GIS app gives first responders in Georgia a moving picture

An app built for $30,000 gives crews in Marietta, Ga., an evolving, real-time view of emergencies.

Even before the first fire truck arrives at a blazing warehouse in Marietta, Ga., dispatchers at the city’s Crisis Management Center can specify roadblocks and deliver routing information for emergency vehicles, with the information appearing instantly on the screens of computers in the vehicles. 

First responders can also make changes — such as setting roadblocks, altering routes or adding data — that will automatically be accessible to commanders in the crisis center or crews in other vehicles.

Bruce Bishop, Marietta’s deputy director of IT, said the city’s new common operating picture application, which launched three months ago, integrates the actions of first responders and public works and utilities staff members in ways that were impossible with the city’s existing geographic information system tools. 


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“The crisis management center has been running for some 20 years," Bishop said. "But there was just no way to easily look at our GIS layers and see where our vehicles were and those sorts of things.”  

“About four years ago, we had a mock disaster exercise to see how departments work together," he said. "This was one area where we felt short: being able to see all the data that we needed to see in one place without having to be a GIS expert.”

At first, city GIS staff members tried to develop a solution in-house. Then two years ago, Bishop said, “we got serious and decided to take it further.” The city teamed with an outside consultant and spent 18 months developing the application, which was built using ESRI ArcView 10 and Adobe Flex. The cost?  Only $30,000.

“We just call it our crisis management app,” Bishop said. “We didn’t come up with a fancy name for it, because we’re not out reselling it or anything.”

Name or no name, Bishop said the application has been a hit with its users. “Once we got it in their hands and they were actually using it, we got nothing but positive feedback,” he said.  “Now it’s like, ‘Can it do this? Can it do that?’ So we’re getting requests for Phase 2.”

As it is, the Web-based application offers full functionality to specified users — including the ability to initiate incidents, change features and query data residing in the city’s GIS databases — while providing viewing capabilities to other users.

In fact, there’s even a simplified view that lacks querying capabilities. “We wanted our city manager and mayor to be able to look at this without being a GIS expert,” Bishop said.

Another popular feature of the application is the ability to integrate live video feeds. And a tri-view feature allows users to simultaneously display a street view, an oblique photo view and a bird’s eye view. 

“They really like that feature,” Bishop said. “They can rotate, pan around and see different angles all in one window and, at the same time, have access to our GIS layers to find, for example, the location of fire hydrants.” 

Marietta’s crisis management application is available in the field only on laptop computers. But Bishop said one of the enhancements they are looking at for Phase 2 is development of an application for smart phones

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