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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

The Growing Role of GIS

May 2nd, 2013 by Susan Smith

As public safety moves closer to a nationwide Next-Generation 9-1-1 system, Geographic Information Systems will play an ever-increasing part.

By guest writer, Anthony Haddad, Sales Engineer, Intrado

The use of geographic information systems (GIS) is not new to public safety. It first came on the scene as an important tool with the introduction of wireless 9-1-1 service when location information could not be derived from a fixed service address. In today’s legacy architecture, geocoding or plotting X,Y coordinates is often used in conjunction with mapping applications to help dispatch responders to the correct location, but that has been the extent of its application.

Public safety agencies have been collecting GIS information for decades in order to populate the information found in selective routing database (SRDB), automatic location information (ALI) and master street address guides (MSAG). When an emergency call comes into a legacy GIS-equipped PSAP, associated addresses or X,Y coordinates are delivered as well, though the coordinates are meaningless on their own. In order to be valuable, this data must be plotted on a map in either the call-processing or computer-aided dispatch (CAD) environment. Once plotted, the information can be applied to perform dispatch functions. In this way, GIS is a supplemental tool used to verify location alone.

With the increasing focus on nationwide next-generation 9-1-1 (NextGen 9-1-1) deployments, the potential of GIS as a powerful lifesaving and decision-making tool is becoming more obvious.

Cutting-edge GIS has moved far beyond basic geocoding capabilities. While the determination of X,Y coordinates remains a key function, modern geographic information systems are designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage and present a wide variety of geographical data. In essence, today’s GIS contains location information as well as information about those locations. The precise detail GIS can provide relative to location allows emergency calls to be accurately routed to the geographically appropriate PSAP and responders to be dispatched with a more detailed understanding of where the emergency is.

As GIS is applied in a NextGen system where emergency service numbers (ESN), ALI and MSAG will be phased out, that tabular data will need to be represented as a geospatial dataset. As more information is collected, additional layers of data can be added to the database. Ultimately, every layer will correlate with a specific PSAP, police department, fire department and medical response agency. If a call originates in a specific area of a layer, the call will be routed and the response will be dispatched according to the rules assigned to that geographic location.

Today, GIS data is collected at the street level with some interpolation to achieve address information. Moving forward, GIS data will become more and more granular in order to support the continuing evolution of NextGen capabilities. The next step in gathering geographic information will involve the representation of actual addresses. At some point in the future, NextGen functionality may require the creation of building footprints or rooms so that PSAPs can determine the exact location of a caller within a structure. With the development of more enhanced data, GIS systems will allow citizens to optionally provide details about a geographic location, such as the number of people residing there, medical information, floor plans and the presence of hazardous materials or firearms. NextGen GIS will be able to correlate this valuable information with an incoming 9-1-1 call in order to provide first responders with more accurate situational awareness.

As the public safety community continues to move toward a nationwide NextGen IP network, GIS will play an increasingly significant role. As PSAPs begin to consider the implementation or expansion of GIS capabilities, it will be important to seek out precise GIS databases that are accurate, up-to-date and synchronized at the local, regional and state level. Additionally, workflows and processes will need to be created to collect, verify, correlate, update and manage the vast amount of data that is associated with these systems. With these elements in place, a NextGen GIS-enabled network and PSAP will be able to reduce response times, better equip first responders and make more informed life-saving response decisions.

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Categories: 9-1-1 GIS systems, LBS, location based services

2 Responses to “The Growing Role of GIS”

  1. Ken says:

    Not to mention more complex road networks, changing route numbers, renewed road construction projects, etc., in the next 25 years; navigation will not be as difficult for most public safety call centers equipped electronically with gis and gps data. Most people and businesses who decided to get involved with technology will benefit; the remaining throwbacks may find city to city travel to unfamiliar municipalities especially difficult with inadequate or missing route signage, more roads, and out-of-date folding paper maps and road atlases. We’ll benefit greatly from gis and gps data, and a nationwide NextGen IP network and PSAP. The use of nearest and fastest path is something most of use now. We may need to start using another option, Shortcuts, to consider the less congested path during road construction, rush hour, etc., generated from traffic count, events, road closures, and construction data. We’re in a brave new world, not perfect, standardized and systematized; our hometowns may even look unfamiliar to us over time as we leave and return. What we can do now or even think about doing, wow!

  2. Carl Reed says:

    Some standards related information.

    As part of NextGen, NENA has worked enhancements to their GIS Data Model for sharing data between local governments and PSAPs. This work has been aligned with the FGDC/URISA Address model as well as the IETF PIDF Location Object (LO) specifications. The preferred encoding for the GIS Data Model is the OGC Geography Markup Language. These standards have been developed and are available in recognition that different groups use different geospatial (including GIS, CAD, and other) technologies and that different local governments use different semantics for describing feature properties. In order to insure proper interoperability for shared key geospatial layers of content between all NextGen participants, the GIS Data Model and consistent content encodings are a necessary requirement.


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