School officials with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte presented Lincoln County first-responders Monday morning with a new smartphone application researchers primarily developed for pinpointing suspects and other locations within a building in order to more quickly safeguard members of public safety agencies and the community during an emergency-type situation.
For the last four years, the College of Computing and Informatics’ Visualization and Analytics Center has been tirelessly working with the Department of Risk Management Safety and Security to construct the path-finding technology, according to a UNCC department press release.
School officials said the project received funding from the National Institute for Justice and Department of Homeland Security, and once completed, will be available for use by the federal government and other universities who wish to purchase the application.
During Monday’s presentation at the Citizens Center, Department of Computer Science Chair and Director of the Charlotte Visualization Center Dr. William Ribarsky, along with graduate student Todd Eaglin, Research Scientist Jack Guest and UNCC Assoc. Professor Kalpathi Subramanian showcased their software creation to officials with the Fire Marshal’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, city police and fire departments, county management and N.C. Rep. Jason Saine.
“It was exciting to see all the new technology UNC-Charlotte is in the process of developing,” Lincolnton Police Chief Rodney Jordan told the Times-News.
The Effective Emergency Response Communication (EERC) system allows law enforcement and firefighters to track where they and others are located inside a building during an emergency situation, school officials said.
Due to local agencies’ already tight budgets and the large funds needed to procure the technology, both Jordan and Sheriff David Carpenter did not anticipate the application becoming a reality for their officers anytime soon.
“I don’t see us getting anything like this anytime in the near future,” Carpenter said.
Jordan noted that buying the EERC system would depend largely on whether or not the police department could seek grants or develop the necessary partnerships for buying the software. He also believed the application would be better utilized if more city buildings had Wi-Fi access and electronic blueprints.
School officials said they have carried out multiple staged training exercises with the system, including one in July using campus SWAT. In the scenario, officers worked with the office of Police and Public Safety to conduct a shooter scenario inside the campus library.
Using the application, school officials said participants logged their whereabouts within the building on a digital map and sent them to a central command center, where officers monitored the group’s activity in 3-D form, and if necessary, diverted any individuals in dangerous positions to safer locations.
Ribarsky said the campus police chief’s main concern with regard to a mass shooting situation has always been knowing the exact location of his men.
The technology can easily switch between 3-D and 2-D views, and people’s locations can be quickly and constantly updated.
Additional features allow a command center to find the shortest routes to particular rooms and relay to ground officers where any potential obstacles may be lying within a building, school officials said.
While Lincoln County Fire Marshal Mike Futrell told the Times-News he was optimistic and “tickled pink” about the technology, he’s concerned about it not yet being fire and heat proof.
“The program would work great during…emergencies that fire, heat and smoke are not involved,” he said. “The devices would not hold up under fire conditions.”
At this stage in the developmental process, he believed local fire agencies could still benefit from the application, using it for preplanning situations or a variety of non-fire-related emergencies including a Hazmat cleanup, inspection or building collapse.
Futrell also noted a lack of Wi-Fi in certain areas of the county would be a primary obstacle to overcome before getting the technology. He said there aren’t enough wireless Internet towers on the western end, and too many dips in the road in other parts of the county often prevent effective service.
Assistant County Manager Martha Lide agreed with fellow city and county officials that despite the mobile software’s unending potential in the emergency world and beyond,
Lincoln County has too many kinks to work out before making something like this a reality for first-responders.
“There is a lot of potential, but there would be several hurdles to overcome before such a program could be implemented here,” she said. “The interface with our GIS Systems, inputting of building floor plans and the need for reliable Internet service are examples.”
However, the possibility for technological advancement on the local level still exists as county officials plan to continue following the application’s latest developments, including school researchers’ recent project to determine the most effective way to carry out a campus-wide evacuation.
“We look forward to working with UNC as they continue to develop this technology,” Lide said.