3-D maps to help responders created in Ohio

Immersive Video Imaging Network shows inside of 10 most critical buildings in county

By Lucas Sullivan
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A group of Ohio University students who develop video games has produced a federally funded computer program to help emergency crews more safely respond to threats ranging from fires to terrorist attacks.

The 3-D "IVIN," or Immersive Video Imaging Network, shows the inside of the 10 most-critical buildings in Franklin County. Created at OU's Game Research and Immersive Design lab, the program eventually could be used by communities across the country.

The project took about three years and cost $950,000 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The money paid for equipment and travel, plus the work of participating students.

The goal of IVIN's creators is to allow police and firefighters equipped with laptops to more quickly develop a plan of attack when confronted by an emergency. The software creates a Web-based model of the buildings in its database and allows first responders to virtually place themselves inside a facility with 360-degree views, just like in a video game.

"If it is immediately accessible and up-to-date, it sounds like a fairly sophisticated monitoring system," said Greg Paxton, acting Columbus fire chief. "We have fire-planned various buildings, but if we actually had something that's three-dimensional, that could make it more helpful for us."

Paxton hasn't seen the technology and neither have most area chiefs. That's because the county's Homeland Security and Justice Programs agency has kept the project under wraps.

The agency's director, Kathy Crandall, would not identify the 10 buildings in the database, citing security reasons. Homeland Security officials said it contains the most-critical sites, such as Columbus' water-treatment facility. The structures were chosen based on the potential loss of life and how important they are to the public.

OU approached the county about developing the program, said Bill McKendry, a resources consultant for Homeland Security. Students visited the 10 buildings a total of 30 times and took extensive photographs. Those were loaded into a computer, and the digital world was created.

"It is much like the texture you will see in the video games out today," McKendry said. "We hope more buildings can be added to the program, but with the significant (federal) budget cuts to Homeland Security, that doesn't seem to be an option right now."

Homeland Security officials hope the program will be used by other communities.

"We designed the software and had a provisional patent filed, so we absolutely hope to do that," said John Bowditch, director of OU's gaming-design lab and architect of the IVIN program software. " The university will be able to license this program to any city they want."

Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott's office will be responsible for updating and storing the technology. Scott said he plans to train some of his SWAT and command-staff members in how to use IVIN.

"This will be important to SWAT, and if you think about some recent shooting situations, it will provide us with a better tool on how to address those," Scott said. "But more importantly, this will keep deputies and the public safe, and it will cut down on mishaps at those scenes."

Copyright 2012 The Columbus Dispatch
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