Measuring the Right Things, Not Just the Easy Ones

In data, as with anything, there are easy things and there are hard things. Some hard things don’t have a big payoff for the effort you put into them. Some, however, can give you immense insight. Effective Response Force (ERF) is one of those hard things with a huge payoff. Its difficulty often means departments compromise by using something easier: First Unit Arriving.

First off, what is ERF?

Effective Response Force is the set of units and personnel required to handle an incident, typically based on incident type, risk level, and geography. The number of units and personnel you send to a call where someone is having a heart attack, for example, is much different than what you send to a 6-story apartment building on fire. Both require different responses to be effective. When measuring your response to both of those incidents, it’s important to know when your first unit arrived on scene. It’s vital to know when all the units required to be effective were on scene.

Measuring just the first unit may be an easier task and it will make your team look faster, but it isn’t accurately measuring your full response time. It provides a metric, but not one that gives you insight into challenges your department may be facing. Your first unit might arrive on scene in 6 minutes, but if your whole team isn’t there for another 5, your Effective Response Force Total Response Time was 11 minutes, almost double the number you were using to measure performance.

Tracking the time required for the first unit to arrive on scene looks like a good metric, and it’s an easy one to measure, but the reality is that it isn’t the right one for truly measuring response time and performance. Measuring ERF response time is more transparent, and will help you see where there are gaps in your performance that could save lives.

The real magic of Effective Response Force appears when mapped for your district. In the example above, areas of slower, harder to assemble ERF pop in dark red. For some of the darkest colors shown, the ERF total response time is double the first arrival time! If your maps are limited to a first arriving unit, the real performance implications and capabilities are hidden. This map provides a clear image of where response teams are struggling and where resources and strategies could be improved to be more effective. 

The right thing isn’t always easy and the easy thing isn’t always right, but emergency response professionals aren’t known for their willingness to take the easy way out.

“gotta go fast” -sonic

“gotta go fast” -sonic

When it comes to data, the extra step to calculate the complex numbers and “do the hard thing” may feel like a hassle, but it’s worth the work for the insights you will have at your disposal that help your team continuously improve. ERF Total Response Time isn’t a simple number to calculate, but it is essential to understanding the effectiveness of your emergency response team and where they are struggling the most. Calculating a measure that can provide real value to understanding where your team needs more support can be transformative in how you make decisions about allocating resources and could help decision makers work smarter in your coverage area.

Want to learn more about data for emergency response? Click to sign up for our September webinar on Effective Response Force Total Time, reach out to your CDM, or the mySidewalk team at

About the Author

Sara Wood came to mySidewalk after managing a State-level fire incident reporting system at the Office of the State Fire Marshal in Kansas as a fire data scientist and providing national-level training/presentations on good data stewardship and applications of data in the Fire Service. Prior to that, she worked in the Criminal Justice Information System for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation as a trainer, auditor, and analyst for law enforcement agencies. Sara is a technical advisor for the CRR organization Vision 2020, an advisor to the NFPA’s National Fire Data System, and is Vice President of the National Fire Information Council.