Using Global Positioning System to Take Command

Adding GPS capabilities to command post operations will improve personnel and asset management.


NIMS includes five major subsystems which form a comprehensive approach to critical incident management. The subsystems include the ICS, training, qualifications and certification, publications management, and supporting technology.

While most emergency situations are handled locally, help may be needed from other jurisdictions and the state and/or federal government in a major incident. NIMS was developed so responders from different jurisdictions and disciplines can work together to better respond to natural disasters and emergencies. These systems have been adapted and incorporated into current law enforcement command post operations, with interoperability as a key ingredient.

NIMS requires constant training, evaluation and improvements. As technology advances, new programs are developed to incorporate beneficial equipment and technology.

Questions, however, do remain. What is the situation status? Where are our people? What are they doing? What additional resources might be needed? GPS systems provide an unique resource to help answer such questions. In fact, integrating their use into a NIMS response may hold the key to maximizing safety and success in any major incident.

The future for law enforcement

As early as 1979, the military was using GPS to monitor nuclear proliferation, assess attacks and evaluate strike damage. Today, while the main uses for GPS in the law enforcement command post setting may be to track resources, develop strategies, disseminate information and have real-time visuals of locations, the potential to track biohazards, improvised explosive devices, anarchist activity and terrorist attacks is very real. However, on a smaller scale, the potential for "friendly fire" also exists in law enforcement scenarios such as building searches, barricaded suspects or other large-scale deployment of peace officers searching for felons.

GPS technology has resolved this issue in a less controlled setting, for example the desert, with many more unknowns. The military development of GPS technology in the Command Post of the Future (See "Military-tested technology guides command post development" on Page 68) has paved the way for law enforcement to implement the best of the technology which meets law enforcement needs (See "Following the bread crumb trail" on Page 72).

The "big" picture incorporates GPS and LPS (Local Positioning Systems) into a greater network of systems to accomplish the ultimate purpose of a state-of-the-art, real-time, law enforcement command post. Safety, interoperability, flexibility and coordinated assessments by leaders are the main goals of these systems.

With LPS, a structure must be pre-wired with tracking sensors or the individuals tracked must wear tracking technology as a part of their equipment. Managers an then determine locale using receivers on location to triangulate an individual's exact position. To triangulate positions indoors, the system needs to perform the same functions as the satellites. There are a couple of ways of doing this.

The first is to have a building that is wired with sensors, knowing each individual's location from sensors on responders. A triangulation is performed on a receiver and each responder's location is determined via the wired"building. Since every building cannot be wired, managers must have an ad hoc wireless system to perform the same function.

The second is to use "dead reckoning." This would entail attaching a sensor to each officer. The sensor uses inertial guidance to "dead reckon," or estimate the movement, to determine the location as the officer moves away from the patrol car. The Los Angeles (California) Fire Department recently completed a test and the accuracy was in the inches range on a three-story building. The problem is that the information needs to be transmitted to a main computer.

The officer must have some sort of transmitter, such as a portable radio. For this model, the main computer would be hooked into the radio system for the information to be displayed. PDAs have the potential to incorporate this tracking with the added benefit of download capabilities and information transmission over a wireless network.

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