Why It's Past Time Fire Departments Ditch the Bulletin Board — Here's How They Can
The bulletin board has long been a fixture in fire & rescue. Predating even email, this static piece of cork is responsible for providing firefighters with an array of information, from updates to general advice to community events. Unfortunately, it's also notoriously unreliable as a communication medium.
We live in an era where you can chat with someone on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. An age where keeping in touch with your friends, family, and colleagues is as simple as opening an app. Amidst such technology, the bulletin board is starting to show its age.
And it has not aged well
Most fire chiefs are at least aware of this fact. They understand that bulletin boards are outdated. And they are acutely aware of its multiple shortcomings, many of which are shared by other legacy tools such as radio and email.
Bulletin boards are highly impersonal. Say, for instance, a newer volunteer has questions or concerns about a recent update posted on the board. They have no immediate means by which they can reach out to leadership.
Instead, they must rely on their colleagues for answers. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that said colleagues have a better understanding. As we've mentioned before, this can easily result in the spread of misinformation.
On the other side of the coin, when a fire chief posts something on the bulletin board, there's no way of knowing if their teams will understand the message. There's no way of guaranteeing that people will even see it. Bulletin boards often host scores of announcements, updates, advice, requests, and other non-urgent messages.
With that much noise, it's easy for messages to get lost. Although slightly more efficient, email isn't much better.
Particularly right now, most of us have inboxes that are more or less overflowing. Newsletters we forgot we signed up for, junk mail we never asked to receive, messages from friends and family, updates from the office...you get the idea. And even if it's possible to track whether or not someone opened a particular email, there's no way of knowing for sure that they read it.
Nor is there any guarantee that a volunteer can reach out on an email thread and receive a response.
Bulletin boards and email share something else in common. Neither is particularly efficient. Manually updating all the bulletin boards for a single fire department can be a daunting task, requiring the participation of multiple battalion chiefs and assistant chiefs.
At first glance, email seems to be significantly more efficient. In some ways, it is. Sending out an announcement to an entire fire department is simpler via email than using a fire hall's bulletin board, but it is still ultimately an ineffective medium for communication.
We already mentioned inbox overload, but there are more problems than just that. First, because email isn't exactly 'realtime,' there's no pressure or obligation to reply quickly (or at all). Email also isn't designed for large threads.
If multiple firefighters reply to the same announcement, it can be nearly impossible to sort through their responses.
For urgent or priority messages, most fire stations rely on either phone or radio. Although the latter works well enough in most situations, it has a tendency to fail during extreme conditions, leaving response teams in the dark. It also provides no means of disseminating images and video.
If a firefighter needs a building's blueprints or dispatch needs an update on what's happening onsite, you're out of luck. The only thing radio works for is verbal responses and descriptions. And even then, it's easy for critical information to get lost in a sea of radio chatter.
As for phones, picture the following scenario:
A major fire has started to burn out of control. The team that's currently on-site lacks the manpower to fight it.
The fire chief makes the decision to bring in off-duty firefighters as well as from other districts and fire halls.
The chief and dispatch must then work their way down a phone tree, phoning each fire hall and off-duty volunteer.
All the while, the fire continues to spread.
Neither phone nor radio can guarantee the right messages reach the right people at the right time. Phone trees simply aren't efficient enough to be feasible, whilst radio's reliability problems can result in dropped signals at the worst possible time. Finally, in many cases, neither of the two mediums is even capable of conveying the necessary information back and forth.
A Unified Approach
In spite of all its issues, the fire hall bulletin board has stuck around for a reason — it's necessary.
The same is true of radios, phones, and email threads. Fire departments require the functionality each system provides, even if that functionality is bogged down by inefficiency. Fire chiefs need channels through which various types of communication can be placed into the hands of their teams.
There's a better way.
A platform that consolidates all of a fire department's communications in a single place. A tool that makes priority messaging and two-way communication simpler than ever. An application like Unio.
Inspired by and designed for the unique needs and challenges faced by first responders, Unio solves the problem of top-down communication in several key ways:
An Integrated newsfeed allows fire chiefs to seamlessly and effortlessly send updates on everything from community events to briefings. Firefighters can like, share, and comment on these updates or message leadership directly to ensure their voices are heard.
Built-in analytics means fire departments can easily keep track of who's seeing their updates and who those updates aren't reaching.
Priority push functionality coupled with the ability to divide users based on rank, district, and team helps ensure that critical messages reach the people who need to see them at the right time.
The fire hall bulletin board is one of the most enduring and familiar fixtures in fire & rescue. It's persisted across decades because there simply wasn't a viable alternative for posting large-scale updates. Now, however, one exists in Unio — and we can finally put the bulletin board and its peers to rest.