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Reducing Emergency Response Times by Optimizing Routes with Ecopia

December 5, 2022
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Ecopia AI

Maintaining a Countywide Driveway Database for Emergency Response Planning

When it comes to emergency response, every second matters. Responding to an emergency efficiently requires using the caller’s location to identify the closest emergency unit that can reach them the quickest and determine the optimal route for that unit to find them. If either of these steps deliver the wrong information, responders reach people in need less efficiently. 

In many Collier County, Florida jurisdictions, police, fire, and emergency medical services rely on mapping technology to assign the closest responder and identify the optimal route when dispatching them to 911 calls. But despite the widespread availability of consumer-facing mapping applications today, response teams found they were being incorrectly assigned and routed to addresses, wasting precious time getting to emergency callers.

For example, Collier County first responders were often routed to a highway located behind a building but with no access to it, or to the wrong side of a canal-front property. One gated community in particular had many calls placed from their clubhouse which was located on an unnamed road, preventing response teams from getting there using traditional consumer-facing routing applications.

Example of an address in Collier County that is closer to the highway than its street address, resulting in incorrect routes for emergency services.
Example of an address in Collier County that is closer to the highway than its street address, resulting in incorrect routes for emergency services.

The reason for these inaccuracies lies in the foundational data built into common routing systems. Most of these applications leverage street centerlines in their routing algorithms, which associate addresses with the segment of road they are closest to. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office geographic information systems (GIS) department knew they could improve fire and EMS closest unit dispatch identification and routing by building their own application with more detail than just street centerlines, instead including connected pavement commonly associated with accessing addresses, like driveways and parking lots.

However, as they looked to build a robust countywide database of address, road, parking lot, and driveway features, the GIS department struggled to find an up-to-date, accurate, and complete source of everything they needed. As a result, they sourced aerial imagery and began manually digitizing the required features - a time-consuming and tedious task considering Collier County has an area of 2,300 square miles containing 165,000 address points and 132,000 driveways and access roads.

Digitizing every driveway and access road took Collier County four years to complete. But even then, the GIS department knew their work was not done. Once the initial digitizing was completed in 2019, they moved into a maintenance mode to make sure the database stayed up-to-date with real-world change. Collier County is growing rapidly, and every year, the team receives new aerial imagery which they would then compare to the database, and manually edit any changes that occurred in the last year. 

“In practice we had no systematic means of maintaining the driveway data, which has always been a concern of mine,” said John Peabody, GIS Administrator for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. “We just added/fixed them when we found them as part of our other data maintenance.” While this was an improvement from relying on only street centerlines for identifying closest unit dispatches and optimal routes, it still did not completely solve the problem.

Saving Lives and Time by Partnering with Ecopia to Map Every Driveway in Collier County

When Collier County heard about Ecopia AI (Ecopia)’s ability to extract driveways and parking lots from geospatial imagery, they decided to give it a try and see not only how many features the artificial intelligence (AI)-based system could digitize, but also how quickly. Ultimately, Collier County needed to scale the speed of updates to their database without sacrificing the levels of accuracy achieved from manual feature digitization. If the maps produced were not precise and reliable for planning emergency response, any time savings would be obsolete. What matters most is getting to 911 callers as quickly as possible, which cannot be done with inaccurate location data.

Ecopia mapped Collier County’s entire area of interest (AOI) in less than a month. Not only was this much faster than the GIS team’s 4-year-long manual digitization project, but it also yielded more comprehensive and accurate results. Ecopia’s AI-based mapping extracted 132,000+ driveways and access roads throughout Collier County’s AOI, 39,000 of which were new or updated features for the database. 

A sample of driveways and parking lots in Collier County extracted by Ecopia for emergency response optimization.
A sample of driveways and parking lots in Collier County extracted by Ecopia for emergency response optimization.

“I cannot emphasize enough how much time Ecopia saves us. It took four years to build our previous dataset which quickly became stale and needed updating. Each year, Ecopia is able to extract the features we need in just a few weeks, ensuring we always have a fresh database for emergency response planning.” - John Peabody, GIS Administrator for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

In the five months since the Ecopia data was implemented in Collier County, the GIS department has received significantly less complaints from emergency responders about routing issues. This is due to the updated, accurate, and complete database being used to both identify the nearest dispatch unit to a caller, and optimize the route to get there the fastest.

Example of optimized routes for emergency response teams using Ecopia driveway data vs previous method of street centerlines. 

More importantly, the overall response time for fire and EMS crews in Collier County has decreased dramatically. While response times still largely depend on how remotely- or centrally-located a call is within the county, having a reliable database to inform closest unit dispatch assignments and routing has improved emergency response dramatically.

Why Ecopia?

Before learning about Ecopia, Collier County believed there was no alternative to manually digitizing aerial imagery that could match the level of quality they required for use in life-saving emergency response situations. 

“To my knowledge, no other company can do what Ecopia does,” continued Peabody. “Other data providers have fragments of what we need with varying levels of accuracy, but no one else can deliver the same reliable real-world information as Ecopia.”

By partnering with Ecopia, Collier County does not need to choose between having accurate data and saving time. Instead, the GIS team can repurpose the thousands of hours spent updating their database manually with other critical projects, knowing they have exactly what they need to identify and route response teams effectively.  

“We have a true partnership with Ecopia,” added Bob Finney, Director of Communications Technology for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. “They helped us become early adopters of this next generation 911 technology, ultimately saving more lives throughout the county.”

What’s Next?

While all places change each and every day, coastal areas like Collier County are vulnerable to natural disasters that can cause drastic changes not commonly seen in other communities. Just a few months after implementing the Ecopia data, Collier County incurred about $2.2 billion in damages from Hurricane Ian1. Many of these damages involve permanent changes to the landscape, including roads, driveways, and parking lots that impact emergency services. “In our area especially it is critical to maintain an up-to-date record of these features,” said Peabody. “Ecopia’s efficient and reliable feature extraction means we can quickly update our database with changes brought on by Hurricane Ian and other similar events, and adjust emergency planning accordingly.” 

As Collier County’s fire and EMS teams continue to reach 911 callers faster thanks to data-driven identification of closest unit dispatch and routing, other emergency response teams are considering implementing the Ecopia data for similar purposes. Law enforcement teams are currently exploring opportunities to leverage the driveway and parking lot data to improve their call response times, which would lead to further lives saved.

“One of our core tenets at Ecopia is using AI for good, and our partnership with Collier County is a great example of how we can apply advanced geospatial technology to save lives,” said Sean Lowery, Senior Director of Product and Business Development at Ecopia. “We look forward to continuing our work with early adopters like Collier County and discovering new ways to empower first responders with AI.”

To learn more about Ecopia’s public safety solutions, contact Sean Lowery, Senior Director of Product and Business Development at Ecopia.

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If you're ready to leverage groundbreaking advancements in artificial intelligence, let's chat. For more examples of Ecopia's extraction capabilities, please view our samples.