2006 May 18

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Editor's Introduction

This week I report on DDTI, a company that produces data and software for dispatching and tracking emergency vehicles and on MetaCarta's release of GTS Analyst and GTS v3.5. I also correct an error that crept into last weekÕs issue. The news from press releases section is in transition; more on that next week.


DDTI: GIS for Emergency Dispatch

Each GIS implementation has different requirements. For crime analysis, for example, such capabilities as identifying "hot spots," running buffers, and producing geographic profiles are essential — but fast processing and accurate geolocation are not. Conversely, speed and accuracy are vital for an emergency dispatching GIS. For example, from the moment a person has a heart attack, paramedics have six minutes to get there and "apply the paddles" of a defribillator, before the victim's chances of survival begin to drop precipitously. Extra minutes spent waiting for routing instructions or searching for the correct driveway can be fatal.

I discussed these and related challenges with Ron Cramer, one of four partners in DDTI, a mapping data and software company. Cramer studied civil engineering and surveying at Michigan Technological University and earned a business degree from Eastern Michigan University. He then went to work for Sokkia, in the late 1980s, first as an engineer, then as a territorial manager. In this latter capacity, he worked with surveyors and state departments of transportation (DOTs) and came in contact with Ohio State University's Center for Mapping. The Center obtained a NASA grant to develop a mapping vehicle. DDTI was born out of that project in 1993 and was incorporated in 1998. Last year, Cramer chaired URISA's GIS in Addressing Conference: Street Smart and Address Savvy. This year, he was on the program committee for the successor conference, the First Annual Geospatial Integration for Public Safety Conference.

"DDTI's focus is on the address," Cramer told me. "Most GIS implementations at the city and county level are focused on parcels and orthophotography. However, with 80 percent or more of data having an address component, nobody was field-verifying and picking up that address information, which we felt was critical for a successful enterprise-wide GIS."

The Center for Mapping's NASA-sponsored mobile mapping vehicle of the late 1980s had wheel sensors, a GPS receiver, and an inertial navigation system (INS); additionally, it took photographs of the roadway. "We all came out of that background," says Cramer of himself and his three partners. "We thought that we could get rid of those images, because you could not see an address on a structure. We also integrated digital voice recording technology, which was starting to come about in the late 1990s. We drive all the roads for our clients, typically county governments, and create a very accurate 3D road centerline and spatially locate every address."

To allow its clients to experience immediate returns on their investment in GIS data, the company developed AccuGlobe, a free GIS platform engine, now installed on about 25,000 computers worldwide. "The complete software is 100 percent our own code," says Cramer. "It is all C Sharp.NET; we have our own routing and geo-coding engines."

According to Cramer, DDTI developed its own GIS engine instead of buying one from one of the major GIS vendors because it found its software to be much faster and because it made it easier to customize applications for its clients. Additionally, by writing its own software, the company can charge lower licensing fees because it does not have to pay a third party.

Two years ago, the State of Ohio's new Location-Based Response System challenged DDTI to create a data set that would meet the needs of federal, state, and local governments, as well as 9-1-1 centers. This was in sharp contrast to the typical scenario, in which local and county governments create their own centerline and addressing data sets, then the state DOT maps the same area, and then the federal government does it yet again. "If we could create this data set," Cramer explains, "the state would consider it a capital investment and attract some funds to map a county. We did that. That is why the GIS-T conference was held in Columbus, Ohio. The data set is developed and maintained at the local level and used by the state; in return, the state is getting out of the data creation business and pushing its money down to the locals."

The local governments feed DDTI's data directly into their 9-1-1 dispatch centers. The company, which currently works with about 40 counties, has created several applications, three of them specifically for 9-1-1. The first one allows dispatchers at public safety answering points (PSAPs) to see the exact location where a call originated. "We actually locate every address," says Cramer. "If it doesn't exist, we geocode between known address points, rather than along a whole road segment."

The second application, which DDTI rolled out a few months ago, allows dispatchers to see which police, fire, or EMS vehicle is closest to an incident and send the relevant data to that vehicle's mobile data terminal (MDT). The MDT then gives emergency responders turn-by-turn driving directions to the incident.

The third application, released just a few weeks ago, is the mobile command center, which allows police and fire chiefs to see the locations of all their assets from any computer with an Internet connection. "Since a lot of [the dispatch] information goes through our secure network," Cramer told me, "we created a Web interface for our clients." Subscribers enter a two-step login process online, first entering a secure passcode generated every minute from a digital key fob assigned to that user. After verifying that first level of security, the user then enters a DDTI-assigned username and password. "The application was ready in the fall," says Cramer, "but we wanted to make sure that we had really good security on our network, because you can imagine what would happen if someone hacked into it!"

DDTI's software also allows emergency services departments to run more standard GIS applications. For example, police departments can use it to comply with sexual offender notification requirements: they input the address of a registered sex offender and the radius for notification, then the system creates a buffer, identifies all the addresses within that buffer, and prints address labels.

The biggest remaining challenge for emergency dispatching, according to Cramer, is not software but data. "We have all these different addressing authorities at the [local] level," he says. "We need to get those addresses into the dispatch centers. Right now a lot of them rely solely on the geocoding, which we've proven is not the most effective way of locating a 9-1-1 call." In fact, comparing its field-verified data at the county level with assessors' databases and telephone companies' 9-1-1 databases, DDTI has found, according to Cramer, "on average, well more than 30 percent mismatches." The next big thing, he says, is point-based addressing. "If you do geocode, you should do it between known address points, not along an entire road segment."

To facilitate maintenance, DDTI has created an Internet-based process: "We provide our clients with software," says Cramer, "so that each city and municipality can enter new roads and addresses. That information comes to our central repository, where we value-add so that the data meets the specific needs of the state DOT. Then, we've built in a Web update routine, [which allows users to retrieve] the latest data files. So, even if they are not using our software, they can still use our interface to get the latest and greatest data from every county and city that is participating, in real time."

Finally, new addresses must be properly assigned. For this task, DDTI creates a new addressing grid. "It is not a perfect grid with all 90-degree angles," Cramer explains. "It is based on real-world addressing. Then, when they put in a new road, this grid will give them a more proper address range. More importantly, when they put in new addresses, using the address points that we have field-verified, they can determine what the new address should be."

Do other private companies, such as Navtech and TeleAtlas, use the data created by DDTI for public bodies? Yes, says Cramer. "They must look at our website to see where we've been mapping because, often, they will contact our clients to obtain the data. It is public data. Our client owns it when we deliver it and they are free to do whatever they want with it. As more people use the data, that will generate more dollars, somewhere along the line, for maintenance."

MetaCarta Releases GTS Analyst

MetaCarta, Inc., a provider of geographic intelligence solutions, has released GTS Analyst, its newest solution for the public sector, and Geographic Text Search (GTS) v3.5. It plans to release version v.4.0 late this summer. I met with Bob Warren, MetaCarta's V.P. for products, at the company's office in Cambridge, a few weeks ago, and followed up by phone this week with Randy Ridley, V.P. and G.M. of the company's public sector division. They outlined for me some of the features of MetaCarta's latest releases.

GTS Analyst, like other MetaCarta products, bridges the gap between text search and GIS. It also alerts users of new developments in their area of interest. GTS Analyst is a map-driven analytical and operational intelligence solution that features saved search with automated search and notification capabilities, region search based on geopolitical areas, and 2-D analysis and visualization for trend analysis. The product automatically identifies geographic references using natural language processing (NLP) from any type of unstructured content in a customer's archives, such as email, Web pages, newswires, or cables. GTS Analyst contains Geographic Data Modules (GDM), knowledge bases used to identify and disambiguate geographic references, assign latitude/longitude coordinates, and generate rank. The results of a query are displayed on a map with icons representing the locations found in the natural language text of the documents and as a list of text results. Both the icons and text summaries are hyperlinked to the documents they represent.

GTS Analyst provides four features specifically aimed at analysts.

  • Saved Search & Notification. Users can save geographic text queries and have them execute automatically at scheduled times, so as to provide a continual stream of geographic intelligence about a particular location, which is then sent to them using email, RSS, or other methods.
  • Region Search. Going beyond the rectangular map extent of MetaCarta GTS, GTS Analyst allows users to select geopolitical region polygons — such as a country, state, province or city — as a search constraint.
  • 2-D Analysis and Visualization. This feature allows users to see the distribution of an entire set of geographic text search results, which helps them determine trends and identify hotspots.
  • Area Watch. The combined use of saved search & notification and region search helps watch center personnel monitor text content within their area of responsibility.

MetaCarta GTS v3.5 includes a series of improvements, including a new connector framework to support repository-specific ingestion modules. "When we go into an enterprise," says Warren, "they have shared drives and other sources of information. Connectors are pre-built, productized integrations to these different repositories, so that people can get up and running quickly with very little customization in order to provide those connectors." MetaCarta will offer initial ingestion modules for EMC/Documentum, Open Text LiveLink, and an Open DataBase Connectivity (ODBC) soon after the v3.5 release.

GTS v3.5 will also ship with a new version of the ESRI ArcGIS Extension for MetaCarta GTS. The ESRI extension offers new features, including export to an ESRI shapefile, support for Active Directory, improved user interface window docking, and collection selection. The last feature allows administrators to assign documents to a particular collection, such as HR or finance. "We found that, as our customers use this, the number of collections expands very rapidly," Warren explains. "So we need to provide our customers a better way to organize and manage them and for end users a way to find the collection within this large list."

In January MetaCarta released a version focused on aggregated search. It allows you to query both your "home appliance" and another one within your organization that is in a different geographic location or business unit. The results from the external appliance are merged into the home appliance and the merged result set is fed back to the user. "We are finding this to be a need especially in our enterprise customers," says Warren. "For example, an oil & gas company has machines in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London, and Houston." Additionally, MetaCarta's software can aggregate results from externally hosted machines, such as the content of scientific journals. The company is discussing this option further with several publishers.

One component of GTS v3.5 is called Article Mapper. MetaCarta is now beta testing it and will fully release it in August. It allows users to highlight geographic references in articles they are reading and place them as icons on a map, which light up when they mouse over the text reference. Selecting multiple references in a text helps users search for patterns. They can also set a confidence level for geographic references, below which the system will not display them. I suggested that the map icons be color-coded to indicate their confidence level and Warren thought that high-end users might appreciate that.

Another idea for future releases, Warren told me, is the ability to insert HTML code in a template or website such that it would automatically create maps and bring them into the publication.

"ArcMap is our bridge to the ESRI world," says Warren. "We did a lot of enhancements to this product. The most important one is the ability to export a search layer as a shapefile. All the articles that are retrieved in a result set are then inserted into a structured format — including any time filter, key words, the latitude and longitude, etc."

MetaCarta has also done a lot of work on tagging, according to Warren. "We are beginning to provide more support for data typing. For example, if you look up Vilnius, you are going to get four different ones: one of them is the city center, another one is the airport. We are going to be utilizing the type ('airport,' for instance) to enable users to restrict their searches."

On the data side, MetaCarta has recently added global off-shore oil areas, Lloyd's list of ports, and international company names to its gazetteer, which currently has about 8 million data records plus disambiguation data. "We were having trouble particularly in Asia," says Warren, "where companies frequently have the same name as places — Asaki, Fuji, etc. — and we needed to improve our ability to distinguish company names from place names."

Finally, as part of its "road map," MetaCarta plans to internationalize its language processing capability by adding Arabic and a Western European language by early next year.

2006 GIS In the Rockies Conference

The 2006 GIS in the Rockies Conference will be held September 13-14 at INVESCO Field at Mile High stadium in Denver, Colorado, with additional offsite field visits in the Denver metro area on September 15. It will feature an array of user case studies, technical sessions, and vendor presentations through a series of organized tracks. According to the conference organizers, this year's theme — "GIS: From Behind the Scene to Extreme" — "illustrates the emergence of GIS as not only a mainstream technology, but also one that has gone well beyond a backroom technology used by scientists and mapmakers." The six sponsoring societies and organizations share a dedication to promote professional development, education, and general community outreach while helping people understand the uses and benefits of GIS technology. Questions about attending the conference should be directed to [email protected].

The program tracks will be:

  1. GIS for Utilities
  2. Advanced Data Acquisition and Mapping
  3. GIS for Surveyors - Spatially Enabling your Business
  4. GIS in Public Policy
  5. Remote Sensing
  6. Data Sharing
  7. Homeland Security & Emergency Response
  8. Maps in Apps
  9. Spatially Enabling IT
  10. Mapping Goes Mainstream

Conference attendees generally include representatives from local, state, and federal government, the utilities industry, environmental services, surveying professionals, the oil and gas industry, retail and business marketing professionals, and other related fields.

Tamara Schoder of Schoder Project Marketing has been contracted to promote the conference. She will be responsible for exhibitor relations, sponsorships, and public relations for the event. Schoder replaces long-time promotional coordinator Tina Cary, of Cary and Associates.

Information on event registration and on exhibitors and sponsorship is now available online. Attendees who register before August 4, those presenting papers at the conference, and companies who register for booth space before May 30 will receive a discounted registration price. Booth space and sponsorship opportunities are limited and will be assigned in the order in which payment is received. Questions about exhibiting at the conference should be directed to Tamara Schoder.

The Board of Directors for the conference has issued a Call for Posters inviting professionals to share maps that illustrate the conference theme. They will be displayed in the Poster Gallery area in the conference exhibit hall. Only registered attendees may exhibit posters.

All submitted posters should measure at least 24" x 36", and be no larger than 36" x 48". Posters should not be mounted on foam core or gator board backing. To enter, send a copy of the final poster along with a short narrative describing what is depicted, name, and contact information (email and phone), and company or school. Students should also submit their grade level. Posters submitted prior to July 17 will be listed in the on-site conference program.

Participants are encouraged to submit multiple posters, as long as they cover significantly different content. Group entries are available for multiple participants who wish to display their maps together. Posters submitted by students will be eligible for prizes awarded in the Student Poster Competition. Posters will be judged on cartographic design, information content/communication, technical skill, and innovation / originality. Entries may not be used as a promotional device for commercial purposes. Participants must check in at the registration table inside INVESCO Field to register their posters before noon on Wednesday, September 13. Questions regarding the Poster Gallery should be directed to Marcia Walker.

This year's exhibit hall will benefit from a $5 million dollar renovation of INVESCO Field at Mile High stadium. The improved show floor will feature streamlined traffic flow through the exhibits, highlighted vendor demonstrations, and improved lighting throughout the hall.

Department of Corrections

Last week, in listing the members of the board of directors of the ASPRS, I placed the abbreviation "C.P." only next to Daniel J. Paulsen's name. As he has pointed out to me, "C.P. stands for Certified Photogrammetrist, a status granted to qualified individuals by ASPRS after a rigorous application, peer review, reference and examination process. [M]ost of the other people on that list are also C.P. Many of them have been certified much longer than I have. In addition, some of them are also certified in other disciplines such as Remote Sensing and GIS. Several are also licensed as Professional Surveyors and / or Photogrammetrists in their respective states." I had copied the list from the ASPRS site as it was at the time. In has since been updated.

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