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Optoelectronics & Communications

Providing real-time information integration for better public safety performance

Datacasting and related technologies that stream data to remote environments can be engineered to improve decision-making.
30 July 2008, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.1200807.1208

Public safety operations of all kinds often require split-second decisions that make use of the latest situational information. However, timely access to all relevant data requires adequate support. Accepted practice today calls for installation of laptops and other mobile computing technologies in remote environments, such as ambulances, fire vehicles, and police cruisers. While these tools are helpful, officers and other personnel generally lack the skills needed to install, use, and update freely available data sets that could substantially assist decision-making and enhance public safety.

At the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Consolidated Advanced Technologies Laboratory (CATLab), we have developed a system to maintain and optimize communications and operations in the public safety arena. With a focus on information delivery and integration, Project54 is a proprietary collaborative research and development program. Using datacasting and cellular technologies, it incorporates and embeds mobile computing equipment and wireless networking into the patrol vehicles of the New Hampshire Department of Safety (NHDS). Project54 systems integrate all in-car electronic devices and systems, including software and user interfaces, to provide advanced support for New Hampshire State Police.1

Figure 1. Display of the mapping application in Project54. Red star indicates global positioning system (GPS) coordinates of the vehicle via publicly available map data.

Datacasting is crucial to the implementation of Project54. Broadcasters invariably have a slice of continuously available, unallocated bandwidth for transmission of nontelevision digital data.2 Text, audio, graphics, and video can all be transmitted on a one-way channel from broadcast center to remote stations. Digital television channels support transmission rates of 19.38 megabits per second (Mbps), with a significant portion of bandwidth (sometimes as much as 2.5Mbps) going unused with every broadcast.

Several of our applications permit public safety officers to gather real-time data in the field. Information integration, such as that used to locate a topographic area map, view a satellite image, or receive alerts concerning prevailing weather conditions, all assist in decision-making, especially in areas where this data is not readily available. Coupled with on-board global positioning system (GPS) technology3 and previous mapping work,4 other public and private data sets are delivered using the datacasting technology of New Hampshire Public Television (NHPTV).

One aim of our research is to determine the best locations and conditions for two-way transmission in New Hampshire. We use software that enables the use of datacasting for the download channel and a cellular modem as the upload channel to form a complete transmission path. Installed in a single vehicle that stops at various locations throughout the state, applications are deliberately developed to carry out datacasting experiments that deliver real-time data in support of public safety officers. Topographic map information, for example, gives officers more tangible data than can be provided by personal memory, radio directions, or paper maps. With the mapping application, as shown in Figure 1, officers can record incident locations for report processing after any danger has passed. Weather radar maps linked to the GPS request contain information about current conditions in nearby areas (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Display of the weather radar mapping application in Project54. The GPS coordinates cause the map to be centered with a radar color scale showing precipitation intensity. The weather map is nearly real-time and publicly available.

If the latest data is often crucial to appropriate decision-making, delivery and integration of updated information are key to maximizing data support. With Project54 we have developed a model and associated applications that demonstrate how real-time, public data can be shared with public safety officers in the field. With further study we believe that our two-way datacast environment offers an inexpensive but broadly effective method for developing solutions.

Future work is currently focused on two areas: first, the ability of mobile devices to receive broadband data as ubiquitously as the VHF radio; and second, integrating the data into public safety operations so seamlessly that it doesn't require any extra effort on the part of the officer. Adding these two aspects to our approach will enable the public safety vehicle to become more of an extension of the public safety official in the field.

The authors extend their appreciation to Mark Liebel and the test officers of the New Hampshire State Police for their insight and active participation during the course of this project. We are also indebted to Andrew L. Kun and the researchers, staff, and students of the CATLab for their involvement. In addition, our appreciation extends to Brian Shepperd and Steve Chao of NHPTV. This work was funded by the US Department of Justice under grant 2001-LT-BX-K010.

Scott Valcourt
Computing and Information Services
University of New Hampshire (UNH)
Durham, NH

Scott Valcourt is the director of Project Management and Consulting Services for UNH, where he was founder of the Center for Software Systems and managing director of the InterOperability Laboratory. His research interests include computer security, software design, project management, and computer communications.

Kent Chamberlin, Benjamin McMahon
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Durham, NH
Pushpa Datla
Computer Science
Durham, NH