New Technology and Business in the Civic Sector

Federal Wildlife-Tracking Spurs Software Deals

A new federal program that enlists state agencies to help the federal government track wildlife populations has boosted business for companies such as Wheb Systems Inc., a San Diego firm specializing in forms processing software. The company is supplying the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission with software that will let the agency extract wildlife data from handwritten hunting license applications and pass that information along to the feds.

The commission was convinced to invest in the technology by the requirements of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP). "The government basically said to us, 'Give me a list of all hunters in North Carolina that are hunting migratory birds,' " said Don Mitchell, manager of North Carolina's customer support section. "In our state, that would be about 100,000 people, so there was really no way we could do that" without automation.

Like most states, North Carolina updates hunting licenses after receiving post cards from hunters. The mostly handwritten post cards contain information on the hunting activity of the applicant, which is information that can be used to help track wildlife migrations. In order to process the post cards and extract the data, the commission is using Wheb's Intelligent Forms Processing System.

IFPS works in conjunction with a Bell&House scanner and with a PC running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. The software translates the hand-printed post cards into digital "pictures," which are sent to a Windows NT file server. The images then are sent to a processing station that "actually looks at digital pictures 24 hours a day and turns those pictures into words," said Jim Woodruff, Wheb's vice president of marketing. "The federal government in recent years has really been ramping up requirements to track migratory birds," he said. "The market surrounding reporting requirements is growing." Wheb holds similar state contracts with Colorado, Maine and Tennessee.

HIP was started in 1992 in three pilot states, but all states will have to participate in the program by 1998. "The point of the program is to make good decisions about the management of game species," said Paul Padding, chief of the Harvest Surveys section of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Migratory Birds. "Information about how many birds hunters take is a fundamental piece of information."

Police Departments Offered CD-ROM for DMV Searching

Citizens are not the only ones who face delays at their local Department of Motor Vehicles. Police departments that want to conduct searches in DMV databases during their investigations also risk getting bogged down. Seeing an opportunity in the bottleneck, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company is offering to bring the data to law enforcement.

Dataware Technologies is offering law enforcement agencies a series of CD-ROM products containing data drawn from DMV mainframes. "What we do is convert data from mainframe tapes to ASCII text and put that on a CD-ROM that is accessible with any PC," said Jon Latorella, the president and chief executive officer of the company. "The Dataware search engine can make that information available to law enforcement, private investigators and others, such as security departments in airports."

In addition to providing quick access to the data, the products allow investigators to conduct more sophisticated searches of DMV records. "Most police departments within a state are very limited in what they can pull," Latorella said. "They can go in by license plate or driver's name, but what they can't do is search by partial plates, color of a vehicle or other various descriptors."

So far the company has CD-ROM products from DMVs in 10 states where it has been able to negotiate rights to resell the data. Some states' privacy laws have made it difficult to cut such deals. "Certain states are more difficult to get into than others because of various computing environments and legislation," Latorella said. "For now, we are going into the easier states."

The CD-ROM sells for $62.95 per disk or $249 for an annual subscription updated every quarter.

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