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Fall 2010

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High Tech Leads to Higher School Safety

City of Frisco, Texas, Wins Esri President's Award

Highlights

  • SAFER helps visualize the scene of an incident so that response planning can begin immediately.
  • Emergency responders can easily drill down into the information they require at a moment's notice.
  • The application lowers risk and better prepares responders on the way to an emergency.

A hazardous chemical spill in a classroom science lab; a cafeteria kitchen fire; or worst of all, a school shooting—these are the events that school authorities, parents, and public safety officials alike dread. Maintaining school safety and effectively responding to any type of emergency are continuous processes. Thankfully, technology is helping in these endeavors. Better communication equipment, live cameras, and databases with building footprints and other information help schools plan for incidents, and responders get the information they need when an emergency strikes.

a fireman using a mobile application

A mobile application in each fire and police vehicle provides up-to-the-minute information about incidents, vehicle locations, floor plans, and site contact information.

One local government's school safety journey just took a quantum leap. The City of Frisco, Texas, now deploys an application called Situational Awareness For Emergency Response (SAFER), which provides fire, police, and emergency responders with access to maps and live data feeds while en route to school incidents. SAFER takes advantage of Esri partner GeoComm's GeoLynx solution, which is built using ArcGIS technology. The system became fully operational at the City of Frisco in 2009.

Using GIS as an integration platform, the City of Frisco is able to integrate volumes of data using an intuitive map interface. Responders view school maps and other information while racing to an emergency. They have a better understanding of what they're facing when they arrive. Officials at command centers and other remote locations can see a macro-level view of events and drill down to a specific area or room in a school to understand how the response is unfolding. More information is made available in a faster time frame. It's the key to a better response and, ultimately, safer schools.

"The project makes the schools, students, and first responders safer," says Susan Olson, GIS manager, City of Frisco. "It enables public safety departments to better serve the school district. Implementing this system has allowed the departments to reduce operations costs by having all relevant information easily accessible in one place. It lowers risk and better prepares responders on the way to an emergency."

SAFER makes it easier to visualize the scene of the incident and begin planning response immediately. It also improves the communication between the City of Frisco's emergency responders by presenting a common operating picture. Critical decisions can be made quickly by everyone using shared information.

"SAFER has provided us with the kind of information we have always wanted to have while responding to an emergency," says Mack Borchardt, City of Frisco fire chief. "Site plans, floor plans, contact information, and hazard information all feed directly to those first responding units to give them the awareness they need. When you put the cameras on top of that, you're looking at a level of situational awareness that is unheard of in this industry."

The application and its deployment have proved so innovative and successful that the City of Frisco was honored with the prestigious Esri President's Award. The award was presented at the 2010 Esri International User Conference, held in San Diego, California.

"The City of Frisco's SAFER program demonstrates the role that GIS can play in enhancing communications for multiple agencies and ultimately improving emergency response to their citizens," says Jody Sayre, vice president of Client Services at GeoComm. "The City of Frisco's SAFER project team was highly engaged in this project from day one, and it is very deserving of this award."

Bringing Schools and Public Safety Closer Together

The impetus behind the SAFER application stems from the desire of Frisco Independent School District (FISD) administration to work more closely with the City of Frisco Fire and Police departments to ensure that everything possible was being done to provide for the safety of students. The administration wanted to fully prepare in the event of a catastrophic school event, such as a major fire or school shooting.

school video camera snapshot

The SAFER program includes GIS links to more than 1,500 Frisco school video cameras showing live pictures so that authorities can make better decisions.

FISD also wanted to supply its information to public safety agencies to help them when responding to an emergency. Both of these goals stemmed from the recognition that, at the time, response to a school emergency was mainly paper based. This made it difficult to quickly access information when needed.

Only select emergency vehicles in each fire station had sufficient room to maintain rolling files of information. In addition, there were few common systems or processes in place to communicate changes to the information between the agencies involved.

The City of Frisco's Information Technology (IT) Department works closely with the city's Police and Fire departments. Olson, with more than 18 years of GIS experience—most of it in local government—was in communication with both departments for several years about building a system.

Says Olson,"Our fire chief was certain we could develop a system internally that would take advantage of the good working relationships already in place and the technology the city already used."

After looking at the possibility of outsourcing another company to build a system, a proposal was developed that led to an agreement between FISD and the City of Frisco. Together, they would develop, implement, and maintain a new application in-house: the SAFER project. Once built, the SAFER system was within budget, saving taxpayers a large amount of money versus outsourcing for a similar system. But as Olson puts it, there was a larger benefit: "SAFER is far superior to what had been previously proposed," she explains.

SAFER

The SAFER applications were built to allow emergency responders to easily drill down into the information they require at a moment's notice. Using touch screen mobile data computers (MDCs) with air cards for network access in all emergency vehicles, first responders can view and interact with the city's GIS databases and mapping functionality. This includes access to all spatial layers of information. In addition, first responders can access online emergency preplan documents for a specific school; up-to-date contact information for school administration; and detailed, georeferenced floor plans for all schools.

Floor plans include visual data, such as room numbers/names and locations of nurses' offices, administration, special needs students, and hazardous chemicals, as well as roof access. In addition, more than 1,500 video cameras at all facilities are represented on floor plans; each floor plan is hyperlinked to bring up a live video feed with a single click. All this information is available to first responders via their MDCs, to 911 dispatchers, to emergency management personnel in the city's Emergency Operations Center, to the mobile command vehicle, and to FISD and city administration personnel via secure Web access.

ArcGIS is used to populate the map framework for all public safety mobile data computers, dispatch workstations, and display in the Emergency Operations Center. When police officers or firefighters are on the way to a school emergency, they can pull up the GIS map to view the surrounding area, pictometry, detailed floor plans, automated vehicle locations (AVL), and live video streaming from the school cameras.

GIS layers were developed for SAFER specifically to hold school floor plan information, preplan hazard notes and symbols, links to video camera live streams, pictures, and an internally developed Web site with preplanning information and site contacts.

GIS hyperlinks attach the system to a Web page called the Site Detail Interface. This interface compiles information harvested from the Fire Department records system (Firehouse) and an external FISD Microsoft SharePoint site. This SharePoint site allows FISD staff to maintain school contact information. The advantage of the SharePoint solution is that the school district has control over the information it sends into the system and is responsible for maintaining it.

The next phase for the City of Frisco is to expand its GIS use to include commercial buildings.

"GIS is not simply a map but a database and analysis tool that serves as a framework for a complex and integral process used by public safety to better serve our community," says Olson. "Our requirements were developed without a specific system in mind, but with GeoComm and Esri, along with an exceptional support staff, we were able to develop something great that exceeded the expectations of all involved."

More Information

For more information, contact Susan Olson, Information Services and GIS manager, City of Frisco (e-mail: SOlson@friscotexas.gov), or Amanda Romaine, Inside Sales & Marketing manager, GeoComm, Inc. (e-mail: aromaine@geo-comm.com).

 
 
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