ServiceNow: How Technology is Helping Government Agencies Recruit for Disaster Response

When high temperatures, prolonged drought and lightning ignited a large swath of Australia’s wilderness in late 2019 to mid-2020, Australians turned out in droves to help with rescue and cleanup efforts.

The New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service (RFS), a government NSW State’s public sector agency, has been inundated with inquiries and applications from people wanting to join the fight. But an outdated, paper-based approach to managing new hires has crippled the organization’s response.

Need a better system

As the largest voluntary fire department in the world, RFS oversees the deployment of more than 75,000 people to help with everything from clearing brush to evacuating those in danger. Throughout the 2019-2020 fire season, limited resources and legacy RFS systems hampered the overwhelming scale of the task at hand.

“We had about 10,000 volunteer applications which doubled our normal load,” said John Danson, RFS’s chief information officer. The organization’s staff struggled under the weight of this increased volume.

Until then, all applications were completed by hand, on paper, and routed through the network of local and regional teams to RFS headquarters. Once at the head office, the applications were meticulously entered one by one into a central database.

“We weren’t even sure how many apps might have gotten lost on the way to headquarters, because there was no central tracking system,” Danson explains. “There was no intelligence, no workflow, no dashboard.”


Gain visibility and efficiency

Although RFS is larger than many public sector agencies in Australia, its DNA remains rooted in a community ethos and culture that has made it difficult to implement large-scale change.

“Our employees are based in communities across the state, with varying levels of expertise and access to technology,” Danson explains. “This poor fire season has shed light on our structures and processes, and the opportunity to improve technology and the experience for volunteers, staff and community members who wish to join.”

Early in its transformation, RFS turned to Deloitte to provide recommendations for technology upgrades, including integrating ServiceNow to connect multiple tasks, teams and departments through digital workflows.

The first priority was to turn the paper application into a one-click business that would seamlessly populate different fields (especially name and other demographic information) into various databases. This would preserve data integrity and reduce duplication.

With Service Now Customer service management and Application EngineRFS can now see the status of each application, where it is on the journey from “submitted” to “accepted” (something applicants can also gain visibility), what actions still need to be taken, and more.

The next challenge was to digitize the business processes that deliver support services across the organization, from logging maintenance requests to ordering a mobile phone. The goal was to manage everything through a centralized, easy-to-use dashboard rather than “drowning in forms,” as Danson put it.

One of the major benefits of using a single platform to digitize these service offerings is the ability to integrate them into HR, IT, Engineering, Logistics, Finance and Procurement. . This provides a simpler application process for end users.

Preparing strike teams for action

Transparency will eventually improve the basic functions provided by RFS – the so-called “strike teams” that are trained to fight large fires. Previously, remote teams had to fill out Excel forms listing their specific needs to respond to a disaster. These included factors such as:

  • Time required for response (two, three or five days)

  • If volunteers were to work day shifts, night shifts, or both

  • The number of personnel or vehicles needed

  • The exact date and time of the response

The central office was then scrambling to meet these demands, sending requests for people and equipment to the nearly 2,000 individual RFS brigades.


Under the new master plan, resources can be automatically matched to needs, so brigades can find what they need immediately. “It will be much quicker and easier to form response teams,” says Danson.

“When you have field fires – those multiple simultaneous fires – you can lose track of things. How many requests did you issue? Who returned their responses? Now everything goes into a common view with a queue neat so you can track where everything is.”

An invaluable partner

The scale of the task facing the Danson team underscores the need for a true partner who can offer high-level technical expertise and guidance on strategy and overall execution.

“I’ve used other technology vendors before, and you would pay an equivalent price for the software, and then you had to find a separate implementation partner to advise you on implementing best practices,” Danson notes.

“ServiceNow, on the other hand, was there to make sure we got value from the software we bought from them. I had a ServiceNow person in the room virtually who was able to say, ‘We would recommend the design that was proposed to It conforms to our architectural best practices, and it’s done in a way that would be easy to support after go-live. And it’s all been incredibly helpful.”

Learn more about how ServiceNow helps government agencies improve processes.

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