Anaheim covers the angles

City officials in Anaheim, Calif., had no shortage of information technology systems. They had several computer-aided dispatch systems ' one for fire, one for police, one for other emergencies. They managed calendars on another system, and they managed their vehicles on yet another.

'But you couldn't see the whole picture,' said David Brown, who works for EDS as a program manager of Anaheim's Enterprise Virtual Operations Center (EVOC).

City officials wanted to put together a center that could give employees a broader view of city emergency operations.

The first attempt had a 3-D client, Brown said. 'You felt like you were standing in the middle of a room. The mouse would spin you one way and you see what looked like bulletin boards on a wall.' The idea was to simulate an operations center with the user surrounded by video screens and cameras. It was fine for a flight simulator but not good for an emergency operations center, Brown said. The simulated operations center was hard to program and maintain, and the need for something simpler soon became clear.

Anaheim officials decided to use a secure Web browser to integrate 13 data sources, including weather conditions from, the police department's Informix database, three SQL Server databases and an Oracle 10g database that contained parcel information.

The resulting system, EVOC, also pulls together radio, camera and Microsoft Exchange e-mail systems via an Internet Explorer browser.

Dispatchers can type 911 calls into the system and make them available on EVOC, Brown said.

The EVOC platform, which has been in use for four years, has as many as 500 registered users, most of them city employees, Brown said. He added that it also supports users in other California cities, including Fullerton, Orange, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Fountain Valley.

Anywhere access

The Web-based platform can be accessed from almost anywhere. One Sunday a few years ago, Brown saw on CNN that fires had broken out in the Sierra Peak area near Anaheim. From his home in Georgia, he tapped into EVOC and its WebEOC application, a piece of third-party software that functions as an incident management system. Brown could click on an incident and get details about it. He could pull up radio chatter and listen to firemen talking to one another.

'Now I knew something was going on,' he said.

EVOC uses Microsoft Virtual Earth for mapping. Brown could see details, such as the hills and houses on fire, what types of vehicles had been deployed and which cities had deployed them.

'I could get all that information from my home,' Brown said.

Meanwhile, Anaheim's assistant city manager, Tom Wood, was on a plane headed for Washington. As he looked down from the airplane after takeoff, he could see smoke rising from the hills. As soon as he got to his hotel room, he started his laptop PC and, like Brown, checked WebEOC. Wood was able to access better information than people had on the scene in Anaheim. Wood said Anaheim's operation before implementing EVOC lacked a comprehensive view.

'If you wanted to see how many calls queued up for police, you had to go over to another building,' he said. The same was true for fire, utilities and other city services. 'When I describe EVOC to friends, they'd say, 'I thought government always had that information combined.' ' When an event occurs in a city, it's usually not isolated in the domain of a police department or utility company, Wood said. A power outage, for example, can affect traffic lights, burglar alarms, hospitals, pumps for the fire department and sewer systems.

'One simple power outage can ripple across an area,' he said, and having data on all the city's operations in one place has helped the city provide better service.

Resource tracker

EVOC also has helped the city do a better job of tracking resources so it can help other municipalities in a crisis. The wildfires that broke out in October 2007 didn't come near Anaheim, but the city could send vehicles to the areas that were battling fires.

All of the city's cars and trucks ' even its street sweepers ' are equipped with Global Positioning System devices. 'In a crisis, the last thing people will tell you is where they are,' Wood said. Without EVOC, 'we wouldn't have known where our people and resources were during the fires.'

The first iterations of EVOC were entirely text-based, Wood said. 'But we quickly learned how powerful pictures are,' so the city added the Microsoft Virtual Earth mapping interface to the system.

Say a police officer has a few days off, Wood said. He returns to his beat and wants to know what's been going on. He can click on the EVOC map, and colored dots appear ' blue ones representing a police event and red ones a fire. By scrolling over the dots, he can view information about the incidents, such as priority level, description, time reported and address. Within a few minutes, the officer is up-to-date with his beat.

Before EVOC, the city had invested a lot in separate police, fire and utility systems, Wood said. EVOC was a way to apply the city's investments for better service. He said the system would cost about $150,000, but Anaheim spent more because 'we were learning as we went along.'

'It's been a learning experience because no one else had anything like it,' Wood said.

'EVOC was also a way to better empower our employees,' Wood said. 'They're smart. If you give them all the data they need, they can find new and innovative ways to use it.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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