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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 »


June 21st, 2018 by Susan Smith

Sandi Stroud, associate vice president, Public Safety GIS DATAMARK, spoke with GISCafe Voice about DATAMARK, the public safety GIS division of Michael Baker International, and the recent launch of DATAMARK DATAMARK VEP (Validate-Edit-Provision), its new software-as-a-service GIS solution that validates, edits and provisions GIS data. To solve incomplete or poor-quality GIS data challenges, DATAMARK developed DATAMARK VEP to provide highest levels of public safety GIS data completeness and accuracy in the nation’s nearly 5,000 public safety answering points. The new solution is for both current 9-1-1 systems and the transition to next generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) systems and is augmented with GIS technical services and an expanded DATAMARK team that includes public safety and GIS professionals. NG9-1-1 is an initiative to update the 9-1-1 service infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada to improve public emergency response in a mobile society.

“This year Michael Baker formalized the public safety GIS division, grown into our own line of purposeful business within the company. And our staff has grown. But under DATAMARK we really are a suite of solutions and services. We have really built our team over the last six months to not just address GIS professionals but a lot of folks who have spent their entire careers in public safety and 9-1-1. And part of the reason for that is that we understand there’s a bit of translation that has to happen, depending upon whether we are working with a public safety or GIS client. Our staff is really involved in NG9-1-1 standards and participation in groups. Several of my staff including myself have helped author NG9-1-1 workshops for URISA. We launched that about three years ago at the GIS Pro conference in Washington, taught the workshop about twelve times since, and in fact we’re teaching the workshop at the Esri conference this year, so it’ll be free to conference goers.

We’re very focused on being able to be the GIS experts for NG9-1-1. In addition, we do offer comprehensive technical services, and then we also have solutions that are SaaS solutions. The approach we’ve taken is how can we take a product that helps a GIS stakeholder or data provider support the next gen 9-1-1 requirements, which is maybe a heavier lift than the normal business process they currently support. In addition to the solutions, we’ve also developed a service deliverable that we call a DATAMARK VEP. It allows us to help a 9-1-1 jurisdiction take a step back and look at a solution and really assess what it is they need to address in order to address their public safety or 9-1-1 solution.

What is the difference between traditional 9-1-1 and NG9-1-1?

The current 9-1-1 system – the process of getting the 9-1-1 caller to the right 9-1-1 center. You’ve dialed the 9-1-1 center and are waiting to talk to the dispatcher who sends you help. There is the process of identifying which center based on where you’re at. There is tabular location data that is used to take the location and do a database lookup, it’s not a geocoding exercise. Based on an attribute in that file, it determines where to send your call. In the 9-1-1 center you have your CAD dispatch center, you have a call taking system, and vehicle routing system.  All these can use GIS, but we’ve found it’s very inconsistently applied. Some do not use GIS in those systems, they maintain a separate spatial file within those systems. There are a lot of silos that currently exist between how GIS is used in the 9-1-1 center and the tabular data that is currently being used to decide what center a call goes to.

Basic rule for NG9-1-1 is that it is a complete forklift that’s technology being replaced in the first part of getting the call to the 9-1-1 center. Because instead of the tabular data being used, it’s data being maintained and used by the telephone company, not the local 9-1-1 centers. The overhaul is that the process of determining which 9-1-1 center gets the call is being solely replaced by GIS data. When you call 9-1-1, depending upon the type of unit you’re using, whether cell phone, landline or other line, it’s going to take the location of the router or the landline and geocode it against the locally maintained addressed points and centerline. Depending upon where that point falls, it’s going to look at a polygon layer of that PSAP boundary and say that’s the place the call needs to be sent to. When I teach this in the URISA workshop, for folks just hearing about this, GIS folks, sometimes they have a surprised look to learn “my data is now life critical.” The precision of that data is going to be put to the forefront.

We try to emphasize you are going to want that same data in all those systems that are in your PSAP, and apparatus routing, because if it’s going to be in the same process the call goes to, you’re going to want it to be in the same system that determines where your fire truck goes. There are two real gaps with NG9-1-1 that have to be addressed: not only getting the data to support that network process of getting that call to the PSAP, but what I think is a bigger thing: getting that data to be formatted to fit into those current PSAP systems. One of the issues is those systems all have different schemas, and different systems.

One of the things about NG9-1-1 is that it is recommended that the updates to the data – new addresses, new roads or changes to the roads are reprovisioned into that business network within three business days.

You’re adding a maintenance cycle and workflow that a lot of GIS shops right now are just not used to. NG9-1-1 is not as much a technical problem as a coordination, outreach and education issue right now. And part of that is because NG9-1-1 is a catalyst that is adding to who is on that public safety stakeholder list. So, we’re adding public works departments, IT departments, planning departments, GIS departments — anyone that’s involved in that addressing workflow. When does an address become an address, when does a road get put in, who names the road, who names the road signs, etc., all of that stuff now is really life critical to 9-1-1 and public safety operations.

At the same time what we’re seeing is that we have to recognize as technologists that these current public safety stakeholders need to recognize they are to become data stewards because the placement of some of these boundary files are a lot of times related to agreements with other fire departments and police agencies and they will determine whether the 9-1-1 call goes to the right PSAP. And we don’t want the GIS people making those decisions in a silo; they have to work with those stakeholders that are actually liable.

We often find that for our customers, talking about that quality assurance plan, we have to include a whole component of who are your internal stakeholders, who are the departments and divisions that need to be engaged and come to the table as either GIS data providers or stewards to help the GIS folks make some of those decisions.

To add to the complexity of that, there is one more component to the data requirement that adds to that of the GIS stakeholder. In addition to having the really precise GIS data, the precise boundary file and three-business-day turnaround, you also have to have for any one 9-1-1 center, for operations to know what PSAP the call goes to. The data has to be completely edge matched and non-redundant with every PSAP that they share a boundary with. So, no duplicate address points.

I used to be a GIS manager, and we used to maintain a road centerline that went a mile outside the boundary just because it was easier. That way, we were not having to get updates constantly from the neighboring jurisdictions and do edgemap exercises every time we wanted to do a centerline. The roads have to be broken at all these boundaries and you can’t range overlap. There’s an immense amount of work. It’s not complicated GIS but is precise and time-consuming GIS that has to happen.

What are the data quality standards for the 9-1-1 community?

There are no defined data quality standards that have been put out by the 9-1-1 community, except for one that was written about 10 years ago that addresses a prior 9-1-1 system. You may hear folks say they need 91% accuracy between our data and the MSAG and the alley which are the tabular databases I was referring to. We’re going forward with a campaign says that’s a shortsighted approach. Because the requirements for NG9-1-1 are spatial, comparing your GIS attributes to tabular datasets is not going to address some of those topology and spatial issues. We believe you have to go beyond that 98%. At the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 2018 & Expo in Nashville (booth #729), we are doing workshops helping people on the GIS side understand that there is a lot that needs to be done to go beyond the 98%. And how do we go ahead with your GIS stakeholders to come to a place of agreement on what that means?

You have a 9-1-1 industry that has been pushing for this technology upgrade, and they made an assumption that every PSAP had an updated GIS system that could update the data instantly. And I think we know that’s not the case for every jurisdiction in the country.

While it’s not as complex a technology as GIS, it really is the time-consuming part, and it’s something you’re going to have to engage with planning, decision-making stakeholders and constituents. People do not like addresses being changed. It becomes a complex process for GIS folks.

The new DATAMARK solution – DATAMARK VEP – validates, edits and provisions data. It really is a configurable solution that allows any kind of user to validate their data and edit their validations in their own desktop solution or they can validate and edit through the application. Our validation solution uses some pretty technical GIS logic. We are using a fishbone analysis to do comparisons of how the addressing relates to the centerline, but we also do those tabular database comparisons. So, between that centerline, and the MSAG, we are the only true SAAS solution in the GIS public safety market. This means users do not have to have Esri software or buy additional Esri software or host the application themselves.

It is built around those NG9-1-1 requirements, and the NG9-1-1 database model that will be coming.

With the dashboard approach, when a user logs in, it’s based upon what you do want to do today. Not everyone has a mapping interface. One of the robust features is an analytics profile. We are integrating the 1 Spatial integration capability into the application as our validation engine and that allows us to expose to each user analytics about how their data quality is improving every time they upload data. It has analytics about users, and all sorts of very robust analytics that a manager or administer can pull down that isn’t tied to the operation of the function.

This solution isn’t just for the NG9-1-1 network, it’s for interested customers who are trying to get to that public safety GIS enterprise state.

The 9-1-1 authority or the PSAP has the responsibility for the provisioning the data so they are going to take the data and push it into the network. They now manage the network, so the telephone company isn’t a stakeholder in this anymore. The 9-1-1 center provisions the data. But the standards also dictate that the 9-1-1 authority has to dictate with the GIS providers and addressing authority. The responsibility is on the 9-1-1 authority who have to engage with the GIS providers.”

From company materials:

DATAMARK VEP is a cutting-edge, secure, SaaS solution that focuses on all aspects of the GIS information provisioned to an NG9-1-1 system – from data creation and cleansing to data quality, integration and maintenance workflows. The DATAMARK VEP software resolves the upgrade challenges, improves public safety communication location precision and ensures the data meets the stringent NG9-1-1 requirements. Other attributes include:

  • Easy and consistent access to mission-critical information for life-critical situations
  • Simplified transition to NG9-1-1 for addressing authorities, GIS and PSAP stakeholders
  • Interoperability with existing public safety systems
  • Configurable design that enables GIS data consistency in computer-aided dispatch (CAD), CAD mapping, automatic vehicle location (AVL) and other business systems within PSAPs and government enterprises beyond the ESInet
  • No additional investment in hardware or software required

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Categories: 9-1-1, 9-1-1 GIS systems, analytics, ArcGIS, Big Data, cloud, data, emergency response, field GIS, geospatial, GIS, government, GPS, handhelds, LBS, location based services, location intelligence, mapping, mobile, NG9-1-1, public safety, sensors, spatial data, telecommunications, transportation

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