A Goal Without A Plan Is Just A Wish

A case study on NG9-1-1 implementation in Merced County, CA.

A Goal Without A Plan Is Just A Wish

A Case Study on NG9-1-1 Implementation In Merced County, CA

When the topic of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) comes up it greatly depends on the audience as what is conjured in the mind of the hearer. For seasoned 9-1-1 professionals it’s about upgrades to networks, call handling equipment and operational workflows that will result in fewer transferred calls, faster call-processing and rich data, think photos, videos and sensor data, for dispatchers to affect life-saving emergency responses with. Unbeknownst to many 9-1-1 professionals in the weeds of achieving these ends lies a major shift in architecture that embraces geospatial functions and GIS data as core technology. This shift requires local, authoritative GIS data built to a level of precision and accuracy that local data providers have never been required to build and maintain before.

Meeting this need requires new relationships partnerships that have only been loosely established in most places. In Merced County, California Gene Barrera, the County GIS Manager, had provided GIS data for the County Sheriff’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system for years but it was in a “just pass the data you’ve got” manner whenever they called for an update. Providing GIS data for NG9-1-1 would call on Gene to reimagine his business, technical and data workflows to not only improve his data but also allow him to aggregate GIS data from his constituent incorporated cities within his County.

When I learned about the requirements for GIS data in NG9-1-1 I recognized early on the gaps needing to be filled in educating our organization about this transition, the relationships that needed to be forged amongst the various stakeholders, as well as the changes I needed to make in my workflows, systems and data to accomplish this task. I was also excited by these prospects because I found another use for GIS that would make the County’s investment in GIS pay major dividends. I also knew that I’d need some expert help to make sure I was taking the best approach possible.

– Gene Barrera, GIS Manager, County of Merced

In 2018, Gene procured the services of Michael Baker International’s DATAMARK Team to help him create a NG9-1-1 GIS Strategic Plan which would begin the relationship building of the right public safety and GIS stakeholders throughout the County and layout the path forward for the business, technical and data workflow and system adjustments that would lead to NG9-1-1 GIS success. “The strategic planning process was critical because it gave the impetus to bring all of the right people and perspectives to the table. We were able to agree on a plan. This enabled the County management team to support our vision and implementation.”

Up Next, “Get To Work!”

Once the plan was initially complete, it would be updated as a living document moving forward, it was time to get to work. The project team conducted the following activities generally:

  1. Configure: The first task was to implement system changes by implementing ArcGIS Enterprise and the right database configuration.
  2. ACE: Gathering a complete dataset is particularly useful for NG9-1-1 and other applications. DATAMARK’s Address Comparison and Evaluation (ACE) process was deployed to compare all the location information databases from across the County. Most government enterprise have treasures stored in disparate databases, most often not in a GIS format, and a number of formats. These are databases like permits, utility billing, Master Street Address Guide (MSAG) and Automatic Location Information (ALI).
  3. Validations: Next, using DATAMARK’s VEP, short for Validate-Edit-Provision, validations the project team validated the existing road centerlines and address point data. This process examined the relationships between legacy 9-1-1 databases, the MSAG and ALI, as well as road centerlines and address points. This examination showed where Merced’s GIS needed attention.
  4. Research and Edit. This pointed out places in the GIS data that needed research and, if appropriate, adjustment in either geometry or attributes. The resulting data normalizes both geometry and attribute data between datasets. This will enable consistent answers when a geocoder, either as part of a NG9-1-1 functional element or any other use case, searches for a given civic address (i.e. 123 Main St., Merced, CA) using either GIS data layer.
  5. Local Verification. This process can only go so far without a person on the ground resolving the remaining mysteries. The processes outlined above removes most of the anomalies. In many cases a simple “windshield” or “drive-by” inspection will provide the necessary clarity. These verification efforts lead to either a GIS resolution of the issue or the marking of the anomaly as an exception which acknowledges that the anomaly exists, but the GIS data reflects the real world so that it is no longer highlighted in future validation runs.
  6. VEP’s cloud-native GIS editor is workflow based to enable non-GIS users to make relevant edits to GIS data when future maintenance is required. Its quality assurance review and approval tools allow the review of edits to ensure high quality GIS data maintenance. VEP’s Software-as-a-Solution (SaaS) nature has empowered Merced County’s multi-jurisdictional approach as both public safety and GIS stakeholders to login to the platform to maintain GIS data for their respective jurisdiction allowing for a constantly available and seamlessly aggregated GIS dataset for the County and cities’ use.

The resulting remediated dataset is ready for provisioning into VEP for future maintenance.

Build The Team

Once this major workload was completed in both incorporated municipalities and unincorporated areas of the County the team had to be built. The DATAMARK Training and Product Support team supported the County as jurisdictions across the County decided to participate. The initial scope of the effort was for the unincorporated areas of the County and the Sheriff’s contract cities. Today, the city of Merced and Los Bańos as well as the Merced County Association of Governments, as proxy for the other cities, are participating in maintenance of these layers for NG9-1-1 and other uses. This took dedicated leadership from the County and determined participation by all stakeholders to bring this to fruition. The resulting regional GIS data maintenance regime has yielded GIS data for use in California’s NG9-1-1 call routing system as well as other county and city information systems.

Keys to Success

There were several key factors in the success of this effort, the most notable among them were:

  • Relationships

    Stakeholders within the locality that rarely interact had to build a rapport for the future and throughout this initial effort. These partners ranged from public safety, GIS, planning, public works and the DATAMARK team. “This effort would not have been a success without the dedicated support of folks from the cities, MCAG, and all of the public safety communications organizations across the County.” noted Barrera. “We were also able to form forge a very productive user/provider relationship with the DATAMARK team as well. They were willing to consider our needs that made the data products and software more productive for us. Through this partnership, I’m proud to have contributed to the success of all of their VEP users and to be the beneficiary of their other users’ innovations as well.”

  • Fishbone Analysis

    One of the features that sets VEP apart is the use of “fishbone” analysis to help the validations be more explicit in its differentiation of anomalies. Fishbones create geometry that connects the placed address point to the point that a geolocator would place the same address. This dataset forms a powerful analytical dataset that makes the Validate, Research and Edit phases conduct useful quality control and assurance on these GIS datasets.

  • Cloud-Native Tools

    Especially in a COVID-impacted world the ability to access the VEP platform from any location with light clients that only need to support a web browser empowers its users to be successful in their NG9-1-1, addressing or other data creation and maintenance efforts. This approach offers freedom from desktop software requirements while still supporting GIS professionals that prefer the desktop editing experience as well. “The approachable cloud-based nature of the VEP platform enabled us to integrate people that don’t want to become GIS experts. This flexibility makes for higher quality up-to-date GIS data for so many purposes.” Explained Barrera.