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Safe Communities: The Need for More Collaboration

What does a safe community mean to you?  That your kids can play outside without fear?  Knowing that your community’s infrastructure is secure?  Or is it knowing your community is prepared for disasters?  Does it have a Crime Reduction Strategy that is working?  What about epidemics… is your community prepared to deal with the next SARS-like event?  Is it able to support those most vulnerable?  Find out how you can start creating and supporting a safe community.

The Safe Community approach empowers organizations to address safety issues by connecting disparate data from multiple agencies for overlapping missions. Stakeholders with shared interests communicate and collaborate to better understand risks, community hazards and potential crime problems. They prepare well in advance to deal with known and potential issues and share situational awareness.

In Canada, public safety interoperability aligns with Safe Community goals. In many cases however, it falls short when public safety agencies use the term communicate synonymously with radio communications.  In today’s complex world, radio communications alone are no longer sufficient to maintain safe communities

If you agree with the old English idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words," you would agree that sharing data in real-time via a common operational picture (COP) to provide a current view of a complex situation can be a game-changer for response.

I come to evangelize the value of COP-driven activities from my own experiences with E-Comm 911 and the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit.

While with E-Comm 9-1-1 in Vancouver, in order to more effectively manage and respond to incidents, we developed a web application called Emergency Event Map Viewer (E2MV) that provides a shared view of current unit and incident data from a range of computer aided dispatch systems (CAD).  I consider myself very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to manage E2MV for the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (V2010 ISU), where it was implemented as the COP for the Theatre Command Centre. The V2010 ISU After Action Report clearly states that E2MV is a best practice and recommends it for future events.

Over the past several years, we have seen some other excellent examples in the use of common operating picture viewers including:

Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) developed a COP referred to as Geospatial Emergency Management (GEM).  Read how GEM was instrumental in Calgary’s response to the 2013 Alberta floods.

Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) developed a dynamic web mapping application that allows its dispatchers to access up-to-date and complete information about an emergency, so they can direct resources more effectively and increase patients’ chances of survival.  

The idea of a COP is nothing new…yet many agencies are still solely relying on radio communications to respond to emergencies. I get it that radios are tried-and-true, but the information that can been easily viewed via a well-designed COP rapidly provides a wealth of actionable intelligence. So why are public safety agencies slow to adopt this intuitive form of communication?

Is it cost? Maybe that was an obstacle a few years ago, but it’s not anymore.  Check out all the free public safety maps and apps templates available on the Esri solutions site.  You can use these through ArcGIS Desktop and Pro, ArcGIS Online subscriptions and/or via ArcGIS Enterprise. 

Is it complexity? Some readers may have the idea that a COP is a single, monolithic application used in operations centres. The app revolution is enabling shared situational awareness and unity of action that can be utilized in the command centre or in the field.

You don’t see an app for your needs?  You can build your own via the Web App Builder (WAB) for ArcGIS. The cool thing about the WAB is that you can build powerful GIS apps that run on any device… No coding required!

For those of you working in government-based public safety agencies, your government organization likely has our technology and highly skilled GIS people that support and use it every day.  Talk to the GIS Manager and see what’s possible.

Is it mobility? Not so much… ArcGIS field apps can help you use the power of location to improve coordination and achieve operational efficiencies for the boots on the ground.  Because everyone in the field and in the office uses the same authoritative data, you create efficiencies and make timely, well-informed and critical decisions. Remember… purposefully built apps!

Is it politics or governance? That may have been an excuse a few years back, but times have changed.  The ability to securely share data with who you want to share and when you want to share is here. The general public expects that our public safety organizations work together and collaborate to the best of their abilities.

So…what does a safe community mean to me?  Everything I mentioned before: an effective crime reduction strategy; preparedness; secure infrastructure; a place that feels secure enough for my kids to play with no worries; and so much more.  To get there, we need people, technology and processes to work together in a coordinated and collaborative way.  No matter the mission or the jurisdiction, Esri’s ArcGIS solutions enable unity of action through real-time intelligence and shared situational awareness – it’s a critical piece of a safe community.

About the Author

David Hamilton is the Public Safety Industry Manager for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers how to use GIS technology to improve all areas of public safety, specifically (NG)9-1-1, law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, emergency management, and search and rescue. Prior to joining Esri Canada in 2010, David managed the GIS for E-Comm 9-1-1 in Vancouver, and worked for the RCMP at the Integrated Security Unit for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games where he managed their Common Operating Picture. Being active has been a major part of David’s personal life; soccer, track & field, skiing, cycling, hiking and now kayaking are all among his favourite activities.

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