Officials take surveillance STEPs

Law enforcers and emergency managers tested the STEPs geospatial app at the Kentucky Derby.

While all eyes were on Smarty Jones at the finish line during this year's Kentucky Derby, local, state and federal law enforcement and emergency management officials were keeping an eye on Churchill Downs using handheld devices, wireless connectivity, and a geospatial application that tapped into surveillance cameras.

In the joint operations center, officials could access information and view maps through a geospatial application called Spatial Templates for Emergency Preparedness, or STEPs. The software, developed by Frankfort, Ky.-based PlanGraphics Inc., collects geographic information system (GIS) data from disparate databases and makes it accessible through a Web portal.

In partnership with the University of Louisville's Information Technology Research Center, PlanGraphics and other technology companies, as well as state, local and federal officials, tested the technology at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks race and the following day's derby, said Mike Langley, a public-sector vice president at PlanGraphics.

With STEPs, officials could monitor weather from their computers, access digital map data previously available only in hardcopy form and use 3-D visualization software to see the infield and stage emergency response personnel or vehicles, Langley said. They could also see video feeds of traffic going to and from Churchill Downs and in downtown Louisville as well as nearby Indiana, he added. Others had handheld units to access information and video feeds.

Agencies involved included local police, emergency officials and homeland security personnel; Kentucky state police and the National Guard; and agents from several federal agencies such as the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Secret Service. Users as far away as Washington, D.C., could also access the portal.

PlanGraphics and the university collaborated about six weeks ago to develop applications for Jefferson County, Ky. Before the derby, STEPs was demonstrated at a local event called Thunder Over Louisville, a large air and fireworks show attended by 850,000 people within a 5-mile stretch.

Langley said these events would be a prelude to a much larger joint military, state and local exercise called the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration in 2005. It's typically a multiweek interoperability exercise for coalition military forces, but next year, it will include first responders.

Although some training was provided, he said STEPs is intuitive to understand and use, and feedback from the derby test was positive. He said officials a federal agency, which he did not identify, have expressed interest in having the company developing applications for three upcoming events.

He said other companies provided the wireless network, video cataloging and indexing capability as well as environmental sensor monitoring, but PlanGraphics was the only one that provided the software application. He said Xybernaut Corp. also provided handheld devices and wearable computing devices.

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