posted by Robert Austin on Mon 1st May 2006 20:11 UTC
IconTwo years ago, on April 1, 2004 an article appeared here on OSNews titled "Will Open Source Come to the Rescue?" Two years later, I am proud to report that there is indeed an effort to bring open source software to the Emergency Service community. I would like to take this time to tell you what has transpired in the past two years.

After the article first appeared, we were surprised at how many web sites picked up the article. We received many e-mails and comments concerning the issues we discussed. Some folks thought I was a Microsoft basher, but that was never the case. Others thought I was just plain nuts, which may very well be true! But the majority were thoughtful comments, suggestions and advice.

Many folks wrote to me and said they would love to be a part of such a project, but they knew little of the operations of a 9-1-1 call center, or what type of software a fire truck would need, or how FOSS would fit into the law enforcement community. Others expressed the frustration that varying standards would cause, such as the reporting standards here in the United States versus what might be required in Poland. There was also concern that bugs have the potential to do real harm.

It seemed like interest in such a project was beginning the wane, and it looked like it might not go anywhere. Then gradually things began to happen. As you well know, open source became more present just about everywhere. You began to see articles about European countries and governments embracing open source. In the United States, the open source movement was also gaining speed. Businesses took open source seriously and local governments began to look at open source and open standards. On our end, we still weren't able to seem to get anything going, but that was about to change.

The OpenISES Project is Born
On July 3, 2005, I received an e-mail from a Mr. Arnold 'Arnie' Shore. He had recently read the article and was interested in joining forces. Arnie was retired, and was currently involved in volunteer work developing web applications. In addition to the article, he had a friend in Florida who worked for an emergency operations center in a small county during a recent hurricane. As far as a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) program, they had nothing. Sure, there were commercial versions, but the county simply couldn't afford such a 'luxury'. That is how Arnie got involved, and we began to send e-mails back and forth discussing how we should proceed.

From these series of e-mails came the birth of the OpenISES (Open Information Systems for Emergency Services) Project. We created the OpenISES Project ( to help provide emergency service agencies with the software, materials and expertise they need to do their jobs. Our projects were to be all open source, with the primary goal of offering emergency service agencies a choice that is away from high cost software. We know that many agencies simply don't have the money, so they do without. Sometimes a choice is made between spending budget money on software, or put to use purchasing rescue gear. We are determined to help those agencies have more choices, so they can better serve their communities.

As with any new project like this, there are problems that come up right from the start. One of the biggest obstacles we have to overcome in the developer community is an impression that with little or no experience in emergency services they can't possibly be of any help. This is simply not the case. A prime example of this can be seen in what Arnie did as he looked at emergency service applications from a different perspective. Consider his approach to the CAD program;
"What I did was to assume that 9-1-1 operations are similar conceptually to tracking software problems. Really! That is, a 'ticket' gets written, then tracked to its closure, and that status info is needed along the way. At its core, it's record-keeping. So, I looked at a number of F/OSS ticket applications, picked one that looked amenable to some heavy adaptation, have added mapping, etc, to it, and it's under development as we speak."

And its not just CAD programs that can benefit from the experience of the open source developer community. Listen to his idea concerning a Jail Management project;
"(There has been some) interest in a jail management application as a possible extension to Tickets. I see a parallel between that and (are you sitting down?) a school administration application. For instance, students relate to prisoners, parents relate to visitors, teachers relate to guards, principals related to wardens, schoolrooms relate to cells, etc. There may be better choices, but I've looked at a few of these for another 'customer' of mine, and the parallels struck me. So, if one could find the right school system and perform a massive change of term X to term Y, one could be 75% (?) of the way towards a jail management application."

Table of contents
  1. "OSS to the rescue, Page 1/2"
  2. "OSS to the rescue, Page 2/2"
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