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Abigail Wise/MEDILL 

Marty Pastula, vice president of Emergency Management Media Group, opens the Public Safety Technology Summit at the Hyatt Regency Thursday.

Emergency management goes high-tech to tackle crime

by Abigail Wise
Nov 15, 2012


Abigail Wise/MEDILL

Vendors associated with emergency safety technology, including Motorola, Sprint and Verint, hosted booths at the event.

Advances in emergency response technology, from on-site data crunching to gun shot recognition, can help keep Chicago safe.

“This is about getting accurate information quickly into the hands of people who need it in order to do their jobs,” said Commander Jonathan Lewin, Managing Deputy Director for the City of Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications. He highlighted an arsenal of crime-fighting and emergency response tools at Thursday's Emergency Management Public Safety Technology Summit.

Emergency workers currently use a variety of dashboard analytics to compile and take advantage of data including the number of fire or police calls, arrests or incidents in any given area of the city.

A newly available technology, Windy Grid compiles information from CTA buses, 911 fire and police calls, weather forecasts and even Twitter to monitor safety conditions. Windy Grid creates maps, with hotspots where emergency workers should keep watch and was used during the recent election.

“The goal is to run this during a planned or unplanned event and look at the conditions dynamically and interactively,” said Lewin.

David Roberts, the senior manager of the Technology Center at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, spoke about technological trends in public safety. He discussed a new discovery, a location-based policing app that allows safety officials to drive as incidents, including burglaries, sex offenders and break-ins are sited at passing locations.

Lewin and Roberts touched on ShotSpotter, a technology used to alert officers of gun-shots heard in the city. Not only has the accuracy improved significantly in recent upgrades, but the program is able to identify the type of gun fired.

Rapid analysis also gives the opportunity for wider use of DNA identification. DNA results, which used to take weeks or even months to develop, can now be obtained in as little as 90 minutes to help identify criminals from hair or body fluids left at crime scenes.

Both Lewin and Roberts agree that the next step in public safety is utilizing exisitng tools to help predict the likelihood of gang violence, for example, in a neighborhood. 

Predictive policing would integrate information to target hotspots and address issues and incidents before they happen. It would pull together the power of dashboard analytics (a computer overview of numbers including arrests, emergency calls, and gang stops in any given area), identification tools such as ShotSpotter and license plate recognition (the officers’ ability to shoot photos of license plates to dig into a database that pulls up information about the spotted car and owner) and Windy Grid.

Although both Lewin and Roberts think public safety management is moving in the direction of forecasting policing, a lot of technological and policy work remains to be put in place, they said.

“It [predictive policing] requires a lot of information and solid quality of data,” said Roberts.

For now, the city of Chicago will continue to take advantage of technology already in place including license plate recognition, ShotSpotter and Windy Grid.

“No one thing is the answer,” said Lewin. “But together, these are the tools that will help us.”