ANC Explorer team Arlington cemetery


An app helps restore Arlington’s hallowed ground

Arlington National Cemetery is a world famous shrine and is supposed to set an example for other military cemeteries throughout the nation. That status was badly damaged when an Army Inspector General’s investigation in 2009 found widespread instances of unmarked graves at Arlington, along with improper handling of remains and errors in the burial records.

In an era of sophisticated computer and IT technologies, cemetery employees had been using 3x5-inch cards and paper maps to document the more than 400,000 burial records and 260,000 gravesites.

(Pictured above, from left: ANC’s Tae Sun Shin, Christopher G. Thornton, CW2 Craig Campbell, Mary Lynn Malone, Maj. Nicholas Miller, Ashley Talley, Steven Dawson, Margot Flowers, Daniel Gardner.)

The ANC Explorer is the public-facing part of the Army’s answer to this disturbing problem. It’s a Web and smart-phone application that visitors to the cemetery will be able to use to pinpoint exactly where loved ones are buried, along with providing precise directions to their gravesite. Virtual visitors also will be able to see images of the headstones in the cemetery and gravesites of notables buried there.

“The vision behind this was, what is needed for a family member coming to the cemetery and being able to find out where their loved one is buried?” said Maj. Nicholas Miller, the ANC’s CIO. “Many come but then don’t come back for five, 10 and even 20 years, and as the cemetery grows, the memory of that day is rapidly outpaced by how the dynamics of the cemetery have changed.”

Miller and his team in the CIO’s office instituted a massive data collection effort using a custom iPhone application to record the front and back of each headstone in the cemetery. They tagged and linked the app with Global Positioning System coordinates and packaged it for delivery into a SQL database.

So, not only does the public have a geographic information system smart-phone app, but the Arlington IT group can use the same technology to power its day-to-day operations and business workflow.

The technology is managed through an enterprise architecture that Miller said provides an accurate, multi-year roadmap for where the technology needs to go. Arlington National Cemetery also now has a fully resourced and funded IT organization, which it didn’t have prior to a June 2010 reorganization.

For Miller, the current ANC Explorer program is just the start of what he believes can be accomplished now that everything from scheduling of burials to pictures of gravesites and headstones are integrated into the workflow.

“Now that the business systems are automated,” he said, “we’re looking at how we can use this rich data to enhance the experience for family members and allow them to explore this wonderful national military shrine.”

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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