Boston's ‘Situational Awareness’ on the Fourth of July

Fireworks shoot from the Hatch Shell during rehearsal for the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on the Esplanade on Sunday.

Fireworks shoot from the Hatch Shell during rehearsal for the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on the Esplanade on Sunday. Michael Dwyer / AP Photo


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The city has modified a map-based, GIS tool to help it coordinate all public safety operations during the large-scale event and beyond.

Boston created a situational awareness tool to coordinate public safety operations to be ready for Fourth of July festivities throughout the city.

Developed by Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), in conjunction with its Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the map-based tool will be used in the Emergency Operations Center and public safety departments during disasters and large-scale events.

Officials can see how police, fire and emergency medical services resources are deployed throughout the city; access cameras; view road closures; and access 911/311 requests on the map.

"By taking a partnership-driven, iterative approach to building this tool, we've created technology that is exactly matched to the City's public safety strategy for July 4th and other special events,” Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Boston’s chief information officer, said in an announcement.

Built specifically by DoIT’s geographic information system (GIS) team, the first version of the tool launched in 2015 for use during the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Since then, it’s been adapted so various agencies can manipulate information based on the metrics they set on their dashboard.

"We have been implementing this system since last year, and we have continued to refine our requirements, and have taught other public safety agencies how to use the tool as well,” Rene Fielding, OEM director, said in a statement. “The next phase of the project includes incorporating neighborhood emergency shelter locations with the ability to track capacity levels for those individuals displaced."

In June, Redlands, California-based GIS software supplier Esri, which helped with the project, awarded OEM a Special Achievement in GIS. The office was one of 167 organization recognized out of 300,000 eligible.

Esri selects winners based on innovation, data collection, visualization and thought leadership.

"During any large event, safety is always our guiding priority," said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in the announcement. "By building our own situational awareness tool, the City of Boston is better equipped to ensure our residents' and visitors' safety.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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