With their research complete, work on a prototype system began in 2009. Schirmer was careful not to neglect the end-users while the system was in development.

“It was a group effort,” he said. “Our application development team was involved with it. But really working in conjunction with our end-users — the first responders, police and fire — they helped determine the functionality that would be important to them. We then did our own research and looked at what other states and municipalities are doing and tried to build upon that.”

Though to date the city has been fortunate to avoid any real emergency scenarios that would have put Virtual Beverly Hills to the test, Schirmer and the city took the system for a test drive during this year’s Los Angeles Marathon. The annual race also served as a platform for testing another of Virtual Beverly Hills’ capabilities — facilitating integrated communications.

“We actually mobilized an EOC as if it were an event. And really it was just to exercise it and see how well these things worked,” Schirmer said. “That involved Los Angeles, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and other municipalities like Santa Monica. So it really had this regional context to it. We had a lot of mobile video out there that was ingested into the system. We had a lot of ad hoc wireless set up to facilitate communications, as well as our standard RF [radio frequency] police and fire radio. All of that was interoperable, and it seemed to work very well. We got a lot of praise from the people who saw it in action.”

Going forward, Schirmer said he plans to extend the technology to other jurisdictions in the region and eventually deed the entire system to California. Virtual Beverly Hills didn’t come cheap despite the grant money and some in-kind services from the DHS. But, Schirmer said, “The good news is, for our partners, it’s effectively free.”

And like any good emergency response tool, everyone hopes that Virtual Beverly Hills will never really be needed. But if a disaster strikes the real Beverly Hills, it’ll be nice to know the virtual version is ready to help.

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.