Public Safety Utilization Measurement

Request: Our Fire Department is looking for a way to quantify member's time engaged in activities throughout the day. We would like to determine a good way to measure 'utilization' and determine what is a reasonable expectation for shift fire employees. We want to make sure our employees (and units) are not over-taxed, potentially impacting their ability to respond, or negatively affecting their capacity to respond effectively.

PROGRAMS AND PROJECTS | Dec 19, 2019

Request: Our Fire Department is looking for a way to quantify member's time engaged in activities throughout the day. We would like to determine a good way to measure 'utilization' and determine what is a reasonable expectation for shift fire employees. We want to make sure our employees (and units) are not over-taxed, potentially impacting their ability to respond, or negatively affecting their capacity to respond effectively. 

Background: Measuring performance has been a hallmark of innovation, but measuring performance encounters limits when it comes to on-call jobs such as police and fire fighters. This research request investigates the foremost method for measuring on-call performance, Unit-Hour-Utilization, as well as steps taken to account for fatigue and over-taxing. Found below is the current status of research into Unit-Hour-Utilization and public safety personnel.

Summary: If a public emergency response entity plans to use a Unit-Hour-Utilization (UHU) system in their organization, there are some key aspects that should be incorporated. A first step is to ensure that the measurements and calculations are accurate and reflective of what you are seeking to measure. Second, for public institutions, maximizing efficiency and utilization is not the ultimate goal, whereas providing the level of services required is significantly more important. Using the available norms of other municipalities, a fire department should aim to have utilization rates of 25% or lower in order to ensure that other tasks can be carried out and that emergency response personnel are not experiencing significant fatigue. The incorporation of non-emergency activities into UHU is nearly non-existent as most fire departments do not track non-emergency activities as closely. However, the increasing use of technology to track time commitments may make tracking those unit hours and incorporating them into UHU a reality. 

Current State of Unit Hour Utilization: At the present time, the use of Unit-Hour-Utilization measures are slowly becoming increasingly popular metrics for EMS and Fire Departments. However, because UHU is still in its infancy, there are not set standards for UHU but rather just informal norms used as the barometer for these metrics. In this report we will lay out the theoretical framework of UHU, the role of fatigue on UHU, and finally present a fire department that is effectively using UHU. 

  • Theoretical Framework (Based on a study of ambulance service in California) 
    • FormulaUHU-T = (Ambulance Transports per Week) / (Ambulance Unit Hours Produced) 
  • Term Definitions 
  • Unit Hour: Equal to one hour of service by a fully equipped and staffed ambulance available for dispatch or assigned to a call (However this could be translated to any public safety department). (Source
  • Ambulance Transports: Refers to advanced life support services delivered by the use of licensed paramedics (However this could be translated to any public safety department). (Source
  • Interpreting Results 
  • The output of this calculation will be a decimal point representative of a percentage of Unit Hour Utilization. 
  • The commonly used benchmark for EMS and Fire is: 
  • Unit Hour Utilization Range

.55 - .45 – High Utilization 
.45 - .35 – Above Average Utilization 
.35 - .25 – Average Utilization 
.25 - .15 – Below Average Utilization 
.15 - .01 – Low Utilization 

  • This benchmark serves more as a best estimate of utilization rather than being a mathematically accurate representation.  (Source

 

  • Shortcomings 
  • “Direct comparison of unit hour utilization between separate ambulance organizations may have limitations as utilization rates are often dependent on a diverse number of other mitigating factors such as the presence of response time standards, shift length, overall time or length of transports; impact on employee wellness and safety, transport times and turnaround times as well as a variety of other operational and administrative issues.” (Source
  • UHU and Firefighter Fatigue 
    • Current Status 
  • There are no industry standards for UHU, but the fire service has traditionally viewed UHUs above 25 or 30 percent as the threshold for a 24-hour shift, in order to ensure units are available to respond to emergencies and response time standards can be met. (Source
  • Such a low UHU is also an acknowledgement that much of the required work of the department comes outside of emergency response—such as maintaining the apparatus, physical exercise, training, documentation, and public outreach. (Source
  • Developing a UHU That Incorporates Non-Emergency Activities  
  • As more sophisticated computer-aided dispatch and data collection systems are being used, many departments have started tracking the time spent on these activities as well—but no one has developed a standard for UHU that includes non-emergency activities. (Source
  • UHU standards were recommended to ensure reliability, not to address fatigue. (Source
  • We also still do not know whether emergency activities contribute more or less to fatigue than other activities. (Source
  • Keeping UHU low during the day time may increase readiness to respond, but if firefighters are still performing other tasks—such as physical exercise, training, or even station duties—they are not resting. (Source
  • Spokane Valley Fire Department 
  • Reasons for Implementation of UHU 
  • Measuring performance and time committed to delivering emergency services. (Source
  • Ensuring that staff were not overworked. (Source
  • Creating understanding of how many emergencies the department was capable of responding to. (Source
  • Having analytics that could be used to make informed decisions. (Source
  • UHU Calculation 
  • The UHU rate is calculated by dividing the total time committed by the total number of hours in the year (for 24 hour staffed apparatus) and expressed as a percentage. (Source
  • UHU Interpretation 
  • The larger the number, the greater an apparatus’s utilization and the less available it is for assignment to subsequent calls for service. (Source
  • UHU Results
  • UHU Implications 
    • Spokane Valley believes that UHU rates in the range of 25 to 30 percent for fire and ems units can lead to employee burnout issues; and can negatively affect station and unit reliability. (Source
    • As unit hour utilization increases, not only are units less available for emergency responses; but also less likely to complete other duties, such as inspections, training, public education, and maintenance. (Source

 

You may also be interested in

Feedback