Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Digital Maps for Responders

In late September, the online publication Government Technology ran an article about an effort underway in Fredrick County, Virginia, that is replacing the paper map books in county response vehicles with a hand-held application. The replacement application works on smartphones and tablets and is designed to work without Internet connectivity.  Driving this innovative effort is the county's need to save the money associated with printing map books. Click below for more:

Digital Maps Assist Emergency Responders (Government Technology, September 21, 2012)

Comment: Kudos to the folks in Fredrick County for their inventive spirit in response to the budget ax!  That being said, based on the information available in the article, I personally have some concerns and think this is going to be a very interesting one to watch going forward. 

In my opinion, there are many instances where paper has no rival - and a map is one of them. Particularly when it is being used by any part of the "response community", whether that part is first response or last response (military). Beyond the big picture capability that is possible with paper, as the saying goes - "A bullet through a computer equals a pile of scrap, a bullet through a paper map equals a hole through a piece of paper." In other words, unlike a hand-held, a paper map still has utility even when damaged. Toss in the fact that paper maps work without the need for batteries or recharging, and I fear Fredrick County is setting itself up for a potential electronic Waterloo in the middle of a major disaster.  Consequently, to me the hand-held application makes sense as an additive feature, not as one that is exclusive.

Note also this quote in the article: "According to Coulson, the biggest request has been for driving directions to the addresses entered into the program. The problem is that doing so would require network access, which isn’t reliable in all areas."  Perhaps a solution to that problem would be indexing the map books using the U.S. National Grid (the 1000 meter grid notation is the index), and equipping response vehicles with GPS units that have a USNG "drive-to-capability" (see: Garmin Greatly Expands the Number of Units With USNG Capability).  That way the response address, the map book index, and GPS drive-to commands interlock and work without cellular or Internet connectivity.  A reality made possible by using a standardized approach to mapping.

1 comment:

  1. Lack of a paper map is a serious error. Those promoting USNG also promote paper maps. Paper maps work always - the internet or any one device will absolutely fail. Paper map examples: