Situational Awareness with GIS: Technology that Saves Lives

  • August 28, 2015
  • Gregory J. Hill
  • Reading Time: 2 minutes
  • print

Public safety is an inherently risky job. For police, fire, and medical personnel who put their lives on the line every day, there is no substitute for the right information at the right time. Most agencies use automated vehicle location (AVL) systems to keep track of their units, and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) to manage resource availability while responding to incidents. One of the most interesting technologies, the geographic information system (GIS), has gained a strong foothold in public safety.

GIS stores information along with location data in a database that lets personnel see what is relevant to their current location. GIS data can include the location of infrastructure such as fire hydrants, power lines, or other units as well as notes and annotations about neighborhoods and other areas. GIS information provided to units in the field via a broadband wireless data connection presents crucial awareness of hazards or resources inherent to the location of an incident. This information, also known as situational intelligence, improves not just response capability but response times by enabling faster decision-making on the part of personnel at all levels.

Many agencies are already using GIS as part of technological solutions that improve response capability through situational awareness. The Oakland Fire Department, for example, shares a GIS system with the Port of Oakland. Equipped with CalAmp Fusion™ units that integrate with the GIS system, firefighters have real-time access to occupancy and other information on a live map as they respond to calls. The integrated GIS system provides information about what to expect when units arrive at the scene, making incidents safer both for the responders and for anyone who needs their help.

The future looks bright, as these emerging technologies continue to grow, providing information to public safety personnel. We’ve come a long way from notes scribbled on paper maps. For more information about how the Oakland Fire Department uses technology to improve safety and effectiveness while responding to incidents, check out the Oakland Fire Case Study.