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9-1-1 Magazine: Managing Emergency Communications

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Seeing the Scene

Author: David Fowler

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

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Video Systems in Public Safety Call Taking and Response

By David Fowler

Originally  published in our March 2008 issue.

Developments in technology continue to impact the emergency communications and response industry, helping in quicker, more efficient and effective responses to emergencies. Mapping systems are no exception. These solutions provide a more dynamic view of a typically static map, arming public safety professionals with another tool that can be used to protect first responders and the public.

By integrating with video cameras that give eyes to responders before they get to the scene of the emergency, mapping systems help responders locate the right camera to view the unfolding event, providing valuable insight for better situation management. With mapping systems tied into an organization’s physical security and surveillance network, emergency communications professionals and first responders can quickly view the source of alarms with the best camera angle, assess the situation, and execute the appropriate response to an event.

Ring the Alarm! Becoming Aware of an Emergency Event

When an alarm goes off, personnel are immediately alerted to an emergency event. However, current technology goes well beyond just an alarm (or other type of notifying agent), providing crucial information for response professionals that may save lives.

The first question every first responder needs answered is in regards to location. Is the event taking place in a rural area or is it unfolding in the middle of a busy city intersection? Is the event taking place on city property or on a highway where the state law enforcement has jurisdiction? Does it cross city or state lines? Mapping technology integrated with video surveillance offers the ability for responders to quickly and accurately pinpoint the location of the event, identifying issues such as obstacles that will impede the progress of emergency vehicles getting to the location, or schools and other types of buildings nearby that might need to be evacuated based on their proximity as well as the type of event. This solution also helps with identifying the location of personnel that are able to respond and dispatch appropriately based upon proximity to the incident.

With this advanced visualization of an event, beyond just a pinpoint on a static map, awareness of the emergency can be more in depth, helping the management of the situation to be much more effective and appropriate for the unfolding event.

Mapping systems allow personnel to import their own maps and building drawings for the most up-to-date, accurate view of a location. Cameras or other resources (such as security doors, restricted areas or fire alarms) can be overlaid on top of maps to provide information to security personnel when there is an emergency. That makes it easy to access the correct camera’s video streams or video archives based upon the location or locations of the event. Along with seeing the event unfold, advanced mapping solutions enable operators to track a person of interest, car, or object on a map, with the ability to zoom in and out or go backwards in time using video recorders. By tying in this mapping system to the other technologies, emergency personnel can spend their time resolving situations faster rather than trying to locate the right camera. With state-of-the-art software, systems can not only automatically locate all the cameras that can view the source of an alarm, but they can recognize where walls might obstruct views or where cameras may not have the right angle or view.

For instance, local infrastructure – including streets, water supply, city hall, town center, schools – are monitored using cameras, analytics, alarms, and sensors for suspicious activity and events. By integrating the locations of these solutions with a mapping solution, systems can automatically present personnel with video feeds from video cameras that are in place where the event is unfolding, rather than having the operators waste time searching for the right feed or camera.

Additionally, these security systems can be set up to capture specific events such as a gunshot or a perimeter intruder. When a gunshot is detected through video analytics, the technology used to analyze video for specific data, behavior, objects, or attitude, emergency personnel can be alerted not only to the gunshot and the exact location of where it was detected but they also can have the video automatically patched into their patrol car or onto a handheld device. As such, the integration of video analytics and mapping systems is crucial for emergency personnel. Video analytics, used in conjunction with mapping software, can, for instance, detect and monitor a wrong-way driver on a highway and locate the nearest police cruiser to intercept him.

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Now What? Assessing the Situation

Once emergency communication personnel and responders know the location of an emergency situation, they need to then assess it in order to determine the appropriate response. How many people are involved and how many more are at risk as a result of the event? How much coordination amongst government agencies and response personnel does this require? Does this require a heavy law enforcement component (i.e., SWAT team)? Does a perimeter around the event need to be set up as part of the response?

For example, if there is a fire in a high-rise building, action is clearly required and the event is automatically escalated to a quick response incident. Rules are in place to dispatch the fire department, police department, and emergency medical technicians immediately to the scene. In addition, by taking advantage of location data from the specific fire alarms within the building overlaid on top of the building blueprints that are uploaded into the mapping system, firemen and other first responders can access the closest camera or cameras to the fire, display the camera feeds on a computer, handheld device, or video wall, and quickly observe the current situation. This includes locating victims and/or trapped persons on upper floors, determining the location of the fire as well as possible causes, and identifying the best route for the firemen to take for a safe entrance and exit. These data are invaluable as the first responders evaluate the situation and execute the appropriate response.

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Execute an Appropriate Response

After an event is identified and its parameters defined, personnel access the procedures and policies put in place to determine the proper action. When the proper action is identified, action is immediately taken. Technology integration enables this action to be much more effective. For example, in the case of a hazardous materials spill on a roadway, seconds matter. With advanced technology, operators can locate the spill, put a camera on it, determine what resources should be dispatched, patch the video to first responders already en route, provide them with the best way to the location, and notify them of any potential complications such as traffic jams or car accidents. This enables a faster, more efficient response to the unfolding situation.

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Implications of Video and Mapping Systems on Emergency Response

Integrated video and mapping systems can help emergency response teams protect themselves and also save time, and potentially lives. By tightly integrating these systems with the already established physical security and surveillance infrastructure, huge advantages can be reaped:

  • First responder safety. The most important factor to first responders as an event unfolds is obviously their safety and the safety of the people involved. Being able to locate and view an armed robber in a mall, an accident on a highway, the layout of a building in a fire are all examples of where the combination of mapping and video can save first responder lives.
  • Real-time analysis for smarter decision making. By having us much actionable intelligence as possible, personnel can rapidly obtain critical security insight required to make informed security decisions.
  • Faster response. Emergency personnel are always looking to establish best practices that can continue to improve their response to events. Having a dynamic view of the event location, combined with video streams, sensors and other data flooding into an operations center, offers responders an even more accurate picture of what is going on, facilitating a faster response.

When implementing an integrated video and mapping solution there are two areas that are key to a successful deployment:

  • Open platform to protect your investments. Any new technology that an organization invests in should add value without adding complications. Video integrated with mapping technology has the ability to easily add better visualization of an unfolding event if it can integrate tightly with the existing surveillance infrastructure and physical security infrastructure. Situation management software can provide the glue to allow new technologies to integrate seamlessly with existing investments in video and physical security equipment.
  • Manage the situation not the alarms. Often, unplanned emergencies generate numerous alarms to both 9-1-1 operations and command centers. A good situation management system not only can integrate the alarms to give an overall picture of the situation but then bring the appropriate video and physical security assets to bear to assess and verify the emergency. In addition, they can work with the mapping systems to help personnel quickly and easily navigate metropolitan or building maps, identify camera locations and better view and manage security events in real time. As a result, situations can be managed faster and more efficiently.

It is always challenging to investigate potential public disturbances or emergencies and expedite the appropriate response. Tightly integrated physical security and surveillance systems enable effective corroboration of an event as well as help personnel in planning and executing a course of action. By taking advantage of video and mapping systems as part of this, emergency communications and response professions can turn static information into dynamic information for better understanding and visualization of the unfolding event, which leads to improved situation management.

David Fowler is the senior vice president, marketing and product development, for VidSys. See www.vidsys.com

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