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.
“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.
Goldner also plans to enable GPS technologies that will let MapInfo Professional automatically determine the best route to an emergency site based on the coordinates of an officers location. GPS capabilities are built into the MapInfo Professional framework, but policies have to be developed to ensure the privacy of BART police officers before such technologies can be deployed, Goldner said.
“There are some concerns at the staff level about what location information will be used for,” Goldner said. “Officers are worried about the Big Brother effect and having people watch where theyre eating lunch or how much time theyre spending at stations.”
One way to alleviate concerns, according to Goldner, is to deploy the technology locally to laptops in police cars and allow only police officers to know their location coordinates when LBS applications are accessed on the laptop.
The BART Police Department plans to increase the use of LBS technologies for homeland security, Goldner said. MapInfo is used to identify geographical liabilities, such as tunnels and subways, and assets, such as hospitals and schools, to analyze how the locations of these facilities will impact the transit system during an emergency.
Liabilities also include the Transbay Tube, a section of the BART system that connects Oakland stations to San Francisco stations and runs underneath San Francisco Bay.
The use of LBS has been so successful at the BART Police Department that other BART departments are asking for access to the applications as well, said Goldner. For example, efforts are being made to provide BARTs engineering department with access to the application, she said, so engineers can pinpoint radio dead spots to improve telecommunications.
BART also is considering posting additional password-controlled maps to its public Web site for viewing by other law enforcement agencies and general maps for public viewing.
“Wed like to use location-based software to provide a lot of information to the public,” Goldner said. “We have the ability to do so now, but its a new area for BART, and were aware that privacy and policy issues need to be addressed first.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.