Just two years ago, Arlington National Cemetery was plagued by mismarked and unidentified gravesites and incomplete paper records .
Now, the Army has at its disposal a massive, GPS-enabled digital database of every gravesite. And what’s more, the cemetery has made the database available to the public via its website and a mobile application.
“In less than two years, Arlington Cemetery transformed itself into a state-of-the-art cemetery,” said Maj. Nicholas Miller, Arlington’s chief information officer. Miller joined In Depth with Francis Rose as part of Federal News Radio’s special series, Gov 3.0: It’s Mobile.
When the issues with misidentified gravesites were discovered, the Army vowed to make changes.
“The entire United States Army brought resources to support our nation’s premier hallowed ground,” Miller said. “We took those resources to really conduct a full accounting of the cemetery, develop a single authoritative database. And then that data through Web services powers the mobile platforms,” Miller said.
Teams of soldiers fanned out across Arlington National Cemetery using a specially modified iPhone app to photograph every single gravestone along with the GPS coordinates of its placement in the cemetery. The gravestone records were then synced up with information from paper records and other databases to ensure names, rank and date-of-birth information were correct.
Arlington publicly released the database as an app containing an interactive map for cemetery visitors in October.
One of the most useful features of the app is the GPS capability, Miller said.
“It’s geospatially-powered … it allows you to get pinpoint direction,” he said. “We mapped every cemetery headstone to three inches to the gravesite.”
Kathryn Condon, who was named the cemetery’s executive director in June 2010, is credited with helping turn around Arlington’s record mismanagement and lax oversight.
Miller said Condon also emphasized the role of technology.
“Our executive director put a vision out there that technology has a way to enhance the experience here,” Miller said. “And so, really as the new leadership was put in place in June 2010, we started charting our way forward to really modernize the cemetery, and, at that time, we knew that mobile computing had a place and that we were going to field some kind of mobile application to help the public.”
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.