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* LinksPoint

Fire Department of New York Mobile Recovery Database Developed at Ground Zero Using GPS

Contributed by Mike Forbes (, LinksPoint, edited by Glenn Letham ( (March 26, 2002)

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On Sept. 12, 2001 LinksPoint joined with FDNY and other City, State and Federal Agencies to discuss automating the process of capturing location information for items recovered at the site [ground zero]. LinksPoint staff met with Chief Joseph Pfeifer and members of the FDNY to begin discussing the requirements of the necessary application. It was about a week before they had the bandwidth to focus on the application and once all agreed on features, LinksPoint wrote and delivered the application in three days. The solution uses a ruggedized GPS receiver manufactured by LinksPoint and Symbol handheld data terminals.

Links Point, Inc. is a mobile information systems company providing complete enterprise solutions and focusing on the integration of GPS, GIS and other location technologies. The company develops software for the delivery and collection of enterprise information regarding network infrastructure and assets (roadways, pipelines, electric lines, communications networks) to and from field workers. Links Point also designs and manufactures GPS (global positioning system) hardware for the military and various mobile computing device companies such as Symbol Technologies. Combining years of experience with the two industry standard mobile computing operating systems (Windows CE and Palm OS) and a complete understanding of location relevant information (GIS), Links Point is able to offer complete mobile data solutions.

The Challenge

As a result of the World Trade Center disaster, the FDNY was tasked with the responsibility of documenting the items recovered from the rubble of the disaster zone and recording information regarding location, time and type of item found - information critical to both the ongoing investigation and analysis of the event. The existing data capture process was laborious and inefficient. Firefighters recovering the items manually recorded identification descriptions and information regarding the date time, and estimate location of the item found. They would then attach a tracking number to the item and record that number on the paperwork they filled out. Later, back at the command center, the data was then manually input into a database to track all the items found. This information was also being used by other agencies involved in the investigation. Because the information was initially recorded on paper and then digitized and the location was based on a firefighter's guess as to his location on the 16 acre site, this process resulted in mismatched tracking numbers as well as inaccurate location data. The immediate challenge:
  • Automate the existing paper-based, manual process for recording information
  • Provide a greater degree of accuracy in documenting location of items recovered
  • Develop a quicker process of capturing information so firefighters will need to spend less time under hazardous conditions
  • Increase quality of data captured

The Solution

Links Point was asked by the FDNY and other Federal and State agencies involved to develop a solution that would automate the process, making it more efficient and the location data more accurate. Links Point developed an application to run on the Symbol PP T 2800, a ruggedized handheld, which allows the firefighters to select a description of the item found and automatically capture the time, date and location of the item. In addition, the firefighters were able to tag the item with a barcode and scan that barcode with the device in order to match the item with the electronic record. By using a GPS attachment manufactured by Links Point, location-specific information identifying exactly where the item was found is automatically added to the record. The entire 16 acre disaster site has been mapped into a grid format, which all the agencies use for mapping and reporting. The application automatically read the GPS coordinates and translates the latitude/ longitude information received from the GPS signal into the geo-referenced grid map coordinates, allowing the firefighters to instantly determine in which grid cell the item was recovered. The data captured is uploaded to the database directly from the handheld, eliminating the need for manual input.

The LinksPoint Solution... A system that integrates Global Positioning System (GPS) location data with a custom database application to record location and description of items found at the site

Firefighters are able to tag recovered item with a barcode and scan that barcode with the device to register the item in the database.


This application resulted in an increase in data capture rates and a decrease in data errors. By using GPS technology, the FDNY is able to have accurate location information for all items recovered. In addition, human error in the tagging of the items as well as the manual input of the data into the database was eliminated. The data captured by the handheld computer is uploaded directly into the FDNY database, eliminating the need for manual input. Additional benefits of using this technology include simplification of manual tasks, more accurate data, increased data integrity, and reduced exposure to hazardous material.

Some Facts About GPS

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) provides precise latitude and longitude information
  • Constellation of 24 Satellites maintained by the US Department of Defense
  • 5-8 Satellites are visible from any point on earth at any given time
  • GPS receivers in handheld computers used by FDNY give accurate location data for items recovered at site
  • Satellite-based navigation system maintained by the US Department of Defense
  • Satellites transmit information toward Earth
  • GPS receivers take this information and use triangulation to calculate the user's exact location
  • GPS receiver compares signal transmission time with time received
  • Receivers convert satellite signals to position, velocity, and time estimates
  • GPS receivers are used for navigation, positioning and research
  • GPS is used in the Mobile Recover Application to determine position of items found at the site

According to the Daily News, as of last week at least 17,233 body parts had been recovered and 808 victims positively identified by the medical examiners. Once the database is completed and FDNY collected data is matched up with ID from the medical examiner's office, the combined data will be made available to victims' family members, however, that could be months away.

Links Point, Inc. One Selleck Street, Norwalk, CT 06850

Related Documents

  • Image of recorded coordinates
  • FDNY Uses GPS to Map Remains at WTC Site
  • Satellite Map of Tragedy

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