How cities can use GIS to improve safety with personalized service

If you ask anyone what they want from their city, safety is almost always at or near the top of their list. And while data is transforming cities, data doesn’t do that by itself. It’s the application of the data that matters.

A growing number of cities are seeing Geographical Information Systems (GIS) as a key that can unlock powerful insights that would otherwise be hidden in data, but the possibilities are actually even stronger than that.

Imagine being able to send customized warning messages to people are affected by a threat, complete with individual evacuation instructions. Or knowing who didn’t get word of a water contamination issue.

The technology is already here to provide that level of service. Council Lead Partner Gannett Fleming reveals just a few of the possibilities below. — Kevin Ebi


By Brian Smith, GeoDecisions Vice President of Commercial Solutions

Public safety is second on the list of priorities for city leaders in 2017, behind only economic development. Police and fire departments often make up the largest items in city budgets and 64% of “state of the city” addresses by mayors included significant coverage of public safety. The critically important job of keeping our citizens safe can be made more efficient, more sustainable and smarter by using data wisely.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be paired with software applications to assist government agencies like law enforcement, educational institutions and utilities in warning the public about harm. Law enforcement can also employ it to understand criminal patterns.

In just one example, GeoDecisons Notify, a high-speed alert notification system, is used by a water utility serving a city of about 300,000 people. The system can send routing messages and can also warn customers of hazardous water conditions via text. Utilities no longer have to wait for their customers to check email or hear about a boil water advisory on the news – now the notification can be instantaneous. The text messages are audited so the utility can confirm that households were warned or that another means of communication is necessary.

Data notification can also be personalized down to the individual, allowing for critical safety information to be tailored by location. For example, if an active shooter situation develops in a building using GIS integration, employee evacuation instructions could be tailored by cubicle. Those nearest the shooter could be given different instructions than those floors away, allowing law enforcement to give direction as appropriate.

Beyond notification, integrated GIS data can buttress public safety by helping to understand criminal patterns and ultimately decrease crime. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies often maintain their own disconnected crime incident records management system. They rely primarily on verbal communication to coordinate investigations. Further, visualization and analysis tools are not widely available to the law enforcement community, inhibiting their ability to recognize crime patterns across jurisdictions.

Our team designed, developed and deployed a first-of-its-kind crime analysis and mapping application called the Project Safe Neighborhoods Mapping and Analysis Program. Law enforcement agents were able to conduct regional, cross-jurisdictional analysis assisted by powerful spatially-enabled tools and reports. Law enforcement agents can search by name, type of offense and other qualifiers, or use it to produce reports like an analysis of naloxone administration.

These are just a few examples of how GIS technology can improve public safety in our communities. While data integration won’t solve or decrease crime on its own, it will empower and educate those we trust with keeping our communities safe.

Brian Smith is the Vice President of Commercial Solutions, GeoDecisions. He is responsible for directing software development, strategic business initiatives and geographic information systems for private and public sector implementation.