Instant access to vital information: The role of GIS

GIS used successfully with leading public safety software will continue to offer the speed and performance needed to respond when seconds matter.


     The county uses the same GIS technology to combat drunk driving. With the help of effective state-wide campaigns, the 911 center has been receiving more calls to report suspected drunk drivers. Often the callers are on the move and unsure of their exact location. In this situation, Phase II technology becomes an invaluable tool that allows the dispatcher to locate the caller, and in some cases, even track them in real time as they move by rebidding the call. The ability to constantly monitor the location of the caller allows the dispatcher to make fast decisions and give first responders turn-by-turn directions to locate the suspected drunk driver.

More detail in the middle of nowhere
     In some cases dispatchers must locate a caller and guide him to safety. This means the dispatcher must have all of the necessary details and full access to a view of the entire scene as quickly as possible. Oblique aerial imagery offers additional GIS tools to dispatchers in the form of 3D-like images of an area with key details, including whether a building is made of brick or concrete, how many stories a building is, how deep a ravine is, or the acreage of a wooded area. By having access to oblique aerial imagery directly within the CAD map, a dispatcher can better analyze a scene by measuring distance, angles and height of physical features. Access to this information proved valuable for one county dispatcher in New York.

     In this county, a hunter was lost in a rural wooded area. His dog was trapped at the bottom of a ravine with 300-foot walls, and his attempts to retrieve the dog forced him to carefully climb to the bottom. The hunter ended up being trapped at the bottom of the ravine and used his cell phone to call 911 for help.

     At the county communications center, the dispatcher used Phase II technology to plot the hunter's location. He soon realized the hunter was in a very remote area — far away from any roads — and more information was needed to locate and guide the hunter to safety. Using oblique aerial imagery, the dispatcher was able to recognize specific landmarks. He then asked the hunter questions about physical features in the area and compared them to the landmarks on his CAD map to determine the hunter's exact location. As the hunter described features, including a heavily wooded area and the shape of the ravine walls near him, the dispatcher was able to see the exact location on an oblique aerial image.

     The dispatcher used built-in data analysis tools to measure contour lines and assess the area for a location where both the hunter and dog could safely walk out of the ravine. After a few minutes, the dispatcher established that the ravine walls were angled steeply for miles and decided to direct the hunter to a safer location at the bottom of the ravine to wait for rescuers. The dispatcher, using the detailed 3D map of the scene, located a flat island in shallow water at the bottom of the ravine. He directed the hunter to this island, guiding him away from all hazardous areas. After reaching the island, the dispatcher directed the man to an area where the slope of the land provided a safe place for him to walk his way out of the ravine where rescue personnel were waiting.

Quick access to more information
     In all of these situations, the dispatcher was faced with difficult questions that could only be answered with a complete understanding of each scene. Where is the victim calling from? How will I direct first responders to the scene? What obstacles do the responders and the caller need to be aware of? These questions were answered using GIS and mapping technology accessed directly through CAD software.

     Some public safety software providers are successfully working to make it easier for dispatchers to answer these questions and more by embedding GIS information into CAD for immediate spatial awareness. A CAD map is capable of much more than identifying the location of a call if GIS is integrated directly with the emergency response software.

     Embedded GIS allows dispatchers and first responders to access data from within their RMS through CAD as well. When a call comes in to a communications center, vital location details are immediately available through the map including residents, prior history, registered firearms and more because of this integration. As GIS and mapping technologies continue to advance, even more information will become available to dispatchers through integration with public safety software.

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