While Google’s Street View picture-snapping cars are out and about in most counties in the U.S., in New York state only Monroe County has its own GIS technology vehicle.
“As far as I know, there is no other vehicle like this in New York state,” said Scott McCarty, GIS operations manager for the Monroe County GIS Services Division.
Originally an air quality monitoring truck for a company in the county, the 1995 Ford Super-Duty Chassis was donated in 2006 and first used by Monroe County for “fiber splicing,” McCarty said, referring to a fiber connectivity program for government services in the 1,366 square mile county, which encompasses the greater Rochester metro area.
The county’s GIS division had identified the need to have a mobile vehicle, partly because snow in the region from November through March covers the many remote marshes and ponds, making it dangerous for law enforcement to follow in pursuit or emergency services to reach someone in trouble.
McCarty described one example: a police chase of a man that officers could not continue. The man’s body was found in a marsh the next spring. If GIS data systems were available onsite for police, the manhunt may have ended differently, the county believes.
So when the truck was replaced in the other department and became available to the GIS team in 2007, “we raised our hand,” McCarty said.
In 2008, the mobile GIS vehicle — part of the public safety communications fleet and dubbed Mobile Communications Unit 4 — was born.
What’s on board the GIS technology vehicle:
● three Panasonic Toughbook laptops;
● 4G wireless network;
● a weather station;
● wide-format HP plotter;
● wireless HP printer/scanner/copier;
● Trimble R8 GNSS survey-grade receiver;
● Trimble ProXH receiver;
● Trimble ProXR backpack receiver;
● Trimble GeoXT handheld receiver;
● a 32-inch Smartboard;
● Onboard generators (two 8,000 watt); and
● a microwave, refrigerator and coffee maker.
The mobile GIS vehicle is connected via 4G cellular for communications, and delivers GIS data to base stations. With its Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and its own onboard weather station, the GIS vehicle is truly versatile, delivering data to nearly every county office, which service 750,000 residents living in 19 towns and 10 villages.
The most recent example of how it was used for a public safety service was in October of this year, when the truck assisted with search and rescue for an elderly man, McCarty said.
The mobile GIS vehicle also assists with nonemergency services, helping the county prepare for events such as the Rochester International Air Show, the Rochester Marathon and others. McCarty said the truck allows them to go onsite and help plot courses, in the case of the marathon, or vendor locations at the air show, for public safety purposes.
One advanced feature for emergencies includes the processing of real-time imagery, via a partnership with Pictometry, based in Rochester. “Images can be sent from a plane to a satellite dish. Once the images are received, they are processed inside the truck and converted to readable/transferable files in the matter of minutes, helping to aid in management decisions,” according to the county’s information page.
With its observation deck, staff members are able to monitor events. McCarty said the next step is to add a 30-foot mast with a video camera to the GIS vehicle, which would be used for public safety monitoring at events or emergency scenes.
Four department staff members are allocated to drive and operate the GIS vehicle, McCarty said, but eight people on staff are capable.
Having the vehicle means more accurate planning for events and improving safety for emergency services, McCarty said.
He said that when they first got the GIS technology vehicle, his team saw the value right away. After the first years in service, however, county law enforcement and emergency services teams saw the value. “They think it’s a really great thing,” McCarty said. “They think it’s a tremendous resource that has not been available in the past.”