VA seeks cemetery tracking system

VA seeks cemetery tracking system

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration (NCA) is responsible for more than 3 million gravesites at 131 national cemeteries and burial grounds in 40 states and Puerto Rico. NCA manages approximately 20,500 acres within its cemeteries, with the potential to provide approximately 6.5 million gravesites.  In 2013, the NCA oversaw 124,787 internments, and the VA expects that number expected to increase annually until the year 2020.

To accommodate the increasing number of veteran burials, NCA needs IT systems robust enough to support the efficient delivery of memorial benefits to veterans, beneficiaries and next of kin.

In a recent request for information, NCA said it is looking for a wide-area network-based cemetery tracking solution to help it with digital mapping, internment notices and remains tracking. NCA specifically stated it is not interested in a commercial based-cloud system. 

In terms of digital mapping, NCA wants to track grave sites using PCs or mobile devices with automatic updates, take inventory of graves and map roads within the cemetery.  All such data should be capable of being updated in real time.  The system must also support NCA’s Interment Notice/Dig Slips system, which manages and schedules the tasks around an internment, among other things.  Lastly, the cemetery tracking solution should be able to track remains from the time they enter the cemetery, until they have been officially laid to rest.

NCA currently uses a system called the Burial Operations Support System, which addresses burial receipt, headstone service, memorials and cemetery management.  However, BOSS has faced challenges “significant enough in their size that NCA and its Office of Information and Technology partners are evaluating new potential platforms for supporting the NCA mission going forward.”

The Army experience

A few years ago, incomplete records and errors were found in data at Arlington National Cemetery. A report by the Army Office of Inspector General found several accounts of unmarked graves, incorrect handling of remains and burial record errors.  The Army then turned to the tech community to develop a more precise and accurate application capable of tracking grave sites and inventory. 

The ANC Explorer app lets cemetery visitors pinpoint exactly where loved ones are buried, along with providing precise directions to their gravesite.  In May, ANC Explorer version 2.0 was launched, simplifying navigation, providing pertinent information about the cemetery and offering custom tour capabilities. It also allows the staff to push emergency-alert notifications to families and visitors inside Arlington National Cemetery's fence line. In just two years, ANC Explorer has seen more than 121,000 downloads and an average of more than 1.45 million decedent searches monthly.

In testimony on Capitol Hill in December, Patrick K. Hallinan, the executive director of Army National Cemeteries, said accountability improvements and use of geospatial mapping technology has allowed cemetery workers to certify each burial service on a daily basis by using duplicative verification of grave location and remains.

"Additionally, we continue to digitally photograph every casket or urn that is interred or inurned and digitally associate that image with the burial record in our authoritative and auditable system of record," he said. "Continual accountability processes have allowed Arlington National Cemetery to reconcile and begin corrective actions for the 5,496 remaining administrative errors in headstone and niche cover commemorations," dating back to the mid-1900s.

For the VA's cemetery tracking system, the agency said it is open to any idea for a new application or system solution.  When asked if there are any particular types of devices to be used such as bar-code readers, or iPads, the VA responded that it is simply seeking “the industry’s input on the best solution.”    

The deadline to respond to this RFI has since passed.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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