August 1, 2016 | by Andrew Smart

As thousands gathered in Philadelphia last week for the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC), behind the scenes, technology was working around the clock to collect the data that helped organizers keep events on track and also keep convention-goers safe. geographIT, a division of EBA Engineering, Inc. (EBA), has proudly supported the City’s efforts to get this crucial information into the hands of city staff, participating agencies, and emergency responders before, during, and after the delegates come to town.

EBA was hired in April to work with Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM)—led by Director of Emergency Management Samantha Phillips—on a multipart project to enhance the OEM’s operations through the ArcGIS platform and real-time data tracking. After the project kicked off, the priority shifted quickly to deploying as much functionality as possible to support the DNC.

The most critical task was standing up a GIS environment using Esri’s ArcGIS platform that OEM staff operates in the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and participating agencies can use at any time, 24 hours a day, from any location. With a remarkable amount of work, the team was able to deploy a very robust system in a short timeframe—a system that many agencies both in the EOC and in the field used to support the massive DNC efforts.

Security may be a main concern on everyone’s minds, but the system’s goal is even larger than just security—it aims for total situational awareness. Using Esri’s Web Application Builder and Operations Dashboard, EBA worked together with OEM GIS Program Manager Brian Wells to build real-time monitoring applications. Applications are backed by a cloud-deployed ArcGIS platform, actively processing hundreds of data points every second to give officials as much information as possible to monitor and respond to any situation, from a large protest to a traffic backup or bus breakdown.

The system combines static spatial information, such as event planning layers and security layouts, with real-time data like emergency vehicle locations, calls for service, and traffic conditions. The system also maps selected social media posts, such as Twitter feeds, by filtering key words. Staff can access this data from anywhere on their cellphones or tablets to get the crucial information they need to respond to emergencies and crowd control, and it is a critical resource for city operational support.

Millions of data points are processed by the system each day, allowing users to see constant streams of real-time information. The goal is to bring all of these streams of data together into one platform that helps officials analyze and interpret the data and harness vital information as needed to coordinate the city’s response to evolving emergencies.

EBA deployed Esri’s ArcGIS platform on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing platform. By using AWS, EBA was able to design, deploy, and configure the GIS environment in a very short time period without the time-consuming tasks of purchasing and deploying physical hardware. The environment can also be scaled up within minutes to respond to increased demand. EBA supported the system on-site during the DNC with our city partners.

In addition, two pieces of this project are still under development. A mobile tracking application is being developed to help track OEM staff locations during deployments, so that OEM can coordinate efforts more efficiently. The team is also developing an “event tracking and creation” widget for Esri’s Web Application Builder, which will be used to create and update the status of each event throughout its lifecycle. Staff will be able to see the location and pattern of unfolding events in real time. Staff will know when an event has been opened, closed, or resolved, as well as receive email “flash alerts” to keep everybody up-to-date. 

Technology continues to vastly enhance the way we capture and use the data all around us. Access to consolidated, real-time data will continue to help officials in Philadelphia and other cities keep events safe and running smoothly, as well as respond to any potential emergency.

Andrew Smart, GISP, is a senior GIS analyst for geographIT, a division of EBA Engineering, Inc. He can be reached at 717.399.7007 or at andrew.smart@ebaengineering.com.

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