High-Tech Patrol

Lighthorse Police leader John Ellis checks GPS equipment before starting patrol.


Finding our way to a new location using GPS, or the Global Positioning System, has become such an everyday occurrence that we may sometimes wonder how we ever found our way without it.

While many of us don’t think of GPS as much more than a way to find a new restaurant or hotel, GPS is only one part of a much larger Geographic Information System (GIS) which captures, manages, analyzes and displays geographic information in the form of maps, globes, reports, charts, databases and websites. 


The award-winning Chickasaw Nation Geospatial Information (GSI) department headed by director John Ellis, compiles information from that larger system to provide a myriad of useful services.


“The Geospatial team provides information and services which help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our emergency services and enhances the effectiveness of our economic development efforts,” said Gov. Bill Anoatubby. “They also develop maps and other information which help us offer more effective social services and better preserve our history and heritage.” 


Four case studies involving work by the Chickasaw Nation GSI department will be published in the upcoming book, Tribal GIS: Supporting Tribal Decision Making. These case studies involve developing more efficient road networks, cultural preservation efforts and enhancing emergency services. 

Ellis said that they are con- and quality of services offered.

“We do much more than make conventional maps, we provide decision-making tools,” said Ellis. “We are constantly adding to the data and tools we make available to tribal government divisions, law enforcement agencies, fire departments and a wide range of other users.”

Within the tribe, Ellis and his team create, maintain and enhance databases, maps and internal mapping websites for various departments and divisions such as Lighthorse Police, History and Culture, Commerce, Realty, Housing, Environmental Services, and others. 

Ellis and his team are also involved in various projects which benefit the surrounding community.  This includes preparing maps and information for some of the area’s city, county, state and federal agencies.   

Map books provided to local fire departments may enable fire fighters to better prepare by identifying the type and size of structures involved and locating the nearest fire hydrant before they ever reach the scene of a fire.

Detailed maps of the service area in south central Oklahoma are provided to Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, county sheriff offices, local fire departments and search and rescue teams.

Using a variety of information from the geographic information system including drive times, speed limits, aerial imagery, elevation, one-way streets and more, the GSI department develops maps of the road network which provide information useful to emergency service personnel.

Maps created for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol enable dispatchers to have a detailed view of county roads on large maps on the wall of the dispatch office. This type of information can be vital to dispatching officers to a call in a rural area.

Maps are also made available on computers in Lighthorse Police Department vehicles and on customized web sites. These high tech maps enable police officers and other emergency responders to quickly find the fastest and safest route to an auto accident, fire, or other emergency.

Maps are also being made available on mobile devices, such as iphone and ipad. 

 Recently, during a night time search for a homicide suspect, a Lighthorse officer was able to access aerial maps with daytime views of the area on his ipad, which ultimately proved helpful in finding the suspect.

Custom built maps with detailed information can be developed on short notice for search and rescue operations. During a search for a missing person in the Arbuckle Mountains, the GSI department produced maps with search grids which enabled search and rescue teams to better organize their efforts. 

“We are able to generate this type of map in a matter of minutes,” said Mr. Ellis. “Without having the information stored in a geodatabase, it could take days, or even weeks, to filter the information.”   

One of the newest data sources available to the department is ground penetrating radar. Ground penetrating radar systems have a variety of uses which go beyond helping construction crews identify water lines, electrical lines and other utilities prior to breaking ground on a new project.

Some of the ground penetrating radar is sensitive enough to detect fishing line six inches under the surface of the soil. This type of hand held GPR device could be used by law enforcement agencies to find contraband such as stolen items, or drugs buried underground or hidden in building walls.    

This technology can also be used to help crews avoid disturbing human remains or buried funerary objects during construction on lands of historic Native American village sites or trade routes. 

GPR technology can also be used to identify and restore cemeteries created in the nineteenth or twentieth century then later neglected or abandoned. In cemetery sites where headstones have been removed or displaced GPR can be used to help identify the location of remains to help with efforts to replace grave markers and otherwise restore burial sites of family cemetery plots or even Civil-War era cemeteries.

Information available through the GIS is also useful in other efforts to preserve Chickasaw culture.

By using maps, treaties and other historical documents provided by the GIS team, archeologists are continuing their efforts to uncover more facts about Chickasaw culture, such as locating ancient Chickasaw villages, burial sites and trade routes. 

GIS has also allowed the Chickasaw Nation to integrate data across various departments and divisions, including commerce. By using this technology, the GSI team is able to provide demographic information to help determine the best location for new businesses.

The department also has an active internship program with the Department of Cartography and Geography at East Central University and helps students become confident and successful within the GIS community. 

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