Brig. Dr Khalid Ali Almarri
Communication Director, Dubai Police
Apart from policing, Dubai Police is using geospatial technology to do public service activities as well. Brig. Dr Khalid Ali Almarri, Communication Director, Dubai Police, tells us more…
How does Dubai Police use latest technologies to ensure public safety in a key Emirate like Dubai?
Dubai Police has always tried to keep itself updated with the latest technologies. We have been using triangulation based geolocation systems since 1985 to track our patrol cars. Subsequently, we switched to TETRA, which has a built-in GPS and an algorithm that sends messages to the server at regular intervals. As soon as it is switched on, it sends its location to the base station every 30 seconds. However, we realised that 30 seconds was not enough, especially if you are following a fast moving patrol car on a map. We resolved this issue by taking the last and current position of the resource and plotting points in between on the road network, which gave us a smoother transition. While our system was earlier called the AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location), it is now known as the APL (Automatic Person Location), as it is currently used to track all our resources, whether walking, driving, riding a horse, etc.
For a common man, police is all about fighting crime. However, Dubai Police does a lot more than just ensuring law and order. Can you tell us about some of your public service activities.
We have a service called the Merciful Heart Programme, which is meant for heart patients in Dubai. It is a service wherein we encourage heart patients in Dubai to register their details in our system. So, when a heart patient calls the emergency number, we know all their details, including the patient’s hospital, doctor, prescribed medicines, etc. The service helps us to reach a patient faster and even facilitate a doctor in the hospital emergency ward to ensure immediate action. All ambulances in Dubai are fitted with our systems so our operations room can transfer all the information to them instantly. Statistics show that since the implementation of this system, the number of deaths have reduced drastically.
There is another initiative called Your Security at the Press of a Button. The service is meant for elderly people in Dubai, some of whom cannot even dial a number. Under this initiative, we gave these people a wristwatch-like device which has a button on top. During an emergency, a user has to simply press the button and we receive a call in the operations room. The operations room can then send someone to check on the caller. The system has been recently upgraded and it is now available on all smartphones as a free downloadable app. At times, we have even received emergency calls from distant locations such as Thailand, Russia etc. as UAE residents travelling abroad were lost and pressed the emergency button for help. We have even helped the users in such situations by telling them what to do. Based on your location, the system will even give you the contact details of the nearest UAE embassy. The button system also exists in all BMW cars across the UAE. When pressed, the SOS button sends the car’s location to the police. The system is also programmed to deploy automatically if a car meets with an accident.
How has the use of geospatial technology improved the functioning of Dubai Police over the years?
Geospatial technology helps us to do our business faster. During the time of an emergency, we can reach the incident spot faster and help someone in trouble. The emergency service is fully georeferenced, which means that if someone dials the emergency number from Dubai, it will go to Dubai Police, but if the same number is dialled from Sharjah, it will go to Sharjah Police.
Geospatial technology has helped us a lot in incident management. There are lot of cameras installed all across Dubai and all of those are georeferenced. When we receive a call regarding an incident, we set the caller’s location as coordinates for the incident and the nearest camera automatically opens and gets directed towards the incident location. It helps us to take better decisions regarding the kind of response that the situation demands. Besides, every patrol car has a camera on top, which can be controlled by the operations room.
We have a system call GeoStats, which contains a complete database of all recorded incidents. Thus, at the click of a button, I can check how many accidents or thefts have taken place at a particular location during the past one year. Such a system gives us the ability to look at a situation statistically and thus rework our plans accordingly. The system contains a database of all incidents since 2005. All this has been made possible because of geospatial technology.
During the early years, when we started using geospatial technology to track our patrol cars, the error rate was very high. However, with the advancement of technology, things have improved a great deal and the results are now more accurate. Currently, we have installed tracking systems on all our resources, including patrol cars, motorcycles, police officers etc, which tell us exactly who is available for action. This has reduced the response time a great deal. Linking everything together with the operations room allows us to reach an incident faster. Our goal is to reach the incident spot in less than 15 minutes.
Tell us about Dubai Police’s advanced IMS system.
The core business of Dubai Police Operations Department is to receive calls from people in trouble, to the emergency number (999), and rescue them from their situation. To do this, we have designed an Incident Management System (IMS). From the moment the emergency operator picks up a call everything gets recorded. All the information about the caller suchas name, address, location, call history etc. is displayed on the screen, which helps us to send patrol car to the right place. As soon as we receive the location and details on the type of incident, the operator transfers it to the system, which automatically selects a patrol car dispatcher according to the caller’s location. Dubai has been divided into different zones with each zone having a dedicated dispatcher. The incident is reported to the dispatcher on a digital map in the form of a UAE flag so he can simply drag and drop the nearest patrol car on the incident flag. Subsequently, the tablet fitted in the selected patrol car receives a message regarding an incident. As soon as the patrol car officer accepts the message, the UAE flag changes to a blue flag and all the related details are transferred into the tablet, which helps an officer navigate to the incident spot. Once the patrol car has successfully carried out its duty, its status on the operations room map changes to free. IMS is an extremely advanced system that completes the entire process of handling an incident within minutes of being reported.
Most police forces around the world are going hi-tech. How would you rate the technology readiness level of Dubai Police?
Dubai Police has a lot of advanced systems that no other police department around the world has. Visitors from all over the world come to see and learn from our systems. The best part is that all our systems are integrated into one system. Before 2005, we had many systems and every system had its own operator. Currently, I can do anything even from the computer in my office. The system is so integrated that it can be operated by a single person. Even our patrol cars are the best amongst the world. Currently, we are trying to incorporate everything into the car’s light bar in such a manner that you will not even see a camera on top. The current design that we are working on will have 12 cameras embedded into the light bar, including 8 for the ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system to scan cars in all directions, and 4 video cameras for incident management. The car is set to be unveiled very soon.
We have a fleet of 100 patrol cars equipped with ANPR system. These patrol cars just roam around the streets and if a car, which is wanted by the authorities, passes by, the system will immediately alert an officer. Earlier, it used to be done manually wherein an officer would roam around parking lots with a big list of numbers to check all the cars. All this was very tedious and time consuming. Our system can read all types of license plates from UAE, and even Qatar.
Where do you procure data from? Do you share data with other government entities in Dubai?
We do our own mapping. We buy our own satellites and also fly to collect data. Although these maps are the property of Dubai Police but we do share them with the Dubai Municipality and RTA (Roads & Transport Authority). The images are of 12cm resolution, but it is not just in 2D; we have all of Dubai mapped in 3D. Thus, various functions like dispatching and tracking of our patrol cars, managing an incident from the control room, etc, can be done in 3D. With 3D, the police can make more educated decisions. The system has been in place since 2005. While we update our maps yearly, it still does not prove to be enough as Dubai is expanding rapidly.
Can you tell us about your challenges?
Our ever expanding city presents us with the challenge to constantly update our road maps, images, etc. Besides, we are also a cosmopolitan city with people of over 200 different nationalities living here, which gives rise to a major language problem. Although our control room operators are trained to speak a lot of languages but it is impossible to cover everything. In order to make our emergency service easily accessible, we have tried to incorporate all emergency numbers from around the world into our system. So, if a US citizen visiting Dubai dials 911 in case of an emergency, the call will still reach our operations room. In Dubai, we do have problems with addresses, so a large amount of caller locations coming into the system are not exact. Thus, a patrol car is sometimes unable to find the location but when they find it, the officers can update the map on the operations room server instantly.