Sunday, July 1, 2001

Wireless Palm handhelds provide animal control officers with information access

PALM IN THE REAL WORLD

By Megan Obrist

Animal control officers in Lincoln, Nebraska are dispatched just like police officers and fire fighters to investigate situations such as a citizen reporting a dog bite or an animal in danger, as well as to ensure citizens have animal licenses for their pets. As animal control is part of the health department, one of its responsibilities is to control rabies. As such, officers are required to go door-to-door to individuals' homes, urging residents to renew delinquent animal licenses.

Animal control officers are mobile workers, constantly on the go, and without access to a computer system. When they needed information on a particular animal, officers had to go to the office and print separate pages of information on the animal in question, including the animal's tag number, the owner's name, and the address of the owner.

To improve the organization's efficiency, the City of Lincoln deployed wireless Palm VIIx handheld computers (at http://www.palm.com/products/palmviix/) and Kodak PalmPix digital camera attachments (at http://www.kodak.com/US/en/digital/cameras/palmPix/), enabling animal control officers to access in real time a variety of information, including:

  • Animal and owner information by tag number, owner name, and owner address;
  • Unit dispatching information;
  • City municipal codes pertaining to animal ordinances;
  • Property owner information;
  • License plate lookup.

The problem with print-outs

The old process of printing out pertinent information at the office and carrying it around on the job was not only a time-intensive and costly effort, but also the information proved out of date almost as soon as it was printed, causing confusion among officers and citizens alike. Often, an officer would show the papers to a citizen, explaining that they needed to renew the license, but in reality, the citizen had already renewed and just didn't have the new tags with them.

Another problem arose at night. The City of Lincoln doesn't assign animal control officers to 24-hour-a-day patrol shifts. In many cases, an on-call officer is at home and dispatched in a way similar to that of a police officer or fire fighter. In order for the officer to retrieve information about an animal, he or she would have to go to the health department, sign onto a terminal, look up the necessary information, print the information, and then respond to the call. This was an extremely and unnecessarily lengthy process. The City of Lincoln realized it needed to change the system to benefit its employees and its citizens.