2 min read

Geographic Information Systems in the PSAP: Strategic Planning for Data Integrity

The importance of mission critical Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data for call- and dispatch- mapping in the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) cannot be overemphasized. Accurate data combined with tactical mapping is critical for locating incidents, callers and devices, for dispatching appropriate resources, and for communicating situational awareness to first responders.

Often overlooked when mapping software is originally deployed in the PSAP is a serious discussion about GIS data provisioning and maintenance. Users at the PSAP MUST have up-to-date, reliable GIS data to ensure accurate location information is available for dispatch. This is an important responsibility and an absolute necessity for PSAPs that need the information to help save lives.

To optimize GIS, there must be a viable yet flexible relationship between the GIS data, the GIS software, and the people accessing or using these resources. Mapping software provides the framework which allows the user to interact with and visualize the data. GIS data can represent geographic features, physical elements like lakes and rivers, as well as authoritative boundaries like parcel features and zip codes.

Call takers need meaningful and reliable data that can accurately locate callers and be used to identify the appropriate resources to respond to the incident. For example, enabling dispatchers to visually see the boundaries for the respective Law, Fire and EMS agencies in their area allows for more effective dispatching.

Questions remain – what data is needed, who will maintain it, and how can the PSAP plan for future data development?

Many 9-1-1 entities around the country have well-defined GIS workflows to support their PSAP data maintenance strategies. Connecting with these industry leaders and learning from their successes and mistakes is part of the West’s Safety Services approach to meet the current demand for GIS based solutions, and plan for future challenges facing the 9-1-1 industry as we help PSAPs define their own strategy for identifying data types, maintenance responsibilities and continued data development.

Depending on the structure of your agency, several disparate departments may be responsible for the maintenance of individual addressing datasets needed for PSAP maps. Those responsible for developing and maintaining the GIS data can have a substantial impact on the effectiveness of the map used for plotting 911 calls. Clear communication about your strategy, current and future needs of the PSAP, and data deployment and maintenance procedures are key when making sure they understand PSAP concerns. Call taking personnel often have the greatest insight about what addresses actually exist and are alerted to changes or discrepancies against the current data being used in the map at the PSAP.

Part of your PSAP GIS readiness strategy should include clear communication channels for these data discrepancies to be reported, verified, and corrected with those responsible for managing the GIS data. Accurate addressing data in the PSAP is vital to effective call plotting and dispatching functions. This accuracy should also be regularly assessed by those responsible for maintaining the GIS data through the use of validation software and procedures that can efficiently identify and resolve errors.

Creating your PSAP GIS readiness strategy will take time and should change over time to meet the relevant conditions of your agency and PSAP architecture. A variety of state-of-the-art tools are available to help agencies develop their own unique strategies for preparing and maintaining their GIS data.

You can create a viable yet flexible relationship between your GIS data, GIS software, and the people who access them for Legacy or E9-1-1, NG9-1-1, and everything in between. Click here to learn how to utilize state-of-the-art, end-to-end tools for accurate GIS data and routing solutions.

Mr. Van Hoose is a Senior GIS Analyst at West’s Safety Services. In this role, he orchestrates and develops all operations of GIS services relating to the deployment of dispatch mapping products. Charles attended Stephen F. Austin State University; in 2010 he earned the first ever B.S. in Spatial Science.

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