In this episode of HxGN Radio, we talk to Chris Mitchell about how the Greater Toronto Airport Authority leverages Hexagon’s computer-aided dispatch and records systems, mobile apps and analytics software to improve operations and collaboration between and among teams and stakeholders. We will discuss how Hexagon’s software helps airport officials connect people, systems and data to automate processes, manage resources and reduce response times.
BK: Welcome to HxGN Radio. My name is Brian, and in today’s podcast, we’re discussing how the Greater Toronto Airport Authority leverages Hexagon’s computer-aided dispatch and record systems, mobile apps and analytics software to improve operations and collaboration between and among teams and stakeholders at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Joining me today is Chris Mitchell, associate director airport operations, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority. Chris, thanks for joining me. Appreciate it.
CM: Thanks Brian. Glad to be here.
BK: Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s get to know you a little bit. So, tell us about yourself, a little more about what you do and what you’re nerding out on your free time, if you have any.
CM: Well, thanks. I’ve been in the airport business, if you will, since I joined as a co-op student in ’93.
BK: Wow, nice.
CM: I was an airport operations specialist, and now all these years later, I found myself responsible for the operation that is the integrated operations control centre. So, at one point, actually the guy that hired me was working for me. So really interesting turn of events. In the free time that I do make from work, I like to mountain bike. Still do that as often as I can. And I’m a reserve officer in Canada.
BK: Nice. Very great. So, I’m curious what led you into the whole airport side of the career? Did you have a passion for it or…?
CM: I always wanted to fly. I joined Air Cadets, which is a Canadian programme for youth, similar to your Civil Air Patrol, and learnt how to fly gliders and then private pilot before I was 17. Wanted to stay in the industry and wanted to do something. Math was not a strong piece for me, couldn’t fly the fast jets. And at that time the industry was in a bit of a decline. So, I knew I needed to work and didn’t want to have a lot of debt and no job. So, I found airport operations was interesting. And there were tons that could be done in that field. And that’s where I’ve stayed.
BK: That’s great. I grew up with a family of pilots and my granddad was general manager for American Airlines, so it was a big family of all around the flying sort of thing. And I wanted to fly, do all that. And I got into radio. I don’t know.
CM: Well, once you’re bitten, you tend to stay in the industry.
BK: It’s still a passion actually, even though I’m not in the industry, but still love it. Well, that’s neat. All right. Well, tell us about the Greater Toronto Airport Authority mission, and also a little bit more about what you all do there.
CM: All right. So, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority is the operator of Toronto Pearson, which is Canada’s largest airport. And it’s a vital connector of people, businesses and goods. Recently, Toronto Pearson has been named the best large airport in North America, serving more than 40 million passengers. And this is for the last five years in a row by Airports Council International, which is the global trade representative of the world’s airports. In recognition of its Healthy Airport programme, the ACI has awarded Toronto Pearson the best hygiene measures in North America for the last two years running. And Toronto Pearson was the first Canadian airport to receive the ACI’s Global Health Accreditation for its response to COVID-19. In my current role, we seek to make those awards happen on a daily basis. I’m responsible for the integrated operations control centre, which plays a pivotal role in the successful operation of the airport.
The IOCC is the focal point of the day-to-day operations, including routine and emergency incident communications, control and communication. To achieve this our teams, provide for emergency dispatch of our own fire services, our contracted police services, regional paramedic services and our own public safety and security personnel. It’s very similar to any large city, but within the footprint of the airport. In addition, we also dispatch our trades and contracted maintenance personnel to respond to and address any issue that affects the operation of the airport. So, anything that goes on goes through the IOCC, and the staff deal with that on a daily basis.
BK: Excellent. So now you implemented an incident management system, what sort of communication and coordination challenges were you facing? And then also why partner with Hexagon?
CM: Because it’s an integrated operation centre, we needed to bring various aspects of the operation together into one space. And what we had been doing is relying on operators, their skills and experience, to share information across those different work groups. There are 11 different units within the integrated op centre. So now it was really hard to onboard and train people to get the experience up, to make them truly effective because it relied so much on the personnel in the room. So, CAD has enabled us to take all the resources and share them amongst all the different groups that do the dispatching and give line-of-sight to what’s happening through the incident management software. But it also is more than just dispatching. It allows the rest of the organisation access to information such as the number of incident types we’ve had and where they’ve happened to make their work easier.
BK: Okay. Yeah. And it leads into the next question because traditionally the incident management system has been basically used more for emergency response. So how have you customised it, specifically?
CM: Well, it was a long process with the project, and it started back in 2017. I came on as the project was really just kicking off. It fell within my bailiwick of responsibilities. And having used an incident management system in the past as a dispatcher, I knew that we really needed the operators and the end users to be involved. So, we went out to the company, found the dispatchers, those field responders who were going to use it, and rely on it, and got them involved in the process for the project.
And I think by having them involved, we produced a solution and a suite of applications that serves not just the users, but the backend users who want the data out of it as well. So again, Hexagon was an easy choice. Leadership in the computer-aided dispatch space was well known and understood. We had some in the organisation who were familiar with Intergraph, from back in the day. So, when we started looking at it and went out to look for vendors, it certainly rated very well. I’m glad we did move in that direction. The Hexagon team was great throughout, even with the curve balls we threw at them. And then of course with the big curve ball of COVID 19, that came into play before we delivered, about six months prior, so we really had to pivot, and the team was great to support us through that.
BK: Good. Good. All right. So, using Hexagon’s dispatch records, mobile and analytics solutions, what have been some of the operational successes you’ve seen?
CM: Probably the big one is the visibility to incidents and the shared resources. Between our airport operations team and our security operations team, they do the lion’s share of the dispatching. But because of the way we’re set up, we’re not a single agency, at least the way CAD has been set up. So, we have multiple agencies and… But each of those dispatch groups need to be able to see the shared resources. So, the way we’ve got it set up is fairly complex and unique, but it allows the different dispatchers to see the shared resources, but not be inundated with information that they don’t need. So, for example, security shares maintenance response. So, if we have a door that’s broken and it’s a security door, they need to call a trade to go fix it. But if they didn’t have line of sight them in the system, they wouldn’t know that there was a resource available to send.
And likewise, if someone else called in a door, they wouldn’t know that the carpenter’s already on the way. So, it really gives us visibility to those shared resources and from a responder piece, they can see what their colleagues are working on. And when you look at more along the public safety space, those responders who are tasked out for a call and their experience can say, I know to put myself on the call or to shift resources to backfill for that. So, visibility for incidents, both from the dispatch centre, but also from the responders has been huge.
BK: Good. No, that’s great. Well, you mentioned you’ve been in this industry for quite some time. You’ve got a wealth of experience, obviously, it’s a passion for you as well. What sort of advice do you have for other air transportation authorities that are considering incident management like this?
CM: Airport operations are certainly a complex and dynamic ecosystem that we work in. We’re certainly hearing it on the news now with a lot of the challenge that the industry is facing. And largely that requires the integration of various aspects of the operation and really putting into a single solution so that you can see what’s happening, what could be happening, use the analytics of it to see what’s on the horizon based on the plan, which is, we know what passengers we can expect. We know what flight schedules we can expect, but we can also say that when we have those numbers, what type of calls can we expect to see what type of volumes of work can we see? We can plan our teams. We can plan our zones, if you will, of where to station different groups of people.
So, it really helps us put those pieces together and display it in a way that is easy for not just the teams to see, but the leadership in the organisation, for them to see. It’s been really good in that our previous solution; we didn’t have a way to show what we did and how busy we were. So now with this and the business analytics piece, we can really show how busy the operation is. And also, what parts of it are the problems that we need to get ahead of and fix before they impact the operation.
BK: Yeah, that’s great. All right. So where can we go for more information on this? And also, I’m curious if you have any closing thoughts to pass on.
CM: Well, certainly the Greater Toronto Airports Authority in Toronto Pearson is all over social media and the web. As for closing thoughts, I think the implementation of Hexagon’s CAD has really enabled our success as we’re coming out of the pandemic. We implemented in late 2019. So, the staff have used it while we’ve been at lower volumes of work. Call volume certainly dropped off as traffic dropped off. But now, as we’re seeing business really pick up more than I think what anyone in the industry expected, the team is really able to make use of the CAD solution and not just as dispatchers, but out with our responders, but also in our management systems teams, as they look at the data. So that’s been a great boon to the operation.
BK: Yeah, that’s awesome. No, I love it. Well, I appreciate you sharing all this. There’s been a lot of… It’s neat to see how this is all working for you and to see the success you’re having. So, thank you for sharing everything here and appreciate you taking the time to join us.
CM: Great. Thanks Brian.
BK: Chris Mitchell, Associate Director, Airport Operations, Greater Toronto Airport Authority. Thank you so much for joining us here on HxGN Radio. For more information, and to listen to additional episodes, head over to iTunes, Spotify, or SoundCloud, and you can visit us at hxgnspotlight.com for more information and more stories from Hexagon. Thank you again for listening and have a great day.