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How GPS is Used for Public Safety

2020 has presented an array of public safety challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a massive earthquake in Turkey and Greece, and over 50,000 wildfires in North America. Fortunately, an equally long list of technologies exists to help predict, analyze, and mitigate against the effects of these concerns. GPS, for example, helps to enhance road safety and predict the most efficient routes for emergency response vehicles. In this blog, we will discuss more about how this technology is being leveraged in potentially life-threatening situations.

GPS for Road and Highway Safety
According to the NOAA, traffic congestion causes “property damage, personal injuries, increased air pollution, and inefficient fuel consumption.” GPS alleviates congestion by allowing drivers and commercial vehicle dispatchers to see traffic in real time and re-route to avoid adding to it.

Additionally, GPS assists with managing mass transit, road maintenance, and emergency vehicles. “Many nations use GPS to help survey their road and highway networks, by identifying the location of features on, near, or adjacent to the road networks,” NOAA explains. “These include service stations, maintenance and emergency services and supplies, entry and exit ramps, damage to the road system, etc.” All of this data is brought together to make decisions that chip away at dangerous congestion and enhance road safety for drivers.

When paired with IoT devices, GPS can also help to improve driver safety and behavior. It provides vital information that both a driver and dispatcher can monitor, such as an area’s upcoming speed limit, and even the speed of nearby vehicles. Insurance companies which offer discounts for safe drivers, both private and commercial, also encourage better driving behavior on the roads and use GPS to determine what qualifies as safe driving.

GPS for Emergency Service Vehicles
In the unfortunate case of an accident, GPS provides the best location data for emergency services. Labeled “the gold standard” in a 2018 study by PLOS ONE, GPS’s location data is accurate up to three meters, making it more superior than other widely available tracking technology.

GPS-enabled marine vessels and cell phones carried by people experiencing or witnessing an emergency also help pinpoint destinations for first responders and determine the quickest way to reach people who need help.

When dispatching an emergency service vehicle, time is critical. A pinpointed location can be the difference between saving a life or arriving too late. Impressively, GPS-enabled cell phones, boats, and cars have assisted first responders with locating specific accident sites and emergency locations.

With GPS-enabled fleet vehicles, it’s now also possible to see where all police, fire, rescue, and other vehicles and boats are located at any given time. This means automated dispatchers can identify the closest appropriate vehicles for an emergency and leverage information about the proximity of other support vehicles in the area. Today, GPS and automation work together to reduce delays in emergency service.

GPS for Disaster Relief 
Precise location data is critical to disaster relief. As a result, GPS plays a vital role in responding to events like tsunamis, landslides, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, large structure fires, and wildfires. A 2016 report by the Asian Journal of Applied Sciences concluded that orbital platforms like GPS are “very efficient in preventing, monitoring and mitigating extreme disaster events.” The list of uses for GPS found in the study included the ability to:

  • monitor gradual land movements over time to predict landslides and identify susceptible areas
  • assess land displacement and stability after a landslide
  • assess tsunami damage with GPS-aligned before-and-after photos, generating a detailed damage map showing where completely collapsed buildings previously stood
  • inspect ground deformations to ascertain earthquake-triggered displacement
  • map and georeference fires and fire-damaged structures overlaid with census data to determine individual losses and provide appropriate support for rebuilding

In the case of active wildfires, GPS and infrared scanners work together to identify fire boundaries and hot spots. This real-time data generates fire maps that are shared among firefighting leaders working to control the blaze.

GPS can also provide precise location data that allows scientists to see exactly where an earthquake began. As technology progresses, this could lead to a future where we can use GPS to predict earthquakes, BBC reports. 

Search and rescue teams also leverage GPS. They are able to create maps for rescue, aid operations, and assess damage in the aftermath of a disaster. 

GPS for COVID-19 Tracing 
According to researchers in a report published by the Transactions of the Indian National Academy of Engineering, with a virus as contagious and deadly as COVID-19, “proper quarantining and monitoring of the already infected patients are very essential.” 

The authors go on to highlight how GPS plays a crucial role in track-and-trace programs that help maintain social distancing measures for COVID-19 patients who are traveling via ambulance. Local traffic police use GPS to monitor the time in which ambulances carrying sick patients arrive at a hospital or transfer site. In doing so, they are able to clear the scene ahead of time, cutting back on potential exposure to people that may have otherwise been exposed at the scene.

Alongside social distancing, contact tracing is one of the few proven tactics for containing the coronavirus. Thanks to smartphones, technological solutions like the Covid Alert NY app have risen to the challenge, according to CNBC. While this particular app uses Bluetooth technology to detect whether users have come within six feet of another user who tested positive for the virus, the same idea can easily be executed using GPS-enabled smartphones or other devices.

The possible uses for GPS in improving and monitoring public safety, as well as responding to emergencies and assessing damage, are endless. This highly accurate and accessible satellite system makes it possible for anyone to leverage location data, improving both public safety and quality of life. Paired with smart IoT devices and complementary technologies, GPS is part of an interconnected web of security technologies that make our world a safer place.