New South Wales’ Police Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit is considering a range of potential upgrades to its core mapping platform, including integrating 3D maps based on digital elevation data and live tracking of search teams.
The PolSAR platform is built on top of Pitney Bowes’ MapInfo — the GIS application employed across NSW Police.
“MapInfo is used by all facets of policing for mapping and GIS spatial data and so forth – whether it’s for crime or intelligence hotspotting for break and enters, or just general mapping of LGAs [local government areas] and police commands and so forth,” Constable Phillip Downes said.
“What we’ve done from a Police Rescue point of view is utilised our corporate mapping program and then we’ve built a MapBasic program — basically a plug-in for MapInfo — to coordinate land searches in New South Wales.”
NSW Police funded the creation of PolSAR, which was developed by Pitney Bowes. Version one was released in October 2014. A key requirement was making the platform useable by police officers without in-depth GIS training.
“To use MapInfo you really do need to be GIS trained,” Downes explained. PolSAR helped streamline the application’s interface so it was focused on the core functions Police Rescue needed.
“We built it so that it can be used by a non-GIS person, such as a member of the Police Rescue squad who’s a search coordinator — he’s not a GIS expert and with a minimal amount of training we can actually get them to operate MapInfo and do the job that we want them to do.”
Version one of the platform was used for around 12 months, with development then beginning on a second version incorporating a number of bug fixes and enhancements.
Version two involved around 12 months of development and user acceptance testing. The second version was released in November 2016 and rolled out to Police Rescue teams around the state.
The platform plays a key role in Police Rescue’s search operations. A missing person search will generally be triggered by a phone call from a next-of-kin or other concerned person, Downes said. If it’s escalated to Police Rescue, the unit will start coordinating a land search.
“To do that we need to know certain information about the last known position of the missing person — latitude and longitude coordinates, roads, creeks, mountain names; a whole range of details — so that we can go to that location precisely and rapidly,” the constable said.
“We will also need to know what area we’re in — what LGA we’re in — what police command we’re in, what topographic map we’re on,” Downes said. “We can enter all that data into PolSAR and plot it on a map.”
Relevant data from satellites and smartphones can also be integrated into PolSAR.
In addition to the last known position of the individual, the platform can draw on historical data relating to missing persons in an area and information about ground already covered by search teams.
The platform is used to generate maps for search teams that Police Rescue can distribute either as printouts or PDFs.
The unit is considering how, subject to funding, the platform can be enhanced. There’s “absolutely” potential to add new features, Downes said. “There’s definitely options there that we’re looking at.”
In addition to continuing to boost user friendliness and incorporating 3D modelling based on elevation data, the constable said that version three enhancements could include integrating a synopsis of relevant data on maps distributed to search teams.
Another key improvement could be automatic live tracking of search teams. Tracking could be conducted via TracPlus-style satellite-based systems or Internet-based smartphone apps. MapInfo is already capable of integrating data from tracking devices, Downes said
If an area with complicated topography needs to be searched, an initial estimate of the time needed might prove to be inaccurate, the constable said. Live tracking would make it easier to monitor a team’s progress and make any necessary adjustments to a search.
“Live tracking will enable us to see where they are and how they are actually progressing through that search area — it might be an area that needs another search team in there to get it done quicker, or [we need to allow] them an extra four or five hours to finish the job.”
There will “more than likely” be a version three of PolSAR, Downes said. “What we’re on now, we’re going to run it for 12 months and find out any bugs and collect feedback and slowly build it and develop it from there.”