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The rise in terrorism and natural disasters has placed the spotlight on public safety over the past decade. So has the explosive growth of cities. More people and problems require more, and better, services.
In order to deal with these major emergencies and daily demands, governments have increased their public safety focus. New personnel and equipment are important (and visible) signs of investment. But some of the most important investments – investments in geospatial technologies – aren’t always apparent to citizens.
The geospatial aspects of managing infrastructure or mapping property are obvious, but not everyone realises how critical geospatial information is to public safety. When asked about police or fire departments, most people probably think of uniforms and sirens, not data collection and sharing.
But those dedicated public safety professionals can’t help you if they don’t know where you are. It’s as simple as that. Police, fire and emergency medical agencies depend on accuracy and precision. Public safety, therefore, depends on geospatial information.
Think about it: every piece of safety or security information has a spatial reference. That’s why information about homes, buildings, streets and more are included in the interactive, realtime maps used in computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems at public safety communications centres.
But that’s not all there is to it. Geospatial information management doesn’t begin or end with a map. For instance, CAD combines a map display with so much more: incident data, records, mobile data from the field and more to ensure agencies have accurate information when lives are on line.
In other words, it is not enough to see the data. You have to be able to do something with it. To me, that’s the promise of geospatial information. It is not just about visualisation, but also geospatially powered analytics and response. It is about seeing, understanding and acting – all in one. It’s about making smarter decisions. When put into action, this concept yields powerful results.
Let’s look at dispatching. In São Paulo, Brazil, emergency medical services agency SAMU deployed a new, comprehensive CAD system. With a population of 11 million, São Paulo is the biggest city in Latin America and SAMU is the largest emergency medical services agency in the region, responding to 8,000 emergency calls daily. Using its new geospatially powered system, SAMU reduced the time it takes to respond to emergency calls from an average of 35 minutes to 10 minutes, a nearly 72 per cent improvement that saves lives.
Then there’s also mobility. Access to large volumes of spatial data is important for responders. The ability to tap into data on or from a mobile device for instant, relevant information can have a measurable impact.
For example, Copenhagen Fire Brigade and KMS, the Danish national survey and cadastre agency, took advantage of the widespread use of mobile phones in the Danish capital, deploying a mobile app for citizens to report emergencies. Location data from the app is sent to public safety communications centers for dispatching. Previously, emergency calls from mobile devices could identify only a rough location of the applicable cell tower – typically within several hundred metres. The new app can locate the caller within a few metres, with no need for a nearby street name.
Not just response
The takeaway from these examples is obvious: geospatial information helps public safety professionals act fast, responding to the right place at the right time with the right information. In the case of crimes, fires or medical emergencies, saving time helps saves lives.
But it doesn’t stop there, because immediate response isn’t always enough. Agencies have to plan ahead too, in order to figure out how to allocate their resources most effectively. They need to understand what happened before and predict what may happen next. They can’t just work harder, they have to work smarter.
Again, geospatial information can help. Every day, public safety agencies capture and manage massive amounts of important data. By merging this geospatially enabled data with analytics, agencies can pinpoint areas of concern, such as high crime and traffic accidents. By knowing where the problems are, they can figure out how to solve them.
When Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, United States, learned it was at high risk for roadway accidents, it deployed geospatial analytics to pinpoint accident “hot spots” and create easyto- understand visuals for the public, including detailed maps of accident times and locations. With geospatial analytics, the department reduced accident analysis and reporting time from 4 hours to 10 minutes, and, importantly, it can now prioritise safety improvements based on the results.
There are many other examples. A government agency in China uses geospatial information to monitor dam vulnerabilities. Multiple public safety agencies in Germany have joined forces to deploy a virtual command centre using a geospatially enabled Web client. A fire agency in New Zealand uses geospatial information to plan for and respond to wildfires. The list goes on, because the uses of information are as limitless as the threats to public safety.
It is all about the results
It is clear that geospatial information is the foundation. From it, agencies can better see, understand and act. They can make those smarter decisions that protect their citizens and their communities. Ultimately, that’s all that really matters. It is not about the information for its own sake, but the results.
The article was originally published in Geospatial World, January 2013 edition