Location-Based Services Increase BARTs Efficiency

eWEEK Labs goes on-site at the Bay Area Rapid Transit District to get a close-up look at how location-based services are enhancing BART's public-safety initiatives.

After 35 years of using a proprietary, mainframe-based system for police dispatching, the Bay Area Rapid Transit District decided to enhance its public-safety initiatives by deploying location-based services software.

LBS applications enable BARTs police department to respond to emergencies more efficiently, protecting Bay Area citizens with fewer resources, said Carissa Goldner, administrator of the CAD/Records Management System at the BART Police Department, in Oakland, Calif.

During an eWEEK Labs On-Site visit at the BART Police Department headquarters, we were impressed with how the transit system has linked schematics of its train stations, railways, administration buildings and associated properties using MapInfo Corp.s MapInfo Professional software suite. Where before BART relied on a mainframe-based system with a very simple, text-based interface, BART police officers now can visually analyze the assets they patrol.

MapInfo enables BART police to link California Highway Patrol emergency data to its maps via Web services, allowing dispatchers to route BART officers to emergency locations along the most expedient routes.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read how E911 has spurred LBS growth.

"After only a few months, BART officials can already see how valuable the technology is for improving public safety," Goldner said. "In the near future, we hope to integrate the software with wireless and GPS [Global Positioning System] technologies so that BART police will have mobile access to critical information."

In the United States, LBS is gaining in popularity among emergency services agencies and small and midsize businesses. For example, the ability to track drivers or route them more efficiently to emergencies enables service operators and taxicab dispatchers to save time and money—not to mention lives.

BART is a combined aerial and subway transit system that serves four counties and 26 cities in San Franciscos Bay Area. More than 310,000 people ride BART trains daily and are protected by 280 BART Police Department employees.

Last year, Goldner won a grant through MapInfos eGovernment Grant Program. The grant awarded MapInfos Professional LBS software to the transit system. Goldner estimates the software to be worth about $60,000.

Goldner began deploying the software in November, using it to consolidate and electronically manage documentation of engineering schematics, mile markers on railway tracks and even photographs of emergency exits. Goldner identified BART track lines in the software and geo-coded the addresses of each station. She also used information included with the software, such as census data, to provide data on area hospitals, schools and prisons.

Most BART employees access the MapInfo LBS information through a server-based application. Police officers and staff are able to access information via a Web portal as well, but they cannot manipulate any data while theyre off the network. However, if, for example, a BART police detective needed Web-based access to a map that included crime analysis or sensitive data related to an investigation, Goldner can make it available temporarily and password-protect the data.

When officers lack access to a computer, they can get some information via Research In Motion Ltd.s RIM 857 and 957 wireless handheld devices. The screens on these devices are black and white, however, so it can be difficult to read maps on them. Goldner said she hopes to upgrade to color RIM 7510 handhelds by next year.

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