Caught with your plans down?

Discover emerging disaster-mapping tools to help


   At the Sea Island Summit, GTVC was used to connect all command posts, including two FBI Joint Operations Centers at St. Simons and Savannah; the Multi Agency Coordination Center; and various operational command posts, such as bomb disposal, mobile field forces, intelligence, and traffic control.

   "This provided a common operating picture throughout all venues, which allowed command staff to position resources as required," Reichert says.

   GTVC was also used more recently, during the 2007 South Georgia wildfires.

   "GTVC was able to provide real-time data regarding the location and status of fires and firefighting assets so emergency operation center staff could determine protective action and resource activities," Reichert says.

   Reichert explains that a common operating picture of a crisis is essential for first responders, and sharing that picture with various command posts and emergency operations centers is equally important.

   The system allows users to add or hide layers, enter text and location data, grant various levels of access, and display preloaded critical infrastructure and key resource information, which is of tremendous value in response.

Ship of tools

   The market sometimes seems awash in emerging mapping solutions. The better mapping tools allow access to real-time data to make realtime decisions.

   "Such decisions can also be made with the integration of modeling, especially in the area of hazardous plumes and chemicals entering the environment through spills, leaks, or malice," says Stacey Schultz, a policy analyst at the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security.

   One tool, called DragonForce from the Camden, N.J.-based company Drakontas, augments an agency's existing technology and equipment investments by running on commercial-off-the-shelf devices like the BlackBerry smartphone.

   "An incident commander can know at any given time where various assets are located via geo-referenced maps and GPS technology," says Michael Mitkus, Drakontas manager of sales and marketing. Mitkus adds that the system allows public safety professionals to exchange information such as building floor plans, suspect mug shots and text messages in real-time, all of which enhance situational awareness.

   Mitkus says DragonForce can provide critical information during high-risk tactical situations, such as warrant service, hostage scenarios, and active shooting incidents.

   "It can also be deployed for day-to-day missions and for routine patrols to improve operations and facilitate faster emergency response," he says.

   Another system, the Geographic Search and Referencing Platform, or GSRP from MetaCarta, based in Cambridge, Mass., automatically geotags all sources of unstructured and semi-structured information, including news feeds and local file repositories. By displaying this data on maps, GSRP helps users detect developing hot spots or understand the twists and extent of a crisis.

   The GSRP system can alert users to increasing chatter about, say, a certain parking structure near an infrastructure asset, or instantly detect hot spots of activity as they emerge from live news streams and other inputs. GSRP also helps disaster managers understand spatial associations between events, such as anecdotal reports of flooding occurring near a power generating plant or other critical assets.

   "Smuggling of drugs and guns across the Mexican border is an emergency every day," says Ken Tomaselli, MetaCarta vice president. "GSRP allows analysts to see the corridors of movement, whether an isolated incident of a gun cache or drug deal, which can take on a much larger significance when correlated on a map with other events over a period of time."

Ready, aim, buyer

   Buying GIS mapping technology is the easy part. Agencies also have to educate the emergency management user community about the capabilities, develop and integrate these capabilities into plans and procedures, and develop training and exercises to ensure necessary skills are retained.

   The driving force is often a smart IT department, which is itself driven by other departments that use GIS for routine operations, such as police, fire, planning, zoning, public works and public health.

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