Ambitious Army project takes Arlington National Cemetery high-tech

After well-publicized problems, new geospatial system to digitize National Cemetery operations

arlington natioal cemetery
The US Army says it has begun implementing an ambitious digital, geospatial technology project that will fix long-standing management problems at Arlington National Cemetery.

Once complete, the Army's effort will create a single, verifiable and authoritative database of all those laid to rest at Arlington. The system too will ultimately offer a smartphone application that will let families to search the database and much more easily find a headstone or other points of interest in the cemetery.

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The project has been no small undertaking. According to the Arlington National Cemetery Gravesite Accountability Task Force, the database will include some 510,000 records and the group physically examined and photographed 259,978 gravesites, niches and markers using a custom-built smartphone application and matched each photo with records in the database. Arlington officials are on track to finish the project summer.

The task force was required by Congress to conduct an inventory of all graves in the cemetery after an Army study found a number of serious problems with thousands of gravesites and record-keeping.

The history of the Cemetery as a final resting place dates back to at least 1828, when Mary Randolph, a descendent of Pocahontas and cousin of Thomas Jefferson, was interred on what was then private property. The first interment of a soldier at the Cemetery, that of Private William Christman in 1864, began the evolution of the Cemetery into the national shrine it is today and which now conducts more than 7,000 funeral services every year, according to the Army, according to the task force.  

In the end the project will  create the first-ever digital map of ANC to support Cemetery operations, visitors and tourism.  Information technologies will improve scheduling and recordkeeping at the Cemetery to ensure accurate digital assignment of gravesites and maintain strict accountability into the future, the task force stated.  

New geospatial tools will enable the Cemetery caretaker to check headstones to ensure that the information on each is accurate prior to placement. These tools will also help the backhoe operator know what to expect prior to excavation and allow field technicians assigning gravesites to select records electronically with knowledge of the status of every grave in the Cemetery. Cemetery staff can check each marker upon order, receipt and setting, the task force stated.

"Arlington is no longer a paper-based operation. By producing a single electronic map of Arlington, the staff will assign, manage and track gravesites with an authoritative digital map," said Kathryn Condon to the House Veterans Affairs Committee's disability assistance and memorial affairs subcommittee this week. 

The geospatial mapping system will let officials synchronize burial operations with other daily operations, such as public ceremonies, infrastructure repair, grounds upkeep and public safety activities, Condon said. The system is linked to Arlington's interment scheduling system, which allows schedulers to assign gravesites and assign procession routes. It also alerts Arlington staff of other activities in the area, she said.

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