has responsibility for what, share data about threats, and quickly dispatch resources in a well-planned manner. Over the past several years, many of the county agencies have invested in GIS systems to do just that.
In 1997, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department implemented an Intergraph computer-aided dispatch system that provides enhanced 911 capabilities, fastest route, incident history and a map-based user interface for locating events and tracking responders as they move to the scene. Through radio and alphanumeric pager interfaces, the system can send service calls via radio to its more than 500 officers and provide first-call notification to volunteer fire departments throughout the county. Recently, the system has been expanded to provide that same information to more than 165 patrol cars.
Similar systems have been installed for the cities of Birmingham and Homewood and neighboring Shelby County. All three systems include interfaces to records-management systems to allow access to police and jail records. The Homewood system is also integrated with the Jefferson County mug shot system. These various agencies are exploring ways of sharing resources and common maps, allowing additional integration into the Birmingham metropolitan area. It will require comprehensive integration, because there are 16 independent 911 systems in Jefferson County.
The situation becomes even more complicated at the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), which uses GIS tools to forecast flooding, monitor traffic, track HAZMAT transportation and conduct 3-D plume analyses for chemical spills. A lack of interoperability means data often must be re-entered for each application.
"At the time of an emergency, we don't need to be working four or five systems," said Allen Kniphfer, operations officer of the Jefferson County EMA. "I need to push a button that gives me everything I need to make a decision, and get a complete picture without entering more data."
"Keeping the many agencies and authorities in the county informed of the status of emergencies is key to helping them fulfill their missions," said Jefferson County Commissioner Mary Buckelew. "Integrating the many automated systems will help improve interagency communications and we are looking at a number of options to accomplish this as quickly as possible."
Jefferson and other counties may get help with integrated emergency response through several ongoing initiatives. Under one scenario, the state command and control elements would be able to view GIS data and coordinate with local fire, police, medics and other responders, while a Web-based "911 lite" would provide GIS data and functionality to small communities and rural areas. This solution would preserve the authority of local forces to respond to incidents, while supporting options for escalating crisis support and coordination with local agencies at the state level.