Ever since I was a kid, I wanted a superpower of some kind. Little did I know that one day my wish would actually come true.
For anyone who is a serious user of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), it is not news that this week is the 2019 Esri User Conference. If you are not one of those people, the “UC” is an annual gathering of around 20,000 people who share an interest in applying geospatial technology to solve real-world problems from optimizing business to saving the environment. I was particularly inspired by the theme this year, “See What Others Can’t.”
At its core, GIS is a spatial database for the analysis and visualization of information. When it is used in EMS, it can take a deep dive through your call history and come up with an estimation of the likelihood of the location of calls for service within the next hour. Because it can be an automated process, this forecast can be repeated every few minutes to give you a constantly updated view of the near future regarding where you are most likely to be needed. Some users of MARVLIS Demand Monitor compare it to a weather map that shows the changing conditions in your service area. But knowing where you need to be is only a part of the problem of optimizing the delivery of emergency medical services.
To really be efficient, you also need to know where you are and where you can be within your response time allocation. To answer this question, you need a model of the street network and an understanding of both the daily patterns of travel as well as the unique driving conditions right now. Many counties across the US have dedicated GIS staff to maintain these navigation and addressing models, but commercial vendors can also provide a good base layer of data. TheAddresser is another product from BCS and it can be used to measure or even improve the quality of your geographic data to improve its ability to turn an address into a proper coordinate where a crew can physically respond. The digital road network that is used to calculate a route can be improved by modeling how fast vehicles in your fleet have traveled along each road segment in the past, divided by direction, and lumped into various traffic time periods. The MARVLIS Impedance Monitor automates the mining of your Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) history to generate these unique travel times to understand exactly what area can be covered even as an ambulance is moving. For the immediate hazards along the way, MARVLIS can leverage the events logged by Waze users in real-time to enhance your own road network data through MARVLIS Central. Together, this gives you the best understanding of the reach your crews have at any given moment.
The real trick is in how you choose to post ambulances to meet your specific objectives. If a fast, safe response is most valued, ambulances can be directed to uncovered hot spots which will minimize the distance they must travel to the next call. If cutting response times across the board, or minimizing post moves is preferred, a weighting can be applied in the MARVLIS Deployment Planner to optimize the geographic coverage area. Regardless of how the criteria are balanced, an hourly, prioritized posting plan can be generated based on your service objectives. That plan can then be automated through the live connection in MARVLIS Deployment Monitor that can not only see where ambulances are located by their status, but also directly viewing where calls are currently active from the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software. It can then even make specific recommendations on reassigning units to automatically optimize your coverage criteria.
Together, these intrinsically GIS-based tools can provide an unparalleled insight into the operational world of EMS with timely automated recommendations on how to improve service according to your community’s values. The suite of MARVLIS applications give any EMS manager a view to “see what others can’t.” To see clarity in the everyday chaos of EMS operations, GIS can give you genuine superpowers.
The Esri User Conference in San Diego each summer is the largest GIS event of the year and there was certainly no disappointment this week as the biggest crowd ever gathered for the first day plenary sessions. According to Jack Dangermond, founder and president, the plenary held over 14,000 people with more than 15,000 expected in the final total by the end of the week. There were plenty of announcements made by Esri which were enthusiastically received even though many had been “leaked” during the weeks before. Jack’s own famous (and lengthy) pre-conference Q&A provided hours of early study material as did The Road Ahead for ArcGIS article in the summer issue of ArcNews for those who wanted a preview of what we would hear today.
While it would be a monumental task to cover everything presented, the highlights I think that are appropriate for public safety agencies to consider are more manageable and most significantly are not necessarily technology based. A major thought Jack drove hard was a discussion of “understanding understanding” or the role that GIS plays in making information understood. It wasn’t all about new cloud-based services, but extending a practical concept of “one map”. That is the creation and authoring of data, mashed together into “intelligent web maps” and disseminated for collaboration. After all, GIS is not just about visualization, but powerful analytics and even the value of business management. The focus of the morning was clearly functional – from an operational perspective rather than just pandering to the technologists. While there was plenty of demonstration of specific new tools coming in version 10.1, the driving factor was definitely value and productivity. Another interesting concept that was clear was the co-evolution of GIS with related technologies like 3D (specifically LiDAR or even “indoors” and visualization rendering), imagery, and social media (“crowdsourcing”) forming a practical platform for analysis, problem-solving, and prediction.
Most surprisingly was that the word “cloud” was not used much at all, however the evidence of the platform was clear in new managed service options coming available through ArcGIS Online which has become a true platform to simplify and help manage the elastic demand for “intelligent web maps” during disasters. These Esri subscription services will soon be available through ArcGIS Online. While some critics bristle at security concerns or a perceived lack of control, this option is increasingly interesting to many emergency managers especially as bandwidth-intensive GIS maps take a bigger role in sharing situational information in crisis management without administration hassles. ArcGIS Explorer is also growing up with new capabilities to read services like KML and WMS as well as produce Microsoft PowerPoint-style presentations with even more interactive geographic story telling capabilities. Additionally, ArcGIS Online is becoming time-enabled and even more timely in its ability to share layers from many diverse sources represented uniformly. ArcGIS Online also is getting significant new basemap options such as oceans for marine studies and publication quality National Geographic cartography.
The Community Analyst is another little known secret application from Esri providing flexible tools for searching and summarizing demographic data. A free 14-day trial of the application is available for evaluation. Imagery will add many new powerful tools at 10.1 making it faster and more useful with options to measure 3D qualities similar to Pictometry. And functionality from MapIt is now being repackaged as ArcGIS Server templates to integrate Microsoft SharePoint or IBM COGNOS. Another popular announcement was native 64-bit support for ArcGIS Server.
Several application examples from the “Special Achievement in GIS” (SAG) award winners were quickly displayed and more lengthy reviews of applications from the City of Boston were also provided as examples of “footprints for us to follow.” You can watch recorded videos of the plenary sessions and more online.
If you were there yourself, what was your favorite memory?