When responding to an emergency, the ability to quickly retrieve accurate data is critical to public safety agencies. Geographical information systems (GIS) can help save lives by getting details about the emergency site to police officers, fire rescue teams, and emergency medical services.

A current trend is to integrate GIS technology into 911 dispatch systems and first responder vehicles using an intranet application. GIS intranet applications can reference many different types of potentially life-saving data quickly and simultaneously in a user-friendly environment.

There are significant advantages to implementing a customized GIS intranet application in key areas of emergency service. For example:

  • Dispatchers can map the origin of incoming 911 calls from landline and cellular phones
  • First responders can access driving directions and entry routes to enclosed subdivisions for quicker access
  • Police officers can retrieve highly specific information about site location (how many houses away from a corner, which side of a street, and suite location in a building) and site description (location of fences, nearby woods, or bodies of water)
  • Law enforcement personnel can use mapping and analysis capabilities to manage and retrieve data such as incident records, linked pictures, registered sex offender locations, beat maps, aerials and parcels, school buffer zones, and rental properties
  • Fire departments can improve response planning and efficiency with ready access to valuable site location data such as pre-fire plans, hydrant locations with water utility data, hazardous materials data and locations, building footprints, fire inspection document management systems, and occupancy.

    GIS intranet applications save costs by combining multiple public-safety software applications into a single GIS application. A municipality can combine existing software applications for training, information technology support, licenses, and other functions into one GIS. Fewer software purchases are necessary, and the continuous updates, upgrades, and maintenance agreements associated with each of the previous software applications are eliminated. The main purpose of designing a GIS intranet application is to combine the best attributes of other existing software applications—such as document management, data entry, and retrieval and interactive mapping—into one application.

    Another cost-saving benefit is that non-public safety departments can use the same application. Public works departments, for example, can store their own data (water, sanitary, storm, street lights, and maintenance reports and tracking) to gain the same application capabilities used by the public safety agencies. Economic development and planning departments can use the application to prepare and manage parcel data for analyzing, reporting, and creating maps for zoning, future comprehensive land uses, annexations, variances, and special land usages.

    Before implementing a GIS intranet application, a wireless local area network (WLAN) must be installed. Many communities already have WLAN or are in the installation planning stages. This technology is critical to allowing first responders and others in the field to access the application and data. Communities that do not yet have WLAN capabilities can choose from many cost-effective alternatives.

    — Brian Dubis is GIS project manager for R.A. Smith & Associates Inc., Brookfield, Wis.