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Officer 54 – where are you?
by Tom Rataj
Most everyday policing tasks prove to be routine and mundane but the potential exists for that quiet, routine shift to descend into utter chaos and a life threatening situation.
Most large police agencies can track the movements of officers, or at least cars, using GPS technology. The officers have the added benefit of using the technology to find their way to calls.
Away from their GPS equipped cars, officers are more or less on their own. For deployments at crime scenes and other larger scale operations, knowing where each individual officer is can have operational and officer safety benefits.
Nowhere is this more important than at the scene of a tactical operation or large public disturbance where officers need to be deployed, and sometimes redeployed, in a careful and methodical manner. A scene commander can carefully manage personnel, but once they are inside a building or other location outside of visual range, they’re on their own.
Verbal descriptions of locations can be provided over the radio, but understanding them correctly, particularly when the area is unfamiliar, can be challenging. Depending on the site, personnel may even become disoriented.
Fortunately, technological solutions are being developed to solve these problems. One device can even provide scene commanders with data to let them know whether personnel are physiologically well enough to continue their assignment.
The Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group (CITIG), Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and Toronto Fire Service (TFS) hosted a one-day showcase of these emerging technologies Dec. 2 at Toronto City Hall.
The “3D Indoor Tracking and Location for Fire Fighters and Public Safety Responders Showcase” offered a half-day session featuring live demonstrations of several technologies that will show scene commanders the location of every team member, along with their major health indicators.
While the event’s primary focus was on managing firefighters, the technologies demonstrated would be equally valuable to police tactical or public order teams operating at dangerous scenes.
TRX Systems Inc. of Greenbelt, MD showcased its NEON indoor infrastructure-free location system. It can track personnel inside buildings where GPS does not reach, or outdoor locations where GPS becomes unreliable due to large structures, such as those found in downtown ‘concrete canyons.’
It provides real-time two and three dimensional location tracking of personnel through individual tracking units which can use a cell-phone, WiFi device or radio to relay location information back to the system control software.
The tracking units include compasses, GPS, ranging (determined the distance from one location or position to another), inertial (speed, orientation and gravitational), light and pressure sensors (for elevation).
In addition to providing the location of each person, it can also provide details of their activities, such as whether they are walking or crawling, moving or standing still. It can also detect if a person has fallen down stairs or further than a few metres.
The tracking unit uses its built-in navigation engine to analyse and cross reference all the sensor outputs to provide more accurate location and status data to the system control software.
The information provided can help “build” a virtual image of the interior of a building. If available, the information can be correlated with the floor plans to provide a more accurate virtual image of the location of all personnel.
Tracking node units can also be placed in static locations within a building or structure to provide known reference points.
Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions (ACS) Labs demonstrated its “Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders” (GLANSER), a joint project financed by the US Department of Homeland Security and also involving Argon ST and TRX Systems Inc.
The “anchorless localization” technology, primarily intended for firefighters (or other first responders), has been field tested by the North Las Vegas Fire Department. The system is designed to track personnel in locations where there is no pre-existing communications infrastructure to use.
Each GLANSER unit connects to the location-control system directly through a radio transmitter. Several units can wirelessly connect and relay information through one another to the control system, overcoming any communications limitations.
The system can potentially track up to 500 personnel inside a large multi-storey building and actually provides better information when there are more active users connected.
Each responder wears a tracking device that uses inertial navigation, measuring the speed and direction of the wearer’s body movements to accurately estimate their location. The system control software uses trilateration to provide a 3D view of the scene for the scene commander.
This current development unit is still quite large and worn alongside the oxygen tank on a firefighters back. It will require several more years of development to make it small enough to become a viable and affordable
BioPeak Corporation of Ottawa demonstrated its BioFusion Physiology Status Monitor (PSM) technology. The system provides a variety of data about the physiological health of a person through a unit attached to an elasticized strap and worn against the skin in the lower chest area over the heart. Roughly the size of a flip-phone, the 85g unit uses a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery for power and can communicate with a computer over a USB cable and via Class 1 Bluetooth wireless technology.
It provides Electro Cardiogram (ECG) waveform and heart-rate, dual sub-surface skin temperature (for body temperature), multi-frequency bio-impedance (hydration levels), galvanic skin response (physiological stress – a technology also used in polygraph devices) and a 3D accelerometer (directional movement information).
When connected through Bluetooth to a transmitter, the PSM relays all the above sensor information to a scene commander. Functioning as a standalone device the PSM can record the data for later retrieval and analysis.
The information can provide a commander with all the necessary physiological information to determine if an individual should be removed from a scene because they are under too much stress.
This product is also used in mining, steel mills and other hazardous environments, athletic training and mobile healthcare to monitor primary health parameters.
Future enhancements may include a personal heads-up type display inside visors, which could provide important information such as the location of other team members, building floor plans and personal health status.
Although it wasn’t demonstrated at this event, personal video could potentially be a complimentary technology to these systems, especially if it were to transmit live video back to a command post.
An integrated system that provides all these technologies will likely become feasible and affordable in the next five to 10 years.
Operational Planning and Event Management Workshop: http://www.cacp.ca/index/eventscontent?contentId=1318
TRX Systems, Inc. (NEON): www.trxsystems.com
Honeywell (GLANSER): www.honeywellnow.com
BioPeak Corporation (BioPeak PSM): biopeak.com
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