) and Geoserver (for sharing and editing geospatial data). These run on Linux servers, with the databases in the PostgreSQL relational database management system in combination with the spatial database extension PostGIS.
The entire system allows the Fire Services to combine the information available in seven national, provincial and municipal databases. To show how important these systems are for the Fire Services, Lievers notes that "Nearly 90 % of our time is spent gathering data, not on extinguishing fires."