Like the first responders they communicate with, 9-1-1 dispatchers work extremely high-pressure jobs. Dispatchers have more to do than stay calm on the line with callers; they are also responsible for directing emergency personnel to the scene of an incident. Giving an incorrect address or omitting vital information about a potential hazard could add several minutes to a response, and those mistakes could even cost lives.
To ensure that emergencies receive a timely response from police, firefighters, and emergency medical services, public safety professionals use imagery and data to help direct personnel and provide them with adequate information about a location. Geographic information systems solve this need by storing, analyzing, and presenting spatial and geographic data, and they allow users to edit and share that data.
These systems give far more detail than paper and free online maps, and they let dispatchers and first responders do more than simply look up directions from Point A to Point B. Firefighters, for instance, might need to know the locations of available fire hydrants. Fire departments can track this information using annotations in a GIS platform, and a dispatcher can relay the information to firefighters on the way to a scene.
How do dispatchers utilize GIS data during an emergency event? Here are just a few of the solutions modern 9-1-1 call centers rely on:
Street-level imagery: Street-view maps have become popular in recent years thanks to many of the free maps found online. Today 9-1-1 call centers are relying on more detailed images than what’s found online to see realistic perspectives and spot entry and exit points on buildings. These images are usually integrated into GIS programs, so they are readily available when dispatchers need them.
Aerial imagery: Orthogonal imagery, which gives a top-down view of an area, and oblique imagery, which is captured at an approximately 45-degree angle, both offer public safety personnel detailed views of an area. This imagery, which can be integrated with mapping and geographic data, makes it easier to spot landmarks and find exact street addresses. Oblique imagery, in particular, provides insight into a building’s height, number of stories, and access points.
This type of imagery is especially crucial in rural or less densely-populated areas, where street-level images can only see what’s near a public road. Aerial images can give emergency responders detailed information about how close or far away a property is from the road or other landmarks. It may sound simple, but such knowledge could help EMTs reach an injured person faster so they can begin administering life-saving care.
3D models: For public safety personnel, three-dimensional models are key in mitigating disaster. Dispatchers can use such models to notify police officers of the vantage point a shooter has from a rooftop or window. Three-dimensional models of urban and suburban areas might also use oblique aerial imagery to provide a more lifelike view of a landscape.
Interior maps: Three-dimensional models aren’t just for the outdoors. Indoor mapping technology gives public safety professionals information about a building’s layout. As with the 3D models of building exteriors, interior mapping solutions today can also include 360-degree, panoramic views of the inside of a building.
This technology is especially useful in larger buildings that may have multiple stories or tenants, so first responders can locate incidents in a timely fashion. Schools, in particular, have become susceptible to violent shootings in recent years. Having a detailed view of a school can help EMTs reach shooting victims more quickly and lead officers directly to a suspect.
Traffic and accident analysis: GIS data can help dispatchers determine the quickest route to the scene of an accident – calculating that number not just by mileage but by the time it would take an emergency vehicle to push through traffic based on historical data. Public safety officials also use GIS to find hot spots for accidents, so patrolling officers can more easily stop and fine reckless drivers.
Crime analysis: In addition to tracking vehicle accidents and traffic congestion, GIS solutions for dispatchers can also help public safety personnel determine crime patterns in specific neighborhoods or whole geographic regions. Public safety departments can compile reports on these patterns and the times they take place to better allocate personnel to at-risk areas.
Online and offline features: Although more 9-1-1 dispatch call centers are embracing internet-based solutions, most centers still need to access data offline in the event of an outage. Even a slow internet connection could wind up costing precious seconds in a life-or-death situation, so offline access to data is a necessity.
As more public safety departments integrate Next Generation 9-1-1 capabilities into their computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, detailed aerial, street-level, and three-dimensional imagery are must-haves for dispatchers and first responders. Maps need to do more than show street names. GIS software that lets emergency personnel track historical data about an area and better map routes to emergencies can help save lives when time is of the essence.