If you’ve ever had the privilege to visit Arlington National Cemetery you know the grounds are vast. In fact there are more than 290,000 soldiers buried throughout the 624 acres of hallowed ground. The terrain can make it difficult for families to locate the headstone of their loved ones.
So Arlington National Cemetery has gone digital. They’ve released a new smartphone app ANC Explorer, which allows visitors to find graves using Apple iOS or Google Android smartphones, as well as the cemetery’s website or kiosks located at Arlington.
Nick Miller is the Chief Information Officer at Arlington National Cemetery. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program why they launched the app.
“When we launched this app. we looked to answer the two most fundamental questions families or visitors ask when the come to the Cemetery:”
- Where is the location of my loved one?
- Where are some of the notable features or things I should see on my visit?
Size of the Cemetery
“There are over 290,000 grave plots so you can imagine how hard it is to find a specific 5×5 or 5×10 piece of earth, especially given the size of our Cemetery. There are over 70 sections, each of those sections have between 1,000-5,000 graves. The numbering sequence is not always numerically sequenced. There are a lot of letters in the grave sites, so it became a challenge to remember exactly where you loved one is buried,” said Miller.
Big Data Collection
“The first step in creating this app. was to collect and digitize over 150 years worth of data and make sure that it was accurate. At that point, we leveraged some of the web services to really have the corporate business systems drive the many different operations systems,” said Miller.
Mapping the Cemetery – GIS
“In order to provide geo-spatial awareness to a visitor, we had teams of 3 walk through the cemetery and collect each headstone using some industry technology to get us within 3 inches of accuracy. That process continues today. Every time we schedule a burial, we map it spatially and when the headstone arrives we do collect that headstone feature as well,” said Miller.
- A visitor coming to the Cemetery that doesn’t have a smartphone, they can use the on-site Kiosks to locate their loved ones.
- A visitor who comes to the Cemetery and wants to take all the information home with them, needs the smartphone app.
- If you are unable to come to the Cemetery in person, you can remotely visit by loggin on.
“Our director told us of a gentleman who wasn’t able to get to Arlington to see his loved ones headstone. He downloaded the app and right there and could see his brother’s headstone. It brought a tear to his eye. So you can really see the comfort and peace we can bring by allowing technology to serve our families,” said Miller.
“The biggest challenge here is just size. Each gravesite is a gravesite of a hero. So we have to put a high level of care on everyone of those 290,000 plots,” said Miller. “It wouldn’t be worth the investment if we launched this investment and two years down the line it went stale.”
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I am a frequent visitor to Arlilngton. My parents are buried there as well as some folks that I worked with, served with, or went to school with. This new app is a tremendous improvement. Before this, if you wanted to find a gravesite you went to an office in the visitor center that had limited staff (1-3), waited your turn in line, they had to look things up in the paper records and if didn’t have the name exactly correct, or the year of internment, etc. then they sometimes did not find the site. The new app not only finds the site, but you get a map & a photo of the headstone/niche which is extremely helpful because the headstone numbering is not always consistent or sequential. Great job & kudos to Nick Miller & those who developed the app!