Frequently Asked Questions

As the name implies, real-time surveillance involves live analysis of data to identify patterns and trends as they emerge, rather than waiting days or weeks for conventional detection methods. Early detection allows earlier action to be taken, saving lives and protecting property.

FirstWatch automatically sends alerts to authorized, user-defined personnel via email, pager, SMS-text message or fax. Alerts can contain summary reports, charts, graphs, maps and other important or mission critical information.

Since a very early age, more than 340 million people across much of North America have been educated to call 911 for help, whether for a health emergency, to report a crime or call in a traffic collision. With 911 data, we know what happened, where it happened, when it happened, who was affected, and what public safety resources are required — all typically within a few minutes of the first call to 911. Using FirstWatch to analyze 911 communication call center data for police, fire, or EMS provides public safety, public health, and homeland security teams with the ability to be aware of situations and early indications of potentially harmful trends, patterns, or clusters of occurrences that could threaten citizens or first responders. Unlike conventional health surveillance data systems, public safety data systems are exceptionally time-sensitive with systematically gathered information such as medical symptoms, acuity and precise geographic locations of incidents. Additionally, 911 systems typically cover large geographic and metro areas enhancing the value of the analysis by providing a large catchment area. 

One of the biggest challenges facing emergency responders in the U.S. is the so-called “stovepipe effect,” in which one agency or city is unable to share data with others. FirstWatch overcomes this by automatically aggregating data across city, county or state lines for a true analysis of regional or even national trends. FirstWatch analyzes more than 35,000 incidents every day, that’s about 14,000,000 new incidents annually from across the USA and Canada. FirstWatch is the largest aggregated international database of its kind.

FirstWatch technology was first installed in Kansas City, Mo., in 1999. Today, the FirstWatch network protects more than 74,000,000 people in more than 300 communities in 35 states & provinces across North America.

FirstWatch is a non-database specific data analysis and surveillance tool and 911 data is just one of the systems it integrates with. Others include prehospital electronic patient care reports, hospital emergency department reports, billing, ProQA, lab, pharmacy and poison control, all of which can be monitored in real-time. (View Full List of Data Sources: FW-Data-Sources-2014-pdf)

FirstWatch has successfully alerted officials to a number of different threats, including
the 2009 H1N1 pandemic occurrences across the U.S. and Canada, as well as early identification of emerging influenza outbreaks in Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma in 2003. The severe ice storms and carbon monoxide poisoning cases were mitigated in a number of communities throughout the U.S. via the usage of FirstWatch, combined with proactive public service announcements over broadcast media. FirstWatch detected geographic patterns of motor vehicle property crimes in one Texas community and aided-in the arrest of the ring behind those crimes. FirstWatch also assisted investigators to identify and re-arrest a career criminal in Iowa. During the California wildfires in 2003 and 2007, San Diego officials used FirstWatch extensively to track geographic spikes in respiratory symptoms and redeploy EMS resources to areas of the city most affected by smoke plumes. FirstWatch has also alerted public health and safety officials of a serious food poisoning event in the Florida Panhandle. 

FirstWatch is regularly deployed during high profile events to provide security and medical officials real-time monitoring for any potential threats. Most recently, FirstWatch was deployed during the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative in Hawaii, during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and at the NCAA Final Four Tournament. It is scheduled to be deployed during the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions and during the 2013 Super Bowl.

Most agencies have deployed FirstWatch using grant monies. The Responder Knowledge Base (RKB) is a great information resource that includes FirstWatch. To date, FirstWatch customers have used Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants from programs such as State Homeland Security Grants (SHSG), the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), as well as HHS Grants from CDC, CDC-BT, CDC-PHER (PHEP) ASPR and HRSA. In addition, there are other homeland security programs that could offer regional collaborations with law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency preparedness, emergency management, bioterrorism and public health epidemiology teams.
Learn more about Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Grant Programs at the Federal, State & Local level, or contact FirstWatch to learn more.