Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Earthquake Damage Report by Drone

We've all seen them. Earthquake damage reports that are visual. Newspapers, magazines, TV or the Internet - the press giving us maps, photos, graphs, and videos. Now comes damage report by drone.

(LA Times, August 26, 2014)

Comment: Very interesting clip. If you need a reason not to go in a building that looks safe but hasn't been inspected after an earthquake, don't miss examination of the church facade found at 2:50. And, for proof that even modern buildings can have issues in "just" a moderate earthquake, check out the building at 3:57. All of this makes me think there is a future in earthquake damage report by drone!

Graphic credit:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

FEMA Looking For Comments on Its New Flood Map Service Center

On the 19th of August, FEMA formally announced release of its new Flood Map Service Center (MSC). According to the announcement:
The FEMA Risk MAP program is pleased to announce the successful launch of the newly redesigned FEMA Flood Map Service Center (MSC). In addition to a streamlined and intuitive user interface, the upgraded MSC provides a number of new features and benefits to the public.
Importantly, the MSC is requesting feedback from the public on the site's layout and usability. Details below:

(FEMA News Bulletin, August 19, 2014)

Comments: Per feedback, here's a couple of quick first impressions.

  • Kudos to FEMA for working to improve delivery of the associated suite of products.
  • Product search engine does a nice job of pulling in all available items for an area location (city).

  • The geocoder for street addresses needs improvement - my Minnesota street address defaulted to Missouri instead of offering choices.
  • Placement of the MSC inside the standard FEMA web layout creates confusing and distracting top and lower borders/menus.
  • MAP Center?  How about placing the interactive map on the home page?

  • Find in the header of site's MSC map search interface the following: "To find your flood map, enter an address, a place, or a set of longitude/latitude coordinates (emphasis added)." REALLY FEMA? How about also offering a search based on the U.S. National Grid? Try this. And, several versions of the code are available for free so there is no excuse except institutional inertia gone bad.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ferguson Brings Calls For Police Body Cams

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have brought focus to the discussion about body camera use by police officers. And oddly, it is one of those rare times when virtually everyone is saying the same thing: The technology is a win-win solution that could go a long way toward keeping similar events from happening in the future. More below:

(The Verge, August 18, 2014)

Comment: Mark me down as another one in favor of this idea. While reviewing some of the stories about this topic that were run here in the past (see below), do the math on the cost of a body camera for every police officer in Ferguson (82 x $399), versus the cost of local law enforcement overtime, State Patrol and Missouri National Guard deployments, community ill will, and civil unrest damages. That one is not even close.

(EPC Updates, January 15, 2014)

(EPC Updates, January 24, 2012)

Graphic Credit: Taser

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Crime Satellites Coming Soon

On June 11, 2014, the United States government relaxed restrictions on commercial satellite vendors so that they can now sell imagery with resolutions down to 25cm to non-military customers. If circumstances in the U.K repeat in the U.S, one of the beneficiaries of this development could be police departments across the nation. More below:

(CNN, August 12, 2014)

Comment: Perhaps. But there is nothing specifically special about collecting imagery with a satellite within the jurisdiction boundary of any one police department that can't be done at least as well with a properly configured aircraft. Where the advantage goes to satellites is when dealing with multi-jurisdictional or regional/national cases where a consistent and detailed view of a crime scene is not otherwise available.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New Crowdsourcing Crime App Creates LOTS of Controversy

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Now developers of SketchFactor, an app which allows users to report their impressions about public safety in the urban environment, find themselves in hot water as charges of racism hit the internet and press. Details below:

(Washington Post, August 12, 2014)

Comment: History repeats itself.  As reported on January 9, 2012, MicroSoft was awarded a patent for a GPS feature which uses crime statistics to provide routing around known areas of trouble. That software soon became dubbed "Avoid Ghetto" technology. Thus, there should be little surprise that SketchFactor is now seeing the same reaction as what MicroSoft experienced. Here are a couple of examples from the past:

(NPR, January 19, 2012)

Graphic credit:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

San Jose Police Go "Smart" on Drone

The San Jose Police Department (SJPD) recently made known it had purchased a Century Neo 660 radio-controlled six-rotor helicopter style drone or UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) in January 2014 using money from a Department of Homeland Security grant program. According to reports, the SJPD plans to use the UAS to support its bomb squad and during circumstances which pose immediate risk to the public safety like hostage or active shooter events. However, the department has also indicated they will not deploy the UAS until they have conducted a community outreach effort and developed "the policy and procedures that will provide an appropriate and practical framework to guide the operation of the UAS." Details below: 

(, August 6, 2014)

Comment: Wow - here's a department that's got its thinking straight on putting this important tool in the hands of its officers. Step One: Make sure the community knows what's taking place (aka transparency - although the ACLU has argued the SJPD hasn't been transparent enough). Step Two: Develop procedures and policy (head off claims of illegal activity). Step Three: Deploy the asset to help save lives. All too often the problem with departments which have previously jumped into the drone game is they have started with Step Three and then tried to work backwards. An approach certain to breed mistrust and suspicion with the public.    

Photo credit: Century Helicopter Products