Five police officers in full SWAT gear huddled inside a campus library and stared at their iPod Touches.
They werent playing music.
The UNC Charlotte officers, who were about to start a training exercise Friday 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.
In the wake of last weeks movie theater shootings in Colorado, it gives police a high-tech device to find suspects and keep people safe faster.
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. Its important to think of the future of safety.
Baker controlled Friday mornings command center in a police RV outside Atkins Library. His computer was synced with app programs 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 can also 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 last weeks Aurora, Colo., shootings, which left 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 Id 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 apps development.
It is the brainchild of Bill Ribarsky, chairman of UNC Charlottes computer science department and director of the Charlotte Visualization Center, which uses visual analytics to solve complex problems in science, engineering and other disciplines.
Ribarsky developed the app along with associate professor K.R. Subramanian, graduate students and a research scientist.
Ribarsky said the one-of-a-kind technology will assist law enforcement during emergencies. We are definitely breaking ground, he said. The app is unique and a leader in developing 3-D models.
He said the path-finding technology was guided by the way doctors use high-tech tools to conduct colonoscopies. The doctor has to navigate and look at each polyp, he said. Its not just flying down the colon.
Ribarsky said he hopes to have a final version complete and ready for Chief Baker to use in the next few months.
Developing the app involved mapping every nook and cranny of campus using digital architectural files. Ribarsky said that when complete, the federal government will have full access to the program since it funded the app, and that it might be sold to other universities. There have been discussions on mapping Appalachian State Universitys football stadium for the app, he said.
Wed like to do larger venues like that, he said.
During one of the trial tests Friday, the SWAT officers strapped the iPods onto their forearms and responded to a call about shots fired in the library. Students volunteered to play the roles of a gunman and victims in the library.
Via the command center, Baker instructed the officers that the gunman was supposedly on the third floor. They checked the first three floors, updating their locations, and then learned the gunman, apparently suicidal, was on the seventh floor. They used routes directed by the command center that they could see on their screens to get to the seventh floor.
Once there, they located the gunman and disarmed him.
An earlier version of the app had been tested in November, but Fridays simulation was a test for any last-minute kinks. Officers said they had some problems securing a wireless connection, but that the app overall was very helpful.
The technology is pretty cool, Cox said after the mock SWAT mission. This could definitely be a valuable tool because we could tell where injured people are because thats the ultimate thing, saving lives.