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Wireless technology keeps public safety a step ahead.

Police officers need rapid and easy access to vehicle and warrant information, mug shots and criminal databases; firefighters need immediate information detailing building layouts and content, hazardous material databases and emergency vehicle locations.

Wireless mobile information systems that utilize open architecture client/server technology let users access data remotely from in-vehicle laptop computers. Data delivery is instantaneous and secure. This helps police officers and firefighters work safely and more efficiently because they can better plan how to handle an emergency situation without having to go through a person-to-person dispatch or return to headquarters to retrieve information. The wireless mobile unit, therefore, becomes the emergency vehicle's technology "brain," accessing different information sources to answer any query.

Next-generation software applications deliver this information by integrating efficient database records management, imaging and mapping technology with reliable, secure transmission over wireless networks, such as conventional radio or public wireless radio systems. Technology that harnesses open systems design, wireless communication, database extraction, and instantaneous digital imaging is available to public safety agencies today. Many agencies are already incorporating these systems into their day-to-day work and are improving their personnel's safety and efficiency as well as the safety of the public.

High-Tech Firefighters

A new wireless information application is giving firefighters access to emergency data while they respond to a fire or other emergency, such as a chemical spill or rescue. Using PacketCluster Rescue software, a wireless mobile information system from Marlborough, Mass.-based Cerulean Technology, firefighters speeding to an emergency can access life-saving data that was once only available through a terminal in the fire station.

Firefighters at South County Fire Authority (SCFA) in San Mateo County, Calif. are using this software to improve their data handling capabilities and efficiency.

"We're trying to extend our knowledge base from our fire stations to where we do our work most of the time--on the streets," said Richard Price, a battalion chief at SCFA. That knowledge base includes many databases that keep track of rosters, firefighter training and certifications, building content and construction, fire inspections, hydrant records and preventive equipment maintenance records. From a Windows 95 or Windows NT environment, firefighters can access information from their records management system (RMS) database via an interface to the PacketCluster server.

Incident commanders who lead firefighting teams in an emergency can use laptop computers to instantly find a firefighter with the skills for a given situation, such as a water or high-angle rescue, or a hazardous materials incident.

"Let's say all of the sudden there's a flash flood, and I need to know everyone--on duty or off duty--who's certified in swift water rescue, and I need to know now. That's when our databases are valuable to us in the field," Price said. SCFA is currently testing other database query capabilities as well.

The incident commander can also use the mobile system to quickly access roster information to check who is on duty and what vehicle they are assigned to. This helps account for everyone at the scene of a fire. In addition, the commander can call up personnel information on the laptop to obtain a spouse's name and address, the firefighter's blood type and other emergency contact information.

During emergencies, firefighters can also access building inventory databases. This information tells how big a building is, how it's built, what chemicals are stored inside, and where fire alarm panels, key boxes and utilities are located, as well as accessing the name and telephone number of the building's owner.

"We do believe that technology is a way for us to be safer, more efficient and save money," Price said.

When they are not responding to emergencies, firefighters spend a vast amount of time performing inspections and maintaining equipment. During 1997, SCFA conducted 3,000 building inspections, and they expect a similar workload this year. The information they collected was usually handwritten on inspection forms they typed into a database. Now SCFA is considering using a laptop computer to capture inspection data in the field, which can instantly be uploaded to the central files via PacketCluster technology. This highly efficient process keeps the agency's databases up-to-date arid eliminates duplication.

Image Integration

A picture is worth much more than a thousand words if you're a police officer stopping speeding motor vehicles. A picture can assist with positive identification of a driver, and is especially useful in identifying motor vehicle operators who may be dangerous.

Police departments always photograph people they arrest. At most police departments, though, officers have to go back to the station to see the photos. Give an officer a laptop, however, and he or she can access and view photos in image databases directly from the patrol car. Not only does this technology give police officers another way to confirm a driver's identity, it also alerts them to possibly dangerous situations.

In Auburn, Mass., officers view mug shots of known offenders from laptops in their patrol cars using Cerulean's PacketCluster Patrol enhanced wireless system with image transfer technology. Mug shots are stored on an optical drive that's linked to the department's records management system at headquarters. Officers simply enter a driver's name and date of birth into their laptops. By downloading mug shots to their patrol car's laptop, officers can make positive IDs within seconds. This capability is particularly useful if drivers give false information. "During a traffic stop," Auburn Police Sgt. Bill Stone said, "an officer may find several warrants against the registered owner. But the driver may say he's a friend of the owner, doesn't have any identification with him and give a false name. The officer can type both the owner's name and the driver's name into the laptop, then search the in-house records system to see if there are photos on file that he can view to see who the person really is."

Mapping and Vehicle Location

Global positioning system-based vehicle tracking is a new technology that improves officer safety by informing dispatch of a patrol cars location. Patrol car locations are displayed on a digital map at the dispatcher's console.

Police vehicles are outfitted with a GPS satellite receiver and a device to transmit its location to a central dispatch. The GPS receiver connects to a mobile computer through a serial port. The antenna is normally located on the roof or trunk of the vehicle, and the receiver is near the RF modern and radio receiver. The computer sends location information to a mapping software program, which then converts the data into colored icons, which may contain information about the vehicle's occupants and status. Once the satellite data is processed, the reported position is accurate within 100 to 200 feet.

This technology is being used by a three-county joint dispatch center servicing Charlevoix, Cheboyban, Emmet (CCE) counties at the tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

"All police officers have heard horror stories about officers being seriously hurt and others having no way to find them," said Charlevoix County, Michigan Sheriff George Lasater, whose force works from the CCE central dispatch. "With this system, that will never happen."

The three-county area in Michigan has a population of 100,000 in the winter that explodes to 300,000 during the summer as tourists and residents who own summer homes and cottages come to town.

The satellite system helps dispatchers track patrol cars on seldom-traveled roads populated mostly by summer residents. The map's sophistication makes a big difference for an area like ours, where there is a high concentration of summer homes that are on trails that are not designated roads. With this system, we can track these areas," said Lasater.

An automatic vehicle location (AVL) and mapping system was designed for CCE through the cooperative efforts of the Comprehensive Law Enforcement Systems (CLUES), DMSC, Inc. and Cerulean Technology. The system includes dispatch workstations with computer-aided dispatch software from CLUES, BaseInfo tactical map displays from DMSC, Inc. and Cerulean's PacketCluster Patrol wireless message server, and 40 mobile units running PacketCluster Patrol software with an AVL option.

The mapping information software transmits each unit's patrol identification number, user name, status, latitude and longitude and displays an icon on a digital map of the patrol area.

This information lets dispatchers quickly send the closest available unit to answer a call, gives officers directions to incidents based on their locations, and keeps track of undercover officers who may be involved in dangerous situations. The technology also enables dispatchers to visually confirm that assigned patrol cars are moving toward the correct location. The dispatcher can poll the location of a unit, and display the location on the digital map. Common place names, lakes, rivers and streams and streets' centerline "layer" help the dispatcher pinpoint the unit's location.

Beyond 2000

As technology becomes widely available and less costly, all types of public safety agencies will use wireless information technology to improve efficiency, save lives and prevent crime.

Open systems software will continue to dominate the mobile information technology market because it allows users to easily integrate third-party software developed for specialized applications such as fingerprint imaging and bar code readers. Public safety agencies that commit to open architecture systems will easily be able to add and upgrade to new technology as it becomes available.

William Poellmitz, is the founder and vice-president, marketing at Cerulean Technologies in Marlborough, Mass.
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Public Safety and Technology Join Forces
Author:Poellmitz, William C.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 27, 1998
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