Protect the protector: Empowering the public safety professional with geospatial technology

Case study

Author: Elmar Lenz is VP Survey Solutions & Public Safety, Hexagon's Geosystems division

The public safety sector is gearing up for a significant shift. As the sector adopts geospatial hardware and custom software solutions to streamline data flows and enhance the efficiency of forensic investigations, it is getting ready for more seamless processes and additional insights through increasing automation

Adopting technologies that facilitate rapid, collaborative, and cost-effective data capture and analysis is becoming key in nearly every sector. Arguably, this is particularly relevant for public safety professionals, who often operate in or near hazardous situations where lives could be at risk.

In this interview, Elmar Lenz, VP Survey Solutions & Public Safety at Hexagon’s Geosystems division, delves into how public safety professionals benefit from geospatial innovation, the trends that may be convincing the sector’s sceptics and the path forward for the public safety ecosystem.

Do you think interest in geospatial technologies from public safety professionals has increased notably in recent years? If so, why?

Yes, I think it has. While geospatial technologies were long associated mostly with surveyors with four- to six-year degrees in geodesy, these technologies now have applications in various industries and for various professionals.

Geospatial solutions, including scanning and 3D visualisations, have seen increasing demand in the public safety sector. They help capture incident data faster, which improves efficiency but also safety. They provide more accurate information, aid understanding, and support decision-making. A scanner captures the scene indiscriminately, so investigators have the reassurance that they did not neglect crucial evidence.

Geospatial technologies are precise and accurate, reduce the need for human hands and brains on-site and remove human error and prejudice. So, they are becoming increasingly attractive to public and private sectors concerning public safety.

How do you and the team work with public safety professionals to implement new technologies?

At Hexagon’s Geosystems division, we focus on crash, fire, crime and security segments, although public safety also encompasses areas such as disaster management and critical infrastructure. This means that many of the scenes we are dealing with are precarious, potentially dangerous and often happening at nighttime. Suppose the evidence involved is either technically hazardous or fragile. In that case, we must consider protecting the protector, ensuring that public safety professionals can do their jobs safely and effectively

What do you mean by “protect the protector”? How does that play out on-site?

Protecting the protector is about considering how we can arm public safety officers with the best possible tools to make their job of protecting the public, the environment or our infrastructure safer and more efficient.

At the scene of a vehicle collision, 3D laser scanning technologies can capture the scene more quickly and safely than a team of responders with tape measures and cameras can. Traditional methods are too slow, inefficient and error-prone in scenes with lots of people, debris or movement. Fire scenes are potentially even more challenging to capture with traditional methods: Evidence can be destroyed even while the investigator captures the scene. Smoke and falling debris may mean the investigator must wear full protective gear, limiting the time they can spend on the scene

We moved away from the fax machine and the landline; similarly, tape measures, cameras and sketch boards are becoming increasingly outdated in the face of laser scanners and forensic digital twins, which provide public safety professionals with a multidimensional replica of the original scene, accessible to all stakeholders to explore and study.

Can you give a specific example of how geospatial technologies might be implemented in a situation concerning public safety?

I always find it helpful to ask myself the “so what” question when considering geospatial technologies’ applications for new segments or industries such as public safety. We must ask ourselves if we have developed meaningful and relevant data flows. Do we ensure investigators, officers or firemen can maximise the data collected in the field? Did we develop the right tools for data capturing to their end deliverables, such as scene sketches, diagrams or reports?

After a vehicle collision, blocking the road ensures that people can get help and are protected from injury. That is key. However, apart from keeping everyone safe, you want to get the traffic flowing as fast as possible. You can capture it quickly if you come to the scene kitted out with 3D laser scanners. Afterwards, you can model and spin it in 3D to explore different angles. You will always have the incident scene in 3D as a digital file enabling you to revisit the scene. That is the beauty of the forensic digital twin; you have all the data at your fingertips, so if you need to check the distance between car one and car two, you can do this at the touch of a button. You can be confident that you have a fully captured scene, and hundreds or thousands of people are back on the road rather than stuck in a traffic jam.

For most users, the typical answer to the “so what” question is: reduce costs and do more faster. This applies at every stage of the workflow, from how you capture the data, how it is modelled, and how you visualise the findings and deliver them to others. Streamlining your data flow to save time and money gives you a competitive edge.

Are geospatial solutions tailored according to industry or do solutions tend to be a one-size-fits-all approach?

They absolutely are tailored — and they must be. We are not speaking to geodesists, and a purely geodesic solution will not be suitable for a public safety professional. At Hexagon, we pair our cutting-edge technology with domain expertise. We customise the technology for the application at hand. We must give the user, the application and the technology equal consideration. There was a reason we created the iCON portfolio for the specific needs of the construction surveyor, and it is the same for public safety professionals.

Through software customisation, we can speak the language of our customers, whether this is a fire investigator, a police person or a forensic specialist. MicroSurvey, part of Hexagon, has a long history of working with public safety professionals. Its software, Map360, is a forensic mapping software solution specifically for crash, crime and fire scenes allowing users to digitise and visualise the scene, analyse the data and create court-ready deliverables. There are three versions of Map360 and multiple interfaces so that the software is accessible to all skill levels.

Data security and integrity are crucial for any investigator. Forensic digital twins harvested at a scene can be analysed and used for evidence presentations in court — but only if you can show that it hasn’t been manipulated. As the 3D technology becomes increasingly common in judicial proceedings, the need to validate captured data is clear. People must be able to verify the integrity of the original data to support conclusions deducted from digital twin-based evidence. The Leica RTC360 and Cyclone REGISTER 360 PLUS solution digitally signs all data in the field after finishing scanning jobs. Additionally, users can verify data integrity during import and create a report proving the original data was imported. When the forensic investigator of an arson scene, for example, creates images, 3D models and point clouds to be presented and leveraged in the law court, they can be sure that the data has not been tampered with.

How do you think the use of geospatial technologies will evolve in the public safety sector?

Ten years ago, customers used camera photography, tape measures and sketches to document an incident scene and the evidence. Since then, these industries have adopted geospatial technologies like robotic total stations and 3D laser scanners. Because of their time and cost-saving benefits and ability to capture scenes precisely. Now we can customise the workflow by leveraging the hardware through software platforms, creating bespoke deliverables and outputs for different audiences

I think, the next phase is the increased automation of these processes, further tightening and cutting the fat in the dataflow process. For example, the Leica BLK2GO and the Leica BLK2FLY can be combined to capture entire scenes from the ground and the air. Imagine you were planning the security for a large event in a stadium; the BLK2GO and BLK2FLY can cruise and map the scene, even while people and vehicles are moving around.

“Scene to courtroom” is another fascinating area for the public safety arena. The crime scene data can be transformed into a visual and audible model, image, video or written document, leveraging the point cloud, footage from the scene and expert opinions, which is immediately accessible to a legal team, jury or insurance company.

Together, geospatial hardware technologies and custom software packages help the public safety sector streamline dataflows, address increased demand and talent shortages, increase the efficiency and accuracy of forensic investigation, and — most importantly — keep people safe.

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