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Mobile GIS Tools Ease Fire Response

Hoover, Ala., finds enterprisewide applications for consistent, layered mapping data.

by / May 3, 2012

City officials in Hoover, Ala., embarked upon a strategic implementation plan in 2008 to implement GIS across the city. In a recent interview with Government Technology, finance officials explained that while GIS was in use in many city service areas, they lacked a unified solution that put the same geographic data in the hands of all city employees.

Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham, lies along the Appalachian Mountains and has a population in excess of 80,000. Complicating mapping efforts is the fact that Hoover straddles two separate Alabama counties — Jefferson and Shelby, with inconsistent mapping data.

Hoover engaged Geographic Technologies Group (GTG) to take its GIS to the next level, seeking a solution that would ensure consistency across the organization. Further, the city needed solutions that could effectively leverage existing technology investments.

Early planning identified a number of needed updates to Hoover’s current GIS data to increase its accuracy as a tool for many city services, including taxation, revenue collection, public works, building inspections, storm water management and emergency response.

Updated GIS Data Boasts “Spot On” Accuracy

GTG completed a comprehensive data cleanup for Hoover, updating GIS data layers to reflect current parcels, street centerlines and address points. The update of mapping data to greater than 99 percent accuracy enabled a successful citywide GIS implementation.

All Hoover departments that use geo-referenced data now enjoy a common user interface that ensures they are all looking at the same data. Individualized portals for each department using GTG’s Vantage Point viewer ensure that specific service areas have the visibility they need into the data sets they reference in performing their jobs.

Reliable GIS data has brought many benefits to the city, including financial ones. Hoover provides fire service to selected areas outside its limits, and can now confidently collect fire dues for those locations to help offset its costs. Finance officials also point out that precise GIS information helps the city achieve compliance with environmental regulations, avoiding costly penalties.

The local board of education is now connected to Hoover’s GIS data as well. Registrars plug in an address to determine where to properly register a student. The application replaced a cumbersome manual process for education administrators.

Software Leverages GIS Data on the Go

Hoover Fire Chief John Wingate explained to Government Technology that his department of 172 firefighters was looking to improve its mapping and routing capabilities. Personnel operating Hoover’s fire and rescue apparatus made their way to incident scenes using hard-copy map books — a time-consuming process. Laptops in fixed locations offered unreliable connections to centrally stored information.

The Fire Department considered several solutions to update its in-vehicle technology. A road test with GTG’s Geo Blade Mobile software demonstrated that real-time routing and mapping data, based on its updated GIS information, could be a significant time saver, even in areas with cellular and radio connectivity issues.

The Hoover Fire Department equipped all of its vehicles with Geo Blade Mobile and added vehicle locator capability for command staff. The product, featuring a customized interface, connects wirelessly to the city’s main GIS server through aircards in ruggedized tablets that are located in all fire apparatus. Shift commanders can now track vehicle locations in real time, easing resource planning and incident response.

Responders benefit from accurate mapping and routing information, which updates on the way to an incident. Touchscreen technology also allows fire and rescue personnel to zoom in for more detail, informing critical situational awareness.

New Options for Mobile Productivity

“The end users, the firefighters come up and say, ‘We think this is great — we haven’t had to open a map book in five months.’ It just works. They stay on all the time.”

The department works with GTG on additional customizations at regular intervals, like a recently implemented special conditions layer that alerts responders to things like extra long driveways and gate access codes en route to an incident.

Wingate explained that the mobile GIS tools have fostered a newfound confidence on the part of his workforce in technology as an effective means of increasing productivity. Nearly 70 percent of calls are for emergency medical services, so the department is looking to enable Web-based filing of patient care reports. Significant additional time savings could also come from a proposal to record fire hydrant readings from the field.

“I'm glad that we’ve made some strides, and we continue to hope that technology will take us places in the future that we can’t even think of right now,” Wingate concluded.

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Noelle Knell Editor

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.

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