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Spokane County Uses Lean to Improve Emergency Response Efforts

Spokane County Uses Lean to Improve Emergency Response Efforts

As promised in my first blog post, I will be sharing a new story every few months from Spokane County’s front-line staff about how they’re leading our lean transformation at Spokane County - in their own words. This will offer readers a unique insight from staff actually doing government process improvement activities on their lean successes and challenges.

Our fourth lean story is from Shawna Ernst, PMP, Geographic Information System (GIS) Senior Analyst, writing on behalf of the Spokane Regional Public Safety GIS steering committee.*

It was 5:00 am when a 76-year-old male resident of a Spokane housing development was found breathing, but unresponsive. His wife called 911 and provided their address on Centennial Alley. The call passed from 911 to Fire/EMS Dispatch following standard procedures.

The call should have had a response time of under 5 minutes, but it took 8 minutes for an EMS team to arrive on scene because the Centennial Alley address couldn’t be found in the dispatch system. The system had been designed so that calls could not be routed to alleys. Regardless of what the dispatchers did, the Centennial Alley address could not be located in the dispatch system.

The delay was unacceptable to everyone involved. It was clear we needed to resolve the issue and ensure that residents of Centennial Alley received the same excellent services as other community members. We immediately worked with the City of Spokane’s Building Department to get Centennial Alley permanently changed to Centennial Way in our dispatch system.

Satisfied that our specific issue was resolved, we turned our attention to determining how to improve the overall system using LEAN principles to prevent this from happening again.

One goal of LEAN management is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Spokane Regional Public Safety GIS provides customer value when we supply accurate and timely call location information in support of first responders.

Fixing Centennial Alley added customer value, but to maximize value we had to dig deeper. We determined that the root cause of the issue was that our dispatch system was based on one set of addressing rules while the development process was based on a different set of addressing rules.

We decided to take on the task of creating and adopting a single, regional addressing standard, with the goal of ensuring that all new addresses are logical, consistent, and easily located. We began the process by forming an improvement team composed of key stakeholders from the county’s emergency management, building, fire, and police departments to draft our new addressing standard.

Once we had a working draft, we emailed it to addressing authorities from each jurisdiction within our county, gave them time to review it, and then held an inaugural, 4-hour workshop. During the workshop, we put a copy of the document on screen and reviewed it line by line as a group. This approach worked well because we were able to make sure each line in the standard was approved by a consensus.

The biggest struggle we faced during the workshop was the perception that dispatch software should be able to handle ‘real world addressing’ and that technical staff shouldn’t drive procedural changes. We were able to get past this by making sure each item in our standard serves a broad purpose and is not included solely to solve a technological problem. The standard we built meets the needs of first responders in 2016, but it would have been equally applicable in 1816.

We held a follow-up workshop using the same format to review the second draft.  By the end of the workshop, we had a standard approved by addressing authorities. We presented it to Spokane-area Fire Districts, the U.S. Postal Service, Spokane Home Builders Association, Spokane County Board of Commissioners, and the City of Spokane Planning Commission. Based on feedback from those stakeholders, we further refined the standard (with approval from addressing authorities).

Through the stakeholder review process, we’ve built a strong relationship between technical staff, addressing authorities, and first responders. We received approximately 1,500 addressing updates from stakeholders, more than double what we normally receive. After full implementation, we expect the number of addressing updates will be even higher.

Our improved, regional addressing standard has broad support because it's logical, it directly benefits citizens, and all stakeholders had the opportunity to provide input. Our standard is currently on its way to the Spokane City Council and County Board of Commissioners for adoption.

Spokane Regional Public Safety GIS looked past an immediate, easy solution to the Centennial Alley problem in order to identify a larger issue and create a more complete, long-term resolution. By utilizing LEAN management principles, we’ve maximized customer value by proactively improving our entire addressing process through the development of a new, regional standard utilizing input from key stakeholders.

*The Spokane Regional Public Safety GIS committee is comprised of Public Safety and Information Technology leaders who provide governance over our regional GIS, which is tasked with supplying accurate residential and business addressing data to the dispatches for Spokane County 911, the Spokane Fire and Police Departments, and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

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Photo of John Dickson

About John Dickson

John Dickson writes for MRSC as a guest author.

John is the chief operating officer for Spokane County a role that he began in March 2013. He is leading significant operational improvement activities across Spokane County government to make it more ‘Lean’, efficient and customer-focused. Over 200 county leaders and elected officials have already completed his 4-week Lean Leadership Course and significant cost savings/avoidances are being realized across the county.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.