MCP Insights

What You Don't Know Will Hurt You With GIS Data Management

Posted on September 23, 2020 by Denise Oshall

Statements become adages usually because they are rooted in truth—but not always. The statement, “what you don’t know won’t hurt you,” is a shining example. This statement couldn’t be more inaccurate. What you don’t know sooner or later will hurt you, especially in the public-safety community.

Earlier this year, one of our longstanding clients, the Region 13 task force—a collaboration of 14 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania, as well as the city of Pittsburgh—asked us to assess the readiness of each member’s geographic information system (GIS) environment in the context of provisioning Next Generation 911 (NG911) service across the region’s footprint. All of the counties believed they were doing fine, which they were in the context of Enhanced 911. But things get a lot more complicated with NG911, and it was important for them to understand where they stood in that context.

MCP’s team used the firm’s proprietary methodology called the Model for Advancing Public SafetySM (MAPS). MAPS combines the collective body of knowledge gained from MCP’s 140-plus specialized public safety subject-matter experts with a variety of mature, broadly accepted public safety and information technology (IT) standards, formalized accreditation programs and industry best practices. The MAPS assessment, which is based on each county’s unique needs and circumstances, enables officials to easily discern and understand where their organization stands related to several critical factors.

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A systemic inability to share GIS data across the region was a significant issue that the assessment uncovered.

Public safety agencies draw polygons that define their jurisdictional footprints and the areas in which they provision emergency services. When such polygons abut, generally along jurisdictional borders, they must “snap” to each other—if they don’t, overlaps and/or gaps can occur.

When an emergency call is placed in an overlap or gap area between two adjacent jurisdictions, data associated with that call will not be accepted by an emergency services Internet Protocol network (ESInet), which is the platform that delivers calls to NG911-compliant emergency communications centers (ECCs). When that happens, the ESInet won’t know which PSAP should receive the call, so the call typically will default-route to the PSAP defined in the state’s routing policy. Consequently, the chances are very high that the answering ECC will not be the correct ECC. The call then has to be transferred to the correct ECC—a process that usually takes seconds but can take minutes, which is an enormous amount of time when lives are on the line.

Sharing data helps to overcome the overlaps and gaps—but again, the Region 13 members had no ability to share data with each other.

Consequently, one of the key outcomes of this project, according to Kimberly Shuster, GIS/computer-aided dispatch (CAD) supervisor for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety, is the implementation of a server via which each task force member eventually will be able to access GIS data generated by any other member.

“Each county had been siloed, so the ability for each of us to bring data from the other counties into our data centers is going to be huge,” Shuster says. “It will have a tremendous effect on edge-matching, for instance. No longer will we have to edit our geometry blindly—going forward, we will have structure and consistency.”

As has been said, knowledge is power. To discover what else the Region 13 members learned from this assessment, click here.

ECCs from coast to coast are dealing with similar issues. We can help—please reach out.

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