On July 27, five University of North Carolina-Charlotte police officers in full SWAT gear huddled inside a campus library and stared at their iPod touches.
They weren’t playing music.
The officers, who were about to start a training exercise involving a mock shooting, were using a newly developed app called the Effective Emergency Response Communication (EERC) System.
The app, which operates via wireless internet, lets the “command center” see where each officer is, tells officers where the suspect is, and sends three-dimensional directions—and shortest routes—in buildings.
“It exceeded our expectations,” said Jeff Baker, UNC Charlotte police chief. “We want as many platforms as possible to assist seeing and sending messages without radios. It’s important to think of the future of safety.”
Baker controlled the training exercise’s command center in a police RV outside Atkins Library on the UNC Charlotte campus. His computer was synced with apps on each of the officers’ iPods.
Officers can tap the screen to alert the command center of their location, and they can see a map of the paths they should take. They also can give the command center the locations of people who are injured or need help.
The training exercise took on added significance as the country is still reeling from the recent Aurora, Colo., shootings, which left at least 12 dead and 58 wounded.
“All of us were deeply saddened by the news,” said SWAT team member Eric Cox. “Being on a college campus, I keep in mind that history shows that these are settings for this type of thing, so I’d definitely say the department would benefit from this type of technology.”
Five years ago, a gunman killed 27 students and five faculty members on the campus of Virginia Tech.
The app, which has been about four years in the making, is not related to post-Virginia Tech safety precautions, UNC Charlotte officials said.
Instead, the National Institute of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security funded the app’s development.
It is the brainchild of Bill Ribarsky, chairman of UNC Charlotte’s computer science department and director of the Charlotte Visualization Center, which uses visual analytics to solve complex problems in science, engineering, and other disciplines.