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Summer 2009
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Online Only Article In Canadian City, Door-to-Door Notification Made Obsolete with GIS

The City of Quinte West Unifies Emergency Communications

Highlights

  • Using GIS, city develops a telephone notification system so that city personnel no longer travel door-to-door during an emergency.
  • Map-based interaction gives emergency personnel a near real-time collaborative view of events.
  • A call-out campaign can be activated within 15 minutes of receiving notification of the emergency.

With a population of 46,000, the city of Quinte West in southeastern Ontario, Canada, is situated on the shores of the beautiful Bay of Quinte and serves as the gateway to the world-famous Trent-Severn Waterway. The exquisite rural natural features of the city are complemented by a strong, vibrant, and diverse economic base while the location also serves as home to Canada's largest military base, CFB Trenton/8 Wing.

  click to enlarge
An area of isolation based on a chemical spill is delineated using the TIIPAD Tool and residents quickly receive a telephone notification from the City of Quinte West.

In 2006, the city council asked the city's GIS division and IT staff to develop a telephone call-out notification system after a series of boil water advisories were issued. (A boil water advisory is a public statement advising the community to boil tap water before consuming it because of concerns of possible waterborne infectious agents.) This decision was the result of the time and effort spent notifying residents during the advisories. Notifications involved a significant amount of manpower and were time consuming since city personnel had to travel door-to-door to ensure that all affected residents were advised.

The city developed the Protective Response Interactive Services Management (PRISM) system. The system, which took 18 months to develop and implement, consists of two primary components—PRISM-GIS and PRISM-911.

PRISM-GIS is a Web-based GIS application that leverages the city's ArcIMS and ArcSDE GIS framework. The inherent capability of GIS was the ideal mechanism to centralize and visually display information. PRISM-GIS also leverages Esri Business Partner Latitude Geographics' Geocortex Internet Mapping Framework, which features a set of powerful tools that helped simplify the development of the application.

Data within PRISM-GIS includes live weather radar feeds from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environment Canada. Other detailed layers include floor plans of schools, retirement homes, and commercial buildings; cadastral data, digital elevation models, and one-meter contours; municipal public works data (water, sanitation, fire hydrants, traffic lights); airport and hospital locations; and various basemapping layers from the Ontario Geospatial Database Exchange. Additionally, the Quinte West Fire Department supplied its fire response times, which are a series of georeferenced points spread throughout the city that lists the response times from each of the city's seven fire stations. The Ontario Road Network is supplied by Land Information Ontario through a Web map service.

After developing PRISM-GIS and securing funding from GeoConnections (a national initiative to provide Canadians with geospatial, or geographic, information over the Internet) in 2007, the city implemented PRISM-911 in cooperation with its project partners Emergency Management Ontario; Land Information Ontario (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources); and Esri Canada Limited, Esri's distributor in Canada. The PRISM-911 component is a software tool linked to the city's PRISM-GIS that utilizes VoiceGate's technology to provide automatic notifications during an emergency. VoiceGate, a leading supplier of telephone equipment and voice processing systems, is the vendor that supplies the dialing engine for PRISM-911.

Core users of PRISM-911 consist of select emergency responders from the Quinte West Fire Department, the Quinte West Ontario Provincial Police, and city GIS and IT staff who assist with the activation of PRISM-911 and the community telephone notification process in the event of an emergency. From within PRISM, the user has instant connection to a Web-based version of the Emergency Response Guide Ontario (ERGO). Based on the ERGO guide for chemical spills, the City of Quinte West GIS and IT staff developed a Table of Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances tool that can map an evacuation area. This tool collects important information, including material spilled, time of day, wind direction, and size of spill, and plots the evacuation area to the PRISM map. The selected residents located in the area can then be notified using PRISM-911.

One of the most significant capabilities of PRISM is that it provides map-based interaction via map sketching so that users can communicate real-time information, such as accident sites, evacuation routes, road closures, staging areas, helicopter landing sites, and triage areas. This gives emergency personnel a near real-time collaborative view of events taking place in the city. PRISM also allows users to save their sessions for the historical record during an emergency. Distances and approximate time calculations between sites, as well as area calculations, can all be performed with ease. Maps can be saved in PDF format with the click of a button and e-mailed instantly.

PRISM has greatly increased situational awareness for Quinte's Command Centre by giving emergency responders the ability to quickly visualize, understand, and share complex information from a centralized location. Emergency responders in the field can communicate with the Command Centre via wireless laptops utilizing Microsoft Live Meeting, which has the ability to record events as they happen, or they can choose to access PRISM directly. Users can view a wealth of information, including detailed floor plans of schools, commercial buildings, and other buildings, that is hyperlinked to the map. Prior to having this capability, emergency responders would have had to gain access to data and information from a wide variety of locations and formats.

"PRISM is truly a powerful GIS application that merges several technologies into one complete solution that has proved to be a great success for the City of Quinte West," says Steve Whitehead, geomatics coordinator, City of Quinte West. "The system provides the city with the ability to contact its citizens quickly and efficiently during emergency situations, such as a chemical spill, fire, train derailment, boil water advisory, or missing child report."

PRISM in Action

In January 2008, a boil water advisory was issued for the residents of Batawa, Ontario. The PRISM-911 application notified more than 100 area residents of the advisory and then again when the notification was lifted. In April 2008, PRISM-GIS and PRISM-911 were activated for a flood warning along a portion of the Trent River in Quinte West. The city quickly mobilized the system: the floodplain area was delineated in PRISM-GIS, and a recorded telephone message was created using PRISM-911 and sent to several hundred affected residents along 32 kilometers of the Trent River.

With PRISM, the city can now activate a call-out campaign within 15 minutes of ascertaining an emergency. The entire process can be activated remotely from wireless laptops and is available to city officials, the fire department, and the Quinte West OPP as a full 24/7 municipal service.

The city will be developing PRISM-GIS on ArcGIS Server and migrating the application to this platform in the future. The City of Quinte West is investigating the concept of a regional PRISM-911 network system where municipalities would be able to share resources. GIS staff are also currently working with GeoConnections and Esri Canada on building GeoRSS capabilities into PRISM that will facilitate interagency information sharing using interoperability standards and specifications. In addition, 20-centimeter digital orthophotography will be supplied under the DRAPE project and implemented into PRISM.

More Information

For more information, contact Steve Whitehead, geomatics coordinator, City of Quinte West (tel.: 613-392-2841, ext. 4404; e-mail: stevew@city.quintewest.on.ca; Web: www.city.quintewest.on.ca).

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