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Police go high-tech for Gasparilla

Tampa police Maj. John Bennett demonstrates Microsoft Surface, a digital map that assists police in special event policing. Police used this during Super Bowl and plan to use it during Gasparilla.

REBECCA CATALANELLO | Times

Tampa police Maj. John Bennett demonstrates Microsoft Surface, a digital map that assists police in special event policing. Police used this during Super Bowl and plan to use it during Gasparilla.

TAMPA — Tampa police are taking Super Bowl technology to Gasparilla in an effort to make the crowds safer.

Thanks to technology from Microsoft and Digital Sandbox Inc., police commanders can better visualize what is happening at any given time in the area surrounding an event such as Gasparilla — making it easier for them to respond to problems when they arise, Major John Bennett said.

Tampa police first used the technology during the Super Bowl, incorporating Virtual Earth software to display the locations of real-time calls for service in relation to the event venue.

During Super Bowl week, that meant commanders had a comprehensive grasp of where and when every planned Super Bowl-related event was happening, compared with what unplanned incidents were happening around them.

"It doesn't make decisions for you," Bennett said. "It gives you the resources to make faster decisions."

The technology manifests itself in two ways.

The first is called Microsoft Surface, which is an electronic table map that gives police the ability to zoom in as close as the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Howard Avenue and as far out as the Western Hemisphere. It looks like a table, but the map screen can be moved around with the touch of a finger, similar to the touch screen of a iPhone.

The map is not a real-time camera —it doesn't show a picture of how Bayshore looks at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, for example. But it is loaded with real-time information, including, for example, where and when someone reported a baby missing or two cars crashed.

The second component uses similar mapping and data, but every commander can see the information on his or her laptop the day of the event. Included on those maps are information that enables them to evaluate risk — the locations of all power plants, schools and other infrastructure that are key to managing a large-scale crisis.

Bennett said the Police Department — along with its regional law enforcement partners — first started exploring this technology for hurricane purposes. Using it for special events like Super Bowl or Gasparilla, he said, just ensures that in the case of a natural disaster, commanders don't need on-the-job training.

Police go high-tech for Gasparilla 02/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 11:44pm]
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