Public Safety

Frisco, Texas Finds Success with a Public Safety Digital Twin

By Ryan Lanclos and Christopher Thomas

Frisco, Texas has a live map of public safety incidents and personnel locations shared across police, fire, and transportation departments. This map, a public safety digital twin, extends inside schools, allowing responders and staff to see live video of hallways. If traffic backs up, the live map is viewed by transportation engineers who can remotely change traffic signals. When incidents occur, fire and police staff use the digital twin to route themselves to calls and to coordinate response.

After 15 years of continuous evolution, there are numerous examples of how the Situational Awareness for Emergency Response (SAFER) platform lives up to its name.

Frisco’s use of geographic information system (GIS) technology, the underpinnings of SAFER, has grown, keeping up as the city grew from 30,000 to 230,000 residents between 2000 and 2023. Safety has become a big selling point for the city. For the second consecutive year, Frisco was recognized as the safest city in the US due to its low rates of property and violent crime.

“Back when I started in 2001, we didn’t have an IT department, but city leadership embraced the power of GIS,” said Susan Olson, assistant director of IT, and lead for GIS and SAFER. “I was told, ‘We need GIS because we can’t grow without understanding our city.’”

Frisco police chief David Shilson likes how SAFER provides access to information in the field for faster responses and resolutions. “In simple calls like minor accidents, dispatchers and responding officers can pull up traffic cameras through links in SAFER and determine the best approach. In larger scenes, incident commanders can look at where units are in order to quickly set perimeters and direct incoming resources.”

SAFER has gained daily use across multiple city departments, increasing collaboration among city staff. When problems occur, it provides clarity, allowing first responders to get critical information fast.

Meeting Needs and Finding Champions

Today, SAFER supports the needs of all first responders and has become a passion project for Olson, who pioneered the system (see sidebar). She now oversees all enterprise GIS for the city. Olson first earned the trust of public safety professionals by using GIS to make sure all city roads and addresses—even those still in the planning phase—were accurately mapped.

“Often accidents and crime happen when sites are under construction,” Olson said. “We put new roads on the map when there’s a plan so everyone has awareness of where new development is happening.”

With every call for service, having the right location improved response times and outcomes. Olson then spent years delivering on the original vision of SAFER to create one shared system to respond to all calls. The system accrued a long wish list: requirements to add, data to capture, systems to integrate, staff to train, partnerships to forge.

Recently, the SAFER team refreshed and modernized the user interface and application code. They worked with other city IT staff to improve responsiveness and sustainability.

SAFER is used at all 78 Frisco schools, serving more than 66,000 students. Jon Bodie, the director of emergency management for Frisco Independent School District (FISD), compares first responders using SAFER to an orchestra working from the same sheet of music. “Campus incidents and emergencies range from routine calls to lockdowns and threat investigations,” he said. “With access to over 4,000 FISD camera feeds and floor plans, SAFER allows Frisco agencies to coordinate resource support for these emergencies in real time, ensuring students and staff stay safe.”

The idea for SAFER started with the school district. One of the first steps was integrating school floor plans with links to cameras aimed at school hallways and access points. School resource officers dedicated to each school validate that cameras are working and haven't been moved. This remote access gives responders an advance understanding of conditions before they arrive.

The Frisco Fire Department schedules yearly visits to every school to ensure that school information is up-to-date in SAFER. “The firefighters and school administrative staff work together during a fire drill to critique and identify areas of improvement,” said William Clay Carpenter, deputy chief of Frisco Fire Department. “Through this collaboration, staff from both agencies get to know one another better and strategize student safety.”

Always Updating, Adapting, Integrating

Scaling SAFER to keep pace with the city’s massive growth has required diligent attention and communication across departments. The system now integrates with more than 30 systems, including live links to traffic cameras throughout the city, real-time traffic from HERE, and it holds dozens of GIS data layers.

“We built the reliance on SAFER over time on a foundation of accurate data, strong integrations, and being responsive to needs,” Olson said.

Daily, city residents use a crime map app that’s an offshoot of the SAFER system. “Our residents are very engaged and aware of their surroundings, and they let us know if the data doesn’t look right,” Olson said.

The  success GIS has seen hasn’t been limited to public safety, it has also helped fuel Frisco’s growth and entice corporations to make the city their home. “When our Economic Development Corporation staff are trying to attract a company, they work with our GIS team,” Olson said. “We’ve built web apps for companies to show them all Frisco has to offer.”

Frisco Crime Reports are mapped and available to citizens. (Click on the map to visit the live map.)

Frisco has many amenities that appeal to residents and businesses looking for a place to relocate:

The city pioneered the public safety digital twin concept. The city’s public works and engineering groups see the value of SAFER and would like to apply the same digital twin approach to city work orders, maintenance vehicles, permitting workflows, and more.

“We’ve built this platform and it wouldn’t be that hard to duplicate for others,” Olson said. “We actually already have a name for it, but we haven’t decided to do it yet.”


Learn how communities are kept safe with real-time GIS technology and solutions. View the video below to see SAFER in action.

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