By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va. – Arlington National Cemetery began using geospatial technology this week to manage its cemetery operations in a move officials say makes them nearly paperless.
“Probably the biggest thing that the geospatial system does for us is it eliminates the need for paper,” said retired Army Col. Jack Lechner, the cemetery’s administrator, during a public demonstration of the technology today.
“Prior to the use of that system, we had requirements to photocopy schedules and distribute copies of schedules, make manual notations on schedules,” he said.
There are so many people involved with funerals at Arlington National Cemetery -- various [branches of service], chaplains, bands, chapels, buglers – “you could imagine the amount of reproduction we were doing,” Lechner said. Synchronizing this into in a digital format has provided tremendous savings in time, effort and money, he said.
Lechner described the system formerly used to manage cemetery operations that is moving toward becoming fully digital.
“It probably took about three or four people constantly devoted to the process of paper management,” he explained. “Whether it was paper copying, paper production, paper distribution … that process has gone away.
“Those individuals in the workforce are now able to devote themselves to the actual core tasks and services to families that we’re here to [provide],” he added.
Lechner noted while this new innovative system has helped organize cemetery operations, the paper system isn’t obsolete – yet.
“We’re still maintaining the paper copies of the maps that we’ve been using for quite a while,” he said. “After a test period, we’ll see if there’s a need for us to actually continue to maintain the paper copies or if we can go strictly digital.”
Lechner said all signs point to digital as the way to go, and there are many safeguards to protect the technology.
“There are multiple safeguards just like all the other Army systems that you deal with on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “We have the same firewalls and protection, the same [Common Access Card] access codes that are needed to get into things. So the redundancy and the protection is there.”
In addition to the geospatial technology, the cemetery began a first-of-its-kind gravesite accountability process, which examined 259,978 graves front and back, ANC officials said.
“Everything about the cemetery is [related to the] knowledge of who is buried where,” said Army Maj. Nicholas Miller, the cemetery’s chief information officer. “That’s really a rich data set, a large data set, of people and locations.”
The technology will help ensure accuracy, he said.
Miller, who is responsible for creating the system, explained how the idea for the revamping came about.
“As we looked at how we wanted visitors to come experience the cemetery, we thought they should be able to use their [smartphones] and get walk-in directions to the gravesite and also pull up information about their loved ones,” he said.
The best way to do that is to provide the location-based information that geospatial technology enables, Miller said.
Cemetery officials’ goal is to “continue to uphold the faith and confidence of the American people by using the best technology to accurately document and conduct the services for their loved ones that we do here,” he said.
The current information system is internal, but a public Web application will be available on www.arlingtoncemetery.mil, in addition to the smartphone app, later this summer.
Honoring veterans and fallen service members “is one of the most humbling missions we have,” Miller said. “[We want to ensure] Arlington continues to be America’s premier military cemetery.”