Every major event has a public safety component, and the 2016 presidential campaign has included a number of events requiring the utmost security and emergency preparedness. That means mapping out the venues, access, perimeters and countless other details. And, as plans change or something disrupts the original plan, it means changing many of the details on the fly.

One of the most important tools planners, security personnel and emergency responders have is interactive maps and 3D imaging available from geographic information systems (GIS). At the root of all of that is the work land surveyors did and do in building the foundation for the database and providing regular updates. “Land surveyors play a critical role by laying down proper survey control,” notes Donny Sosa, AEC industry specialist (architecture, engineering and construction) with Esri. “Without that fabric, it all kind of floats in the middle of nowhere.”

Here’s how it played out at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Security for the 2016 Republican National Convention incorporated Esri GIS technology to support collaboration of public safety officials from Cuyahoga County and speed access to data and provide a common operating picture that could quickly be shared between all the agencies involved.

The city anticipated 50,000 attending the convention, including more than 5,000 delegates and alternate delegates from every state. From the prior November, a GIS working group, including Esri experts, met with the agencies involved to configure a system to share maps and data quickly during the convention.

Daniel Meaney, GISP, manager of information and research at the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, picks up the story. “The U.S. Secret Service convened a number of working groups around the RNC — transportation, housing, etc. One of those groups was Consequence Management, which dealt with managing large-scale disasters related to the event. Those disasters could be weather-related, terrorist-related and large-scale protests. There were a number of meetings of the Consequence Management working group, as well as several focusing just on GIS coordination among various federal, state and local agencies.”

Established Capabilities

None of this happened overnight or by chance. “It all starts with your current data assets,” explains Esri’s Sosa. “We’re talking about Cleveland and the RNC, what do they have, how are they managing it, and how accessible is it?” Looking at local government, GIS can cross every department, he continues. Data can reside with civil engineering, public works, the water utility and land records.

Despite the widespread need and use of geographic data, the levels of accuracy and detail can vary widely. This may partly be due to budgets. Sosa says he sees civil engineering departments or paid utilities helping to strengthen the geography component because those groups have real budgets. But, as capabilities grow in this fashion, it begins to raise questions of interoperability. “Once you start to see GIS information that can be passed through all of these different departments, that’s where the true efficiencies start to come in,” Sosa says.

Back in Cleveland and the RNC, Meaney has been with the county planning group doing GIS work for 17 years. He says, “Coordination has improved dramatically over the past five years. County IT has established a strong hardware, software and data infrastructure so that any county agency can easily plug into a shared base map, including aerials, parcels, streets and addresses. While much of that has been available for many years, the infrastructure has really improved to make it more seamless.”

Speaking not only of the RNC planning, Meaney notes, “It’s been exciting to really leverage the power of GIS across a number of disciplines, agencies and platforms. Esri cloud-based tools have allowed us to share data like never before.”

Using ArcGIS allowed local departments and serivces and the federal agencies to share maps and data securely via the Web. It allowed staff to generate maps quickly and update them on the fly. Cooperation and planning were key, Meaney says. “Quite a bit of the details were managed by federal agencies, but shared with local partners through secure ‘Web map services.’ There were some last-minute efforts to locate the various event sites and delegate hotels, but for the most part, we almost suffered from too much GIS data,” he continues.

“We are constantly impressed by how smoothly city and county governments are able to work together and share information,” observes Chris McIntosh, director of public safety at Esri. “Sharing information between all these agencies ensures that events throughout the city can be monitored closely and responses to incidents will be fast and informed.”

Broad-based Resource

The RNC was a big event for Cleveland, but the systems for rapid planning, deployment and execution were tested, live, just ahead of the RNC. The Cleveland Cavaliers brought a championship to Cleveland and the city wanted to celebrate. A parade was organized to recognize the Cavaliers’ achievement along with the Lake Erie Monsters who had won the American Hockey League Calder Cup and Stipe Miocic whose victory in the Ultimate Fighting Championship brought home the heavyweight champion belt to Cleveland. Hundreds of thousands of fans flooded the streets to celebrate.

Though Cleveland was recently the focal point because of the RNC and it got an additional boost with the sports celebrations, it has not been the sole driver for GIS development in the region, according to Meaney. In fact, “Cleveland has not driven the County’s efforts at all. There are several municipalities that have benefitted from the County’s infrastructure and who maintain a strong GIS themselves. I would mention Lakewood and Solon as leaders,” he adds.

With robust systems already in place, Meaney points to some lessons learned that will influence future GIS efforts. “We learned some practical lessons about leveraging map services and we plan to use them more. That technology is relatively new, and integration with various software platforms can be a little tricky, but it was great to be able to share the data without having to do a lot of exporting, importing and emailing various versions of data files.”

The day-to-day benefits may be the justification for growing GIS capability, but cities do like the spotlight major events shine on them. “If we’re going to label a city a Smart City,” Sosa says, “all we’re identifying is they are kind of pre-qualified for a higher power of field verification. A quicker turnaround of field verification can occur because they have all this information digitally in a GIS enterprise system.” That can play a part, whether it is Vancouver vying for the Winter Olympics or Cleveland and Philadelphia trying to win national political conventions.

Whether preparing for a presidential visit or a parade route for a championship sports team, having the infrastructure mapped out and digitized so it can be shared quickly with those who need it can be critical to the success of the event. “It’s not like they have to go out and map it first, make a decision, and then pass information to the people involved with creating a path through the city,” Sosa says. “They now have 3D access if the city has enterprise GIS and 3D modeling in their own systems. Things can be deployed rather quickly whenever a smart city is being used for a large event like the RNC,” he adds.