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Mission-critical GIS capabilities for 9-1-1 call centers

Written by Sarah Bajek

When an emergency call is received at the Cattaraugus County 9-1-1 Center in Little Valley, NY, the county communications specialists spring into action, determining the emergency, establishing the location, and dispatching first responders to the scene. The 9-1-1 center has dispatch responsibilities for all law enforcement, fire and EMS in the county, responding to calls and dispatching responses throughout an area of about 1,310 square miles. In order to respond effectively to an emergency call, the county communications specialist must immediately know where the caller is, how to direct the proper first responders to the scene, and any obstacles the first responders or caller should be aware of.

To accomplish all of this, the Cattaraugus County 9-1-1 Center employs the latest software and technology to rapidly locate the caller and collect valuable information to quickly dispatch an accurate and effective response when seconds count.

For years, 9-1-1 centers like the one in Cattaraugus County, NY used geographic information systems (GIS) applications to locate callers and perform incident analysis. In recent years, GIS has evolved to provide significantly more information that improves safety and answers important questions, including the location of fire hydrants, physical land features, hazards and more. But with so many GIS tools available for 9-1-1 centers, dispatchers sometimes find themselves overwhelmed with multiple applications during an emergency.

Cattaraugus County and other 9-1-1 centers across the country agree; the key to providing the fastest response possible is offering all of the tools dispatchers need in one, single emergency response application.

To avoid application overload with the growing importance of GIS in 9-1-1 centers, some providers of public safety software are investing to embed the latest GIS technologies and capabilities directly into their solutions. As a result, more advanced CAD software has become “map centric,” providing officers on patrol, 9-1-1 dispatchers and investigators unprecedented access to vital information that previously was unavailable.

The Cattaraugus County 9-1-1 Center uses New World Systems’ latest release of Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) with enhanced GIS functionality to obtain the critical information it needs during an emergency. New World’s map-centric CAD is the only offering of its kind to be totally and seamlessly integrated with ESRI® technology, the world leader in geographic information systems (GIS) modeling and mapping. In addition, powerful mapping tools embedded directly in New World’s CAD, including GPS, automatic vehicle location (AVL), and oblique aerial imagery have significantly improved the amount of information available to Cattaraugus County communications specialists.

“We’ve offered our communications specialists an incredible amount of mapping tools to get all of the information we can about where a person is calling from,” said Captain Joseph Grube, supervisor of the Cattaraugus County 9-1-1 Center. “But at some point, they reach information overload and stop using the tools they need if there is too much time or effort involved. Because New World Systems has effectively packaged and visually organized the GIS layers, aerial photography and more right within the CAD software, it’s absolutely saving our dispatchers time and allowing them to actually use advanced mapping functionality fully without any extra effort.”

A map-centric CAD solution can provide a dispatcher a broad range of location information through a central GIS database, including building floor plans, prior incidents, known offenders, registered sex offenders, medical information, property owners, permits issued, hazardous materials, and much more. By combining historical data from an integrated records management system with feature-rich, real-time maps that are accessible through CAD, providers of advanced public safety software can offer a complete emergency response solution in a single application.

Advantages of Map-Centric CAD

Partnering closely with ESRI, New World has been able to embed advanced GIS functionality directly into its CAD solution. This has created the map-centric CAD hundreds of agencies—including the Cattaraugus County 9-1-1 Center—rely on each day to identify the location of callers, direct first responders, and get an accurate lay of the land.

Britt Wollenweber, New World Systems’ GIS consultant, said, “Embedding native ESRI technologies, such as ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Engine, into our solution not only provides the end user with a much greater environment for analysis for mission-critical tasks, it also allows the customer to leverage their existing investments in GIS through superior integration with their current GIS technology.”

The benefits of map-centric CAD reach far beyond real-time updates and leveraging the agency’s investment; embedded GIS capabilities also offer much greater functionality. GPS and Phase II technology, for example, embedded directly into the CAD application, allows the dispatcher to see details including sector and confidence factor on the same CAD map. This permits the Cattaraugus County communication specialists to find the location of a cellular call with relative certainty.

A key advantage of Cattaraugus County’s map-centric CAD solution is the ability to use many ESRI tools directly from the CAD map. This has saved valuable time by eliminating the need to open a different application for further analysis of a map. For example, enhanced routing and driving directions can be simply accessed through the use of ESRI’s Network Extension tool, allowing dispatchers to provide the best possible route for the first responder.

Map-centric CAD also uses embedded ESRI tools for crime analysis, offering Cattaraugus County communications specialists and investigators more ways to view the scene of an incident and acquire information directly and easily from the map.

The whole point of map-centric CAD is to deliver all of the communication, reporting and mapping functionality a dispatcher will need in an instant.

Map-centric CAD users have access to GIS layers filled with valuable information symbolized by different colors, sizes, etc., which help instantly distinguish between features on a map. Now, dispatchers can immediately determine the difference between a highway, an urban road, and a dirt road to relay valuable information to first responders.

Quick Access to Even More Information

In an emergency, the more detailed information the dispatcher has about the location of the incident, the more prepared the responders will be. To provide dispatchers the most complete picture of an incident, the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office invested in Pictometry International Corp.’s oblique aerial imagery for three-dimensional views of the county. Unfortunately, in the past, the Pictometry images resided in a separate application, preventing the county’s communications specialists from using these valuable images when time was a critical factor.

In early 2008, New World Systems announced a development partnership with Pictometry, which allows them to embed oblique aerial imagery directly into its CAD solution. The latest release of New World’s CAD has enabled county communications specialists to access Pictometry imagery and functionality directly from their CAD map, eliminating the need to open a different application or leave their computer during an emergency.

Communication specialists and county officers are now able to view each location or building from different angles to take into consideration changes in elevation and entrances and exits they may not have been aware of before. They can measure height, length and width of structures with Pictometry tools directly from New World’s CAD.

The Cattaraugus County 9-1-1 Center workers have discovered that a CAD map is capable of much more than identifying the location of a call. They have saved valuable time during emergencies with instant access to location information made possible through development partnerships between their CAD vendor and GIS providers. As GIS technologies continue to advance, even more lifesaving information will become available to dispatchers through integration with leading providers of advanced public safety software.

Sarah Bajek is the marketing specialist at New World Systems, the number one provider of completely integrated public safety software solutions. She can be reached at sbajek@newworldsystems.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2008

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