Mapping Indoor Spaces For Emergency Response

In my last blog, I discussed what is required for a “dispatchable location”. Dispatch-quality location implies two things: you can communicate the caller’s location in universally understood terms, and you have the information required to navigate to that place.

To navigate, we use maps. Maps are abundant, detailed, and effectively free. This data is referenced millions (billions?) of times a day to serve the world’s basic navigation purposes, whether it’s getting tourists to a restaurant or responders to an automobile accident. However, many emergencies do not happen at the intersection of two streets or the street address for a simple structure. These emergencies happen in more complicated indoor spaces, and responders probably will not find the victim in the glass atrium of a skyscraper or at the front gate of a manufacturing facility.

We’ve had ready access to street maps in one form or another for as long as emergency response has existed as a profession, and now everyone can access extraordinarily detailed maps, including everything from pedestrian paths to detailed street views that let you visit obscure locations like National Cricket Stadium in Bangladesh. How have we come so far mapping our outdoor spaces, while first responders still reference indoor floor plans in three-ring binders, or spend precious time searching for the local knowledge to find “building 4, location 3C-802”? Because the environment that allowed us to create today’s street maps is everything our indoor spaces are not:

Indoor mapping requirements

Indoor mapping is clearly not a design requirement.

There are at least 5.6 Million Buildings in the United States, encompassing 87 billion square feet. However, because of these challenges, Google claims to have indoor maps for “over 10,000 locations”… WORLDWIDE!

The commercial interest necessary to map indoor spaces does not exist; otherwise, we’d have it by now. And while public resources can help, fire marshals and building inspectors focus their finite resources on the largest or highest risk facilities. To move past this indoor mapping stalemate, we must abandon the methods used to map our outdoor spaces and instead enlist our communities. Adopting this model flips the above table on its ear:

indoor mapping challenge

Enlisting the community to provide this data will require a trusted critical data solution and a new “social contract.” The data collection platform MUST let the data provider control how their data is used, and those holding and accessing the data must honor this contract. Likewise, public safety must be able to identify the data’s source, choose which data displays to responders, and require the community keep the data up to date.

In the past two years, public safety has put much emphasis on Dispatchable Location and NEAD. This is a commendable effort, and prioritizing improvement in location accuracy over improvement in maps was the right thing to do. However, the goal of delivering a Dispatchable Location with every call won’t be met until we have corresponding mapping improvements (a fact that is not lost on the FCC).

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Matt Serra, ENP
Matt Serra, ENP

Matt Serra is the Vice President of Product Strategy at Rave Mobile Safety. Matt has over 25 years of experience in the technology industry and is a certified Emergency Number Professional.

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