Tactical mapping aids

Feb. 1, 2008
Manufacturers of floor planning software

     The ability to map key buildings in their jurisdictions is increasingly important to law enforcement agencies. Many agencies rely on hard copies of building blueprints, but others are discovering the utility in using tactical mapping software to do the job. Here is a sampling of some of the floor mapping software available, and an overview of the capabilities of each one.

The CAD Zone

     The Crime Zone, offered by The CAD Zone of Beaverton, Oregon, was developed to simplify diagramming for police officers. While it was initially used by investigators to draw crime scenes after an event occurred, it is also ideal for creating floor plans and site plans for tactical planning purposes. It contains all the drawing and editing features needed to create 2D floor plan diagrams and detailed 3D site diagrams. There are thousands of pre-drawn symbols of doors, windows, stairs, elevators, furniture, trees and so on, which can be used to save hours of drawing time. Other special features let users draw a building outline, streets and intersections, even stairs and ramps in 3D, with just a few mouse-clicks.

     Users often do not have to draw plans from scratch because the plans they need are available from other sources, which The Crime Zone can import. For instance, a city or county planning department may have plans created by an architect or engineer in an electronic file format such as AutoCAD's .dwg format or the standard CAD .dxf format. Both of these types of files can be imported into The Crime Zone, where users can delete what is not important and add details that are.

     The local fire department is often another excellent source of drawings and valuable building information, commonly referred to as pre-incident plans. These plans typically contain information that is critical not just for fighting fires, but for responding to any emergency, such as details of building and roof construction, position of doors, utility and alarm shut-offs, location of stairs and elevators, placement of hazardous materials stored on-site, and so on. First Look Pro, a database program published by The CAD Zone, is used to organize such pre-plan information and put it together with diagrams, photographs, .pdf files and other documents.

     First Look Pro has separate modes for fire and police users, so this critical information can be easily shared between the two departments. It can be used ahead of time in the station for planning and training purposes, and on mobile computers to give officers at the scene access to the same data. "First Look Pro is an ideal tool for organizing and accessing information that is critical for tactical planning," comments Janice White, president of The CAD Zone. "Much of the building data that is routinely collected by fire departments as part of their pre-planning efforts is also extremely important to police departments. First Look Pro makes it easy for police officers to have access to that information and add to it to meet their own needs."


     FloorView, a company based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, offers software designed to be both police- and fire department-friendly. The company spent many hours with first responders to determine the kind of information these officials really needed, says FloorView president Richard Neiman.

     This Web-based system, which is Windows and Windows Mobile based, captures as much detail as desired for both the interior and exterior of any facility. Additionally, end-users can access mapping information about the areas surrounding the buildings, such as data on streets or water lines. Aerial photography is also included.

     "When you have an incident at a critical facility, chances are many of the responders have never been there," says Neiman. "So we have the maps to get them there, and once they arrive, tell them how to get into the building and what's inside."

     The system is designed to provide information on demand by agency need, says Cal Shoemaker, chief operating officer for FloorView.

     "For example, fire officials may need to know where the fire suppression is, while police will need another kind of information," he explains. "We've created what we call 'named views' of buildings, with the information contained in layers that can be turned on or off as needed."

     Some examples of these layers include standpipes and hazmat locations, windows, stairwells, phones and phone extensions, door swings, firewalls and interior or exterior wall types. Data layers can be customized to request.

     "Another layer we have is measuring capabilities for exits and escape routes," says Neiman. "For example, if visibility is compromised because of smoke, the commander can tell the responder how many approximate steps it is to the exit and if the door swings in or out."

     The system offers the capability to communicate and monitor in real time. For example, it can let command or on-scene responders know when a room has been cleared, when an exit has been suddenly blocked, or when activity has been detected via cameras in specific locations.

     The process starts with blueprints or floor plans. The company inputs this information and sends it back to the agency for review and confirmation. Additionally, FloorView supplies end-users with a 360-degree camera with which they can pan and zoom around critical rooms. The company will perform this service if end-users don't want to take the photos themselves.

     Depending on the extent of the mapping, departments will have completed floor plans within approximately 60 to 90 days, says Shoemaker.

     Currently, the company is in the process of installing the system in Florida's Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have approved the use of this system and will provide funding through grants.

Ness Technologies

     This global provider of IT services and solutions, headquartered in Hackensack, New Jersey, distributes the Facility Navigator system, developed by Columbus Application Provider. Meir Levy is the telecom infrastructure department manager of the Ness Technologies & Systems Group.

     This is a Web-based platform that gives end-users the ability to pre-plan evacuations in the case of natural disasters, attacks and other emergencies to create detailed facility maps as well as "what-if" scenarios. Authorized users anywhere can access this information via Internet browser from PCs, laptops or tablet PCs.

     "The system also serves all other branches of the organization with one unified platform," Levy explains. "The Facility Navigator takes the CAD and enables various teams to use the relevant information. For example, maintenance personnel can use the electricity and communications module; IT personnel, the IT module; management, the space and assets module. Security uses parts from all the modules mentioned and more." For example, in the case of a hostage situation inside a building, responders can find out how to disconnect an area from light, air conditioning or water. It's possible to get all the information they need with just one or two touches on the screen, Levy adds.

     "The platform has easy built-in macros to get the information faster," Levy explains. "This information includes drawings, pictures and all relevant data that was put into the database, from CAD entrances and exits to industrial information, such as electricity, air conditioning and infrastructure. To summarize, the Facility Navigator platform turns drawings into knowledge."

     The system requires CAD drawings of the facilities. Ness Technologies can either build up the database, or end-users can manage this aspect. If no facility records exist, the company can conduct field surveys to collect this information.

Prepared Response Inc.

     This Seattle, Washington-based company's Rapid Responder software is designed to provide first responders and other emergency personnel with site-specific information in the field during emergencies. Users can access this information via a Web version or a remote version that loads onto a laptop, says Marti Wagner, vice president of professional services for Prepared Response.

     The company sends site crews out to whatever is being mapped and captures this information in about a day, depending on the site, explains Wagner. All the details, floor plans, fire suppression, exits, interior doors, door swings, are captured. The data comes back to the office where it's conditioned and then loaded into the program. Crews are dispatched anywhere in the country.

     Rapid Responder is a very intuitive application and concept, allowing first responders to make crucial decisions very rapidly. The system is also highly secure, which is essential because of the sensitivity of the data it contains. According to Jim Finnell, president and chief executive officer of the company, Rapid Responder employs the same technology as major financial institutions. He inserts that this crisis management system is certified by the DHS as Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology (QATT).

     Another concern expressed by end-users is connectivity in the field, Finnell continues. But Rapid Responder's remote version enables field connectivity if the software is loaded onto a laptop or if the user has a USB drive.

     The entire process starts with an orientation meeting with all the stakeholders, followed by a pre-planning tactical meeting with first responders and other involved parties. This is where the real value of the service they provide lies, says Wagner

     "We facilitate all of these different groups working together as a team," she explains. "They check their egos at the door, and focus on building a site-specific plan, collaborating in a neutral environment."

     After this comes a site visit, data collection and data entry. Prepared Response then returns to the site and conducts the necessary training. Their client roster includes schools, hospitals, bridges, stadiums, transportation centers and hotels.


     This San Diego, California-based company has designed a software program specifically for law enforcement and the legal profession called SmartDraw Legal Edition. Essentially a drawing program, this system allows law enforcement end-users to create professional and accurate diagrams of accident and crime scenes as well as develop organizational charts, timelines and documenting processes for training and educational purposes. This is accomplished by customizing a variety of templates provided by the company, as well as through the use of symbols and other images.

     Although most agencies are using this program for the above-mentioned purposes, it also can be used to create detailed floor plans by modifying the floor plan templates available through the program, says Ken Roberts, director of product marketing. End-users would input a facility's existing floor plan information into the program, and make whatever changes were necessary to update both the floor plan information and the templates, adding the appropriate symbols and images to indicate fire suppression and other information. This is extremely easy to do, says Roberts.

     "We support tablet and pen-based PCs so you could just walk around the facility and take notes and make whatever changes you need," he explains. "This gives agencies a very high degree of accuracy and control. And because this program isn't embedded in a larger system that does other things, it makes the diagram very accessible and easy to modify, and simplifies keeping information up to date."

     The information is held on the user's computer or server rather than being Web-based. Transmission of information would occur via Intranet, and the software is alerted to system updates.

     Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance journalist based in Long Beach, California.

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