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We Are HERE 8 min read

How HERE helps upgrade emergency management at NAPSG InSPIRE


For ten years, HERE has sponsored local and state officials to attend InSPIRE, an annual summit organized by the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) Foundation. HERE360 spoke to a few attendees about the impact the scholarships have made.

When you sit down with people who work in emergency services and discuss the ways that location technology has transformed their work, the difference that digitization has made to first response is a stark reminder – and a reality that can be easily forgotten in 2024.

“In the past, everything was communicated verbally over the radio,” said Steve Fierro, Line Lieutenant at South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue. “If we weren’t sure where we were going, the dispatcher would tell us which page to look at in our map book – it was a little time-consuming.

“Now with mapping technology in our apparatus, I can push a button and see an appropriate route to the call.”

911 GIS Mapping Analyst Dan Bradley, recounting his early days working at the Warwick Fire Department in Rhode Island, agreed: “Flashback to 2009, we were using street and hydrant books like everyone else did, but they were hand-drawn books from 1979 or 1980.”

Strong winds whip up waves at the Floridian Coast.

Waves whipped up by Hurricane Irma along the Florida coast in 2017.


That’s right – not a Macbook. A paper map book. In 2009. And during wider emergency responses, such as hurricanes, search and rescue dispatch centers often depended on even more analog equipment.

 “We would use a printed map and hang it on the wall. And as information was called in you would write it on a whiteboard,” said Emily Martuscello, Director of Emergency Management in Nashua, New Hampshire. “It was all manual – you couldn’t use a retroactive slider to view the wave of calls that came in and how many we addressed.

“But maps have always been critical.”

Fierro, Bradley and Martuscello are participants at NAPSG’s annual summit – InSPIRE – which brings together disaster preparedness representatives and first responders from across the United States and beyond.

Over two days, InSPIRE provides an important opportunity for people in emergency response roles to learn about the newest strategies and tools in geospatial technology.

Not only do attendees discover advanced methods that can improve how they prepare for and respond to disasters, but it also gives them useful ideas to use in their communities when they go back home.

“Our goal at InSPIRE is to bridge the gap between the operational and the technical,” said Peter O’Rourke, Executive Director at NAPSG. What this means on the conference floor, O’Rourke assured, is a hands-on approach that favors breakout sessions and networking versus endless slide presentations. “The world has way too many death-by-PowerPoint conferences.”

GIS is the glue that brings us together

Peter O’Rourke

Executive Director, NAPSG

A true game-changer

The role of geographic information systems (GIS) in emergency response cannot be understated. For one, Fierro told HERE360, visibility is key.

“Computer-aided dispatch has been huge. During a structure fire, we’d typically send three engines, a truck company, a medic unit and our battalion chief. If I am first to arrive, I can see where everyone else is – and I can make decisions on the fireground knowing that my second company is only a minute behind me.”

Over in Nashua, which sits on the banks of both the Nashua and Merrimack rivers, flooding has become increasingly common.

“Let’s say I was deploying a swift water rescue team – NAPSG has worked with the urban search and rescue (US&R) teams to allow them to use GIS systems on boats, check houses for any people in need of assistance, and mark that property as cleared,” said Martuscello.

“If I then get a frantic call from someone worried about their missing family member, I’m able to reassure them that the house was empty and to start contacting shelters.”

Bradley, who now works for Florida’s Indian River County Emergency Services, pointed out he recently used GIS to map out simulated response plans in the event of an incident at the nuclear power plant in Saint Lucie County, located just southeast of his community. “We are one of Saint Lucie’s primary partners for the evacuating population to get decontaminated, cleaned off and monitored.”


One of the biggest collaborations between NAPSG, DHS Science & Technology Directorate and HERE’s partner Esri has been the development of the Search and Rescue Common Operating Platform – or SARCOP.
At its core, SARCOP is a series of interconnected apps that uses common maps and layers, designed to share information and intelligence throughout all levels of incident response – from the first responder in the field to a decision-maker in the emergency operations center.
Talking to Fierro about how SARCOP is used in real-life situations, he described how his team used SARCOP to conduct preliminary damage assessments after a tornado hit Bamberg, South Carolina a few months ago. “We canvassed the entire town marking damage observations. By giving this data to the National Weather Service, we were able to overlay the tornado’s track with our observations of damaged structures and look for correlations.”

A force multiplier

Formed in 2005, the NAPSG Foundation started when a group of public safety organizations not only recognised the power of geospatial technology but also the importance of disseminating the latest innovations with emergency management teams across the country.

“GIS is the glue that brings us together,” said O’Rourke.

As NAPSG grew into a successful non-profit organization, so did the need to find a better way to share knowledge. In 2014, the annual conference continued to evolve under a few different names before becoming InSPIRE, or the Innovation Summit for Preparedness & Resilience – and HERE has been a sponsor from the beginning.

Martuscello pointed out that the biggest benefit of InSPIRE is the wide variety of speakers that attend, including public health, law enforcement and fire intelligence.

“InSPIRE brings together all these people who are building amazing spatial tools for their applications – and we share them,” said Martuscello. “You don’t have to start from scratch. We get all these great ideas about how different sectors across public safety are using GIS. And you can export them to your community."

“It’s not just about learning. It’s about getting something too – a new tool, an app, a site or a procedure.”

She is currently implementing a hazard mitigation template from one of Esri’s sessions.

Hosting InSPIRE doesn’t come without its challenges. Many emergency management departments do not have a dedicated travel budget, let alone the funds to allow their teams to attend conferences.

“HERE providing the travel scholarships is critical because a lot of our emergency management groups are one-person shops,” said Martuscello. “In New Hampshire, I am the only full-time local emergency manager. But as valuable as the stipends have been for me, for our volunteer emergency managers, receiving a travel scholarship is the difference between whether or not they can go.”

“The fact that NAPSG can run a conference for ‘free’ is unheard of,” added Bradley. “It’s absolutely phenomenal.”


NAPSG Foundation hosted the 2023 Innovation Summit for Preparedness & Resilience (InSPIRE 2023) on November 16th & 17th at the Dubois Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.


GIS, what’s next?

One of the innovations that excites Fierro is the advancements in 3D indoor mapping technology. “Guessing what houses are like inside is relatively easy. Off a garage, you’ll have a kitchen or a mudroom. And then on the other side of the house, you would find the living spaces.”

On the other hand, layouts in commercial buildings aren’t as straightforward. “What I’m interested in is being able to geolocate one of my firefighters and assist them to navigate throughout an office building.”

For Martuscello, she is looking forward to using the Internet of Things and remote sensors to build a common operating picture: “You’ll be able to form a 24-7 watch that’s pulling all this spatial data from all over your community - traffic sensors, road sensors, temperature sensors, video camera feeds. So if something happens, you will have all that at your fingertips.

“It’s going to be powerful for allocating and directing resources during an emergency.”

Louis Boroditsky

Louis Boroditsky

Managing Editor, HERE360

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