Saturday, March 31, 2012

Update: Bird Flu Research/HealthMap

Within the last couple of days there have been some important developments in the controversy previously reported on this blog concerning Bird Flu (H5N1) research (See: Bird Flu Research is Too Dangerous to Publish - For Now).  At the center of that controversy was the development that research staffs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, had discovered how to manipulate the virus so that it could be easily transmitted by air.  Given the virus has had a 60% fatality rate in the past, the discovery would be easy to repeat by other research teams, and the teams were getting ready to publish the details of their work in Nature and Science magazines, there was a flood of concern that a scientific discovery paid for by the U.S. tax payer could be used by bio-terrorists to cause world-wide pandemic. As a result, leadership of the involved communities called for a "Time-Out" to review research and publication guidelines.
On Thursday, the National Institutes of Health, Office of Science Policy, Office of Biotechnology officially posted "United States Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern" as the a way to put in place updated guidelines for this type of situation.  The next day, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), voted to endorse release of the research team findings on the basis that placing the information in the hands of research teams world-wide would do more good than potential harm.  To learn more, click the link below to read an article in from the Washington Post:

Comment: Try doing an Internet search on a topic like "bird flu map".  By and large what you will find is a bunch of outdated efforts and stale data.  There is one exception however, HealthMap - a topic which deserves a discussion of its own at a later date.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fooling-Around Friday: Tacocopter - Fast Food, Delivered Fast

Earlier this week, an Internet driven spoof got underway based on reports of the latest Silicone Valley start up: "Tacocopter".  As envisioned, customers would use their smart phones to order and pay for desired taco items, then an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Tacocopter would use the GPS coordinates of the customer's phone for a "Taco-drop".  By week's end, just about every angle had been worked to wring the laughs out of the story, from semi-serious reporting, to a mock-up website, and, of course, a feature on The Colbert Report.  Which, if you have four minutes before heading out the door for the weekend, you can view below:

Comment:  I like it, and I'm not laughing.  That's because I can think of a very real way to use the joke. How about this type of UAV to deliver Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE's) to individuals stranded on rooftops during flooding, or in other disaster circumstances where ground borne help is still a few days away?  Can you say "Flying St. Bernard?" 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Featured Software: CAMEO

Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO) is a free system of software for planning and responding to chemical emergencies.  It was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA), Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Response and Restoration (ORR).  CAMEO uses five interlocking pieces of software to create a mapped view of a chemical emergency plan and response.  As described on the CAMEO home page, those software pieces are:
  • CAMEO - A database application that includes eight modules (such as facilities and contacts) to assist with data management requirements under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA),
  • CAMEO Chemicals - An extensive chemical database with critical response information for thousands of chemicals,
  • MARPLOT (Mapping Applications for Response, Planning, and Local Operational Tasks) - A mapping tool used to allow users to see their data and visualize significance,
  • ALOHA (Areal Locations of Hazardous Atmospheres) - An atmospheric dispersion model used for evaluating releases of hazardous chemical vapors, and
  • LandView - A program that provides federal environmental and census data on maps.
For more information and links to download the software, use the appropriate link below:

Comment: Don't expect 3D modeling or any other fancy bells and whistles with this software package.  However, it is very good for what it was designed to do: Place a basic chemical emergency planning and response visualization tool in the hands of America's responders.  And, did I mention, it's free!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

American Red Cross Opens a Social Media Operations Center

InformationWeek Government

Earlier this month, the American Red Cross (ARC) cut the ribbon on its new $500,000 Digital Operations Center that was paid for by a generous donation from the Dell Corporation.  In concept, the new ARC center uses a design similar to a facility Dell has been using since late 2010 to monitor world-wide social media reaction to its operations. However, ARC's new center focuses on collecting information from social media to discern relevant disaster event trends that can then be used to anticipate responses needs.  The idea for using an approach like this came from a 2010 Emergency Social Media Summit hosted by the ARC in Washington, DC.  To learn more, use the links below to review the ARC news release, or view the quick You Tube Video, that further discusses this development at the ARC:

Comment: Big kudos to Dell and the American Red Cross for this progressive effort! Not many individuals outside the Emergency Services Sector are aware the American Red Cross is the only non-governmental entity that has been specifically assigned the role of "Supporting Agency" in federally declared disasters by the National Response Framework (NRF).  Indeed, the wide range of critical humanitarian services the ARC provides means it is listed in no less than six of the fifteen Emergency Support Function Annexes to the NRF.  Consequently, it is essential that ARC data systems such as the one described above are able to provide a horizontal and vertical flow of data to Federal and State systems; an approach that will need to be worked over time since it is considerably different than the Dell model of internal support only.  Furthermore, although the ARC has made great strides over the past couple of years by bringing its data into the digital age - a previous initiative has been transitioning records for disaster centers from paper to electronic format - there is still some major work to be done on at least one other front.  Final frontier: Geospatially enabling its data for response community use.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More on Automated License Plate Recognition - Another Brewing Storm


Last summer this blog ran its first post on Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology.  Since that time, there have been a variety of ALPR discussions highlighting the interlocking, and sometimes conflicting, nature of rapid advancements in sensing technology, geolocation tracking, public safety, and individual rights in a free society.  Here are some examples:

  • September 14, 2011: In an effort to ensure information collected locally, remains local, the Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen unanimously rejected state funding for ALPR systems out of fear acceptance would bring with it the requirement to distribute collected data to Federal and State officials.
  • February 21, 2012: The ACLU reports it has discovered ten towns in Connecticut that have been maintaining extensive geotagged ALPR records that would be potentially open to public review.
  • March 20, 2012: A California State Senator introduces a bill that would require local law enforcement agencies to destroy ALPR data files after 60 days.

For those who would like to like to know more about the technology at the center of these concerns, find below:



Comment: We are clearly headed for a slippery slope.  Although it would seem the merit of public good tilts in the favor of reasonable man use of this technology, a new dimension has been added to the discussion with the announcement last week the Japanese had developed an automated face recognition capability on the same scale.  To read a reasonably accurate report on this development, albeit a cyanical one, click here.  And with that, where do we draw the line in the sand?

Other articles on this blog related to ALPR include:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Japan Tsunami Debris Update: As Predicted, Here It Comes....


As noted on this blog in late February, researchers have been predicting the arrival of significant amounts of debris on Pacific island and North American shores from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of last year (see: Monitoring the 2011 Japan Tsunami Debris Field).  Over the weekend, the popular press began reporting that a few fast moving harbingers of that invasion have started arriving.  As denoted by number #1 on the map above, late last week a Transport Canada patrol aircraft spotted a 165-foot long "ghost" Japanese fishing boat adrift approximately 150 miles west of the southern tip of Haida Gwaii Island, B.C.  That news followed discovery of numerous small items of debris along the U.S. coast near Long Beach, Washington (#2) a week earlier.  To read these stories, click the links below:

Comment:  In an encouraging development, on March 12th, the Province of British Columbia, and the States of Washington, Oregon, and California, agreed to coordinate their response efforts to this onslaught of floating disaster debris.  By that action, they took the most critical step any disaster responders can take: They started working together before bad things start to happen.   

Sunday, March 25, 2012

DMIGS: Mamma Mia - That's a Spicy GeOoo-Rig!!!

In the last part of 2011, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) released an updated Fact Sheet on its Domestic Mobile Integrated Geospatial-Intelligence System (DMIGS).  Developed after Katrina, DMIGS typically deploys in support of National Special Security Events (NSSE) like national political conventions, and major disaster response efforts.  NGA currently has two of these units with accompanying service vehicles.  To read the Fact Sheet on these units, use the link below:

Comment: Kudos to NGA for developing this capability!  Now, a word of caution for those outside the federal interagency.  The primary purpose of DMIGS is to support Federal efforts when deployed, not State or local efforts.  While Federal, State and local geospatial needs often align for events where a DMIGS is deployed, the reality that this is a federally focused asset is an important distinction.  Therefore, a point of reflection might be, if the Federal government went to this extent to develop a mobile GIS capability to support its response needs, what has my community done to develop a similar platform?  To put some meat on that thought, consider this:  The DMIGS was deployed to Minnesota for the Republican National Convention in 2008 (RNC); however, a few days before the convention, the DMIGS mission was changed from being available to support a "potential" response, to being available to support a "known" response.  It was retasked from the RNC and sent South to support the  Hurricane Ike response.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nine Days Left to Comment on Draft National Frameworks

In support of Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-8, FEMA and its partners recently released a series of draft National Frameworks.  As described by FEMA, these  "...National Frameworks will build upon existing programs, authorities and best practices to define key preparedness roles and responsibilities for all whole community partners."  FEMA is inviting comment on these first-time documents through April 2, 2012.  Available for consideration are:

Information about downloading and providing comment on these documents can be found by using the link below: 


Comment: For anyone interested in perusing these documents to assess how geospatial technologies are being thought of as the nation moves forward with developing a more dynamic preparedness and response culture, I can save you some time.  Find below a table with the number of times certain words were used in these documents.  I'll let the numbers speak for themselves:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Floating Friday: Build Your Own Satellite!

When it comes to "thinking outside the box" few can match the efforts of Grassroots Mapping.  As part of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, Grassroots Mapping serves as the sponsorship node for a very lofty idea: anyone who wants their own satellite view of the world, delivered whenever they want it - can have it!  Ok, Ok, so it's not exactly a satellite view of the world, but a view derived from your personal camera carried aloft by a kite or balloon.  Then, when your camera returns to earth, there is free software available to assemble and give meaning to your collect.  And - given it will only take about $100.00 to make this all happen, you can take the rest of the year off with all the money you just saved on a traditional satellite run!  To learn more, click the appropriate link below:

Balloon Mapping Kit (Jeff Warren)

Comment: The crew working this is beyond brilliant, but I've got two (very small) complaints: 

1.) Unfortunately the websites related to this effort are all over the place, and after hours of digging, valuable tidbits continue to be discovered.  Consequently, word to the wise, use the links above for the initial explore and if you still want more, block off some time for the deep probe.

2.) This endeavor has emergency response written all over it but the "sell" barely mentions it beyond discussion of the BP oil spill.  In concept, this approach creates a capability that any sheriff, fire crew or emergency manager could have stashed in their car trunk and available for when timely, quick and dirty, situational awareness imagery has far more value than delayed accuracy from traditional for the initial response to a major interstate bridge collapse (I-35W).   

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trouble Ahead - Google Begins Charging for Maps

To be certain, when it comes to online mapping, Google is King.  However, due to a recent corporate decision to start charging smaller users for incorporating Google Maps into their web pages, that leadership position may be headed for trouble.  Central to the brewing storm is the reality there are other available mapping services that charge either comparable or lower rates than Google.  That list of competitors includes MapQuest, Bing, and soon, ESRI.  But, there is also a dark horse - one that none of the others can match in terms of concept: OpenStreetMap (OSM).  In essence, OpenStreetMap is intimately linked to the philosophy that geospatial data belongs to the masses, and should be created by the masses.  As a result, this, "initiative to create and provide free geographic data, such as street maps, to anyone," presents a long term challenge for all those who want to charge for geospatial knowledge. 

Think a service that relies on volunteers to provide and edit data could never work?  Then take a look at the two screen shots below from Brighton, England -  first Google, then OpenStreetMap:

Barely looks like the same place - right?  So click on the links below to:


Comment: In all likelihood, Google and others would claim the above is an unfair example because England is not the United States - Yanks are far less likely to be geographically engaged as Brits, and the quality of layers in the U.S. will suffer as a result.  Fair enough.  But every trip starts with a first step and there can be little doubt about which understanding of physical space would ultimately have the greatest value to the Emergency Services Sector, or the public during a disaster.  Consequently, my vote goes with the OSM concept over vendor supplied data any day!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Three Minnesota Presentations at FOSS4G North America

In the past, the Free and Open Source Software Four (4) Geospatial (FOSS4G) Conference has been held each year at a different location around the globe. Last year it was held in Denver, this year it will be held in Beijing.   As hosted by the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo), the event is an opportunity for software developers from around the world to learn about recent community developments, and work on efforts to increase the utility and use of free and open geospatial software. 

As a result of the record setting numbers at the event in Denver last year, in 2012, North America will have its own dedicated event.  It will be held April 10-12, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC.  The recently announced program has three Minnesotans on the venue:

Comment: Congratulation go out to Paul, David and Jim for their selections!  Indeed, they are representative of Minnesota's long history of involvement in open source geospatial software.  From the 1997 creation of MapServer - now one of the world's most highly used geospatial programs, to GeoMoose - currently working its way through the OSGeo incubation process toward official blessing.  Furthermore, Minnesota geospatial efforts along these lines have often focused on supporting the Emergency Services Sector.  For example, Paul Wickman's talk noted above, David Bitner's service on the Sahana Foundation Board of Directors, and Jim Klassen's efforts during the 2008 Republican National Convention that put the first locally developed Common Operating Picture inside a United States Secret Service Multi-Agency Communication Center.  And to all that, all you can say is: Ya sure, you betcha!  Dem Minnesota boyz know all about dat free mapping stuff for emergency response!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Maps Tell the Story of the Slow Motion Disaster: Rising Seas

Out of concern for the devastating damage rising seas could have on the nation's coastal communities, Climate Central of Princeton, New Jersey, has just released a way to visualize the issue for the entire coastline of the U.S mainland.  It's done with elevation referenced inundation overlays that can be adjusted to reflect various increases in sea height up to ten feet.  As an example, find below two screen shots for Ocracoke, NC.  First, one for a one (1) foot inundation, and then one for a three (3) foot inundation.  Only those areas shown in white would be dry land above the indicated water level:

One Foot Inundation

Three Foot Inundation

For more on this effort, click the link below for an article from the New York Times:

Or, click the link below to proceed directly to the:

Comment: Although Minnesota is not one of the states actively considered by this effort, reality is a disaster along our nation's coasts of this magnitude, would quickly become everyones' disaster.

Monday, March 19, 2012

LightSquared Fight Postmortem (Maybe)

PhilBoxing Forum

When, in the middle of last month, the FCC gave the victor's nod to GPS as being more important to the nation than having increased broadband coverage through LightSquared, pretty much everyone thought the fat lady had sung for LightSquared.  Even more so when last week LightSquared's customers and vendors refused to get back on the bus for the return trip to the practice gym.  First, potential  customer Cricket announced it would be switching services to Clearwire, then Sprint delivered the somewhat expected news it would not be providing buildout of the LightSquared system.  However, buried in that flurry of negative news was the revelation that LightSquared had hired one of the best legal-guns-for-hire, Ted Olson.  As the very highly-regarded former Solicitor General of the United States, Mr. Olson's hiring was the clear signal LightSquared was preparing for litigation against the FCC.  On Friday, Light Squared started down that road when it filed an objection to the defacto legal protection GPS had been granted in the FCC's mid-February ruling; one which allowed GPS to - as LightSquared would describe - squat on LightSquared's assigned frequency band.  Go here to read:

Comment: Perhaps the analogy of a hockey player would have been a better way to describe this mess when the discussion first started nearly a year ago.  After all, as a Northern Minnesota hockey prodigy, Mr. Falcone knows all about getting checked into the boards.  And clearly, the guy is still on his skates.  More to come......if needed, before the ice melts.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Remote Sensing in the Wrong Hands - Means Trouble

Over the past couple of days, there have been several articles in the popular press offering tales of caution about the Orwellian world of remote sensing that may be in the future for us all.  First came the guilty verdict in the Rutgers gay student suicide case where the center of controversy was use of a web camera by one roommate to spy on another.  That story was quickly followed by one about the CIA's developmental efforts to use future sensors  - that will be found in everything from dishwashers to toasters - to geolocate and track individuals.  Finally, the week concluded with the New York Times releasing an extended piece about the lucrative business of installing population monitoring cameras in China at a rate that makes that country the most closely watched society on Earth.  Although the article has an obvious political slant, it's worth a read.  To do so, click the link below:

Comment: The childhood suspicion that TV personalities could peer into the family recreation room from inside the family's lone, 18" black and white, tube-style television - is now starting to tilt closer to fact than fiction.  So word of advice: From this point forward, don't watch TV in the nude!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

DHS Geospatial Update PPT

As part of the informational presentations given at the National States Geographic Information Council's (NSGIC) Mid-Year National Conference, David Alexander, Acting Director of Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Geospatial Management Office (GMO), provided an update on geospatial efforts underway at DHS.  Of note, the PowerPoint highlighted three developments of significance:
  1. The National Exercise and Simulation Center (NESC) has been funded.  Mission: "To enhance the Department’s all‐hazards preparedness and response mission through the promotion of effective and efficient large‐scale exercises and the application of modeling and simulation to these exercises."
  2. National Level Exercise 2011 generated 12 learning points that will significantly impact future development of geospatial technologies and approaches at DHS.
  3. Later this year, expect training on the Federal Interagency Geospatial Concept of Operations (GeoCONOPS) to become available online.  
In addition to the points mentioned above, the final slides of the presentation provided information about the DHS Geospatial Infrastructure Architecture.  To learn more about these developments use the link below to review the PowerPoint:

Comment: The danger here is two fold.  1.) That local, regional and State geospatial communities go to sleep at the wheel thinking DHS has everything under control.  Maybe, but I would suggest a strong dose of skepticism.  Building anything from the top down is problematic from the get-go.  What DHS is doing is very important but non-federal partners need a place at the table - along with the funding, personnel and equipment to make the system (data) work from the bottom up.  2.) So, the Feds have a GeoCONOPS for their operations, what does your local, regional, or State GeoCONOPS look like?  Ya, I thought so.  You may want to think about putting development of that one in a budget request next time you have the opportunity.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Worried About Flooding? Check Out the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service!

In recognition of floods as the nation's most costly natural disaster, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been promoting March 12-16 as " Flood Safety Awareness Week".  As such, NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) has put in place several websites with related safety information.  The most notable of these is TADD (Turn Around Don't Drown), a site which promotes awareness about the dangers of fast moving flood waters. 

But beyond this safety outreach campaign, there is NWS's Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS, pronounced A-Haps); a geospatially driven system that provides near real-time river gage information and forecasts so the nation's emergency managers can make effective decisions when dealing with flooding scenarios.  To take AHPS for a test drive, click here.   

Comment: AHPS is a geospatial product with many layers of information.  To grasp the level of detail available, be sure to click on graphic items until descending hyperlinks are no longer available.  Note also the various selections available in the menu bars along the top of the viewing area.

As a side note, as of the date of this post, there are only two U.S. Geological Survey stream gages reporting major flood stage (purple).  Both are associated with the Devil's Lake watershed in Eastern North Dakota.  Given how warm and dry this past winter has been in the upper Midwest, that indication should give most folks cause for thought. 

Devil's Lake is a nationally unique site that has been on FEMA's (and the Department of Defense's) national watch list of potential disaster sites for more than a few years.  It's a lake of mammoth proportions with no natural outlet  - and its been steadily rising since the 1940's.  Now, it's within a few feet of over-topping a series of U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dikes that have been built as high as they can structurally go (the height of a pyramid depends on the size of its base).  Potential solutions continue to be worked - hopefully they will be in place before bad things can happen. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

eStorys: Storyboarding Emergencies

Yunhe Shi

For some time now the ability to geo-tag photos and display them on a map has existed in popular culture.  Now comes eStorys, an approach that builds on that concept but with an intent to support the Emergency Management community.  Created through a joint effort by universities in Spain and Italy, eStorys is described as "...a computer application that allows georeferenced images that have been uploaded to social networks on the Internet to be recovered, located on maps and organized like a comic to create a visual perspective of a specific story, such as a crisis situation or an emergency."  To learn more:

Comment: According to the various snippets of information available online, eStorys is primarily being offered as a mitigation tool that can help planners prevent future events by having a way to visualize past happenings.  However, it would appear there is also a significant potential for use as a fire and police investigative tool if used inside a firewall with crime scene photos.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Responder as a Sensor

Physical Optics Corporation

We all know the movie scene - a military Special Forces type is on the verge of putting an end to a diabolical villain in a dark and spooky building - and low and behold, some higher up is watching and monitoring events in real time because of a variety of sensors the soldier is wearing.  Although ten years ago that scenario seemed so high-tech it was only vaguely believable, the reality now is that sort of capability is knocking on the door of the nation's first response community.  In total, it's an approach known as PAN, or Personal Area Network.  A responder's sensors are linked together using a "wearable network" which also makes their personal data stream available to others.  For an example of this approach, go here.

Comment:  During his Twin Cities GECCo lectures, Dr. Carl Reed prominently mentioned this concept as a way to think about where the world of emergency response was headed.  In theory, responders will eventually become part of a web of environmental sensors that will be used to manage disasters and emergency response efforts.  A point which appears borne out by the accelerating use of wearable police cameras and development of personal Heads Up Devices as previously reported on this blog.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Look Ma, No Hands! Driverless Cars Coming to a Road Near You!


On June 16, 2011, Nevada became the first state in the Union to pass a law sanctioning the testing of driveless cars on public roads.  Then, in the middle of last month, the Silver State followed up that first with another when its Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued the regulations necessary to put the law into action.  Shortly thereafter, California began the process of following Nevada's footsteps, with other states apparently not that much further behind.  The, ah hum, single biggest "driving force" behind these developments......Google.  To learn more:

Comment: It may come as a surprise to many folks, but when it is no longer possible for an aircrew to see a runway to land due to conditions like heavy fog or blinding snow, an automated "hands off" landing system gets the nod on modern commercial aircraft.  We now also have autonomous helicopter drones delivering supplies to troops in Afghanistan.  So it would seem what Google has achieved here is right in line with those developments except for one thing: this fusion of geospatial technology in one place is far more self-contained and does not rely on dedicated, specialized external transmitters as is the case with the aircraft landing system described above (ILS).  A point which makes these developments by Google and others truly remarkable.

Three additional quick thoughts: 

1.) For those wondering what the big deal is about the Nevada approval since Google had already been testing the technology on California roads to the tune of 200,000 miles, the answer is very nuanced as described in a San Francisco Chronicle article on the subject:
"There are two ways to bring amazing technology to market: to seek forgiveness and to seek permission," said Steve Jurvetson, managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and another one of those who've been in Google's autonomous vehicles. "This gives Google and everyone else permission. And Nevada is the state to go to when you want to do things on the edge."  
There were apparently no laws in California preventing the testing of driverless cars. I mean, after all, why would you have a law preventing something that doesn't exist?

2.) While I think I can appreciate the technology better than most, I'd offer a word of caution about making broad sweeping program pronouncements at this point in time. For example, take this one from Tom Jacobs, chief public information officer at the Nevada DMV:
There will never be any crashes,”
Mr. Jacobs would do himself a favor by reviewing Murphy's law.  I've investigated enough aircraft accidents to know things that can't happen, do.  Testing conditions up until now have been closely controlled and very limited in terms of total mileage.

3.) My hat is off to the law enforcement community for all the fun they are going to have dealing with this technology as time goes forward.  "Sir, please step out of the car.  Have you been drinking and not driving?"  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

HAZUS 2.1 Is Now Available

Late last month, FEMA announced it had released its latest version of HAZUS-MH.  According to the news release, significant new features incorporated into HAZUS-MH 2.1 include:

  • Windows 7 (32 and 64 bit) Service Pack 1, and Windows XP Service Pack 3 compatibility,
  • ArcGIS 10.0 Service Pack 2 compatibility (currently runs under Service Pack 3 but is not 100% certified),
  • Underlying database engine upgraded to SQL Server Express 2008 R2,
  • Greater consistency in the user interface menu options for the earthquake, flood and hurricane modules,
  • New damage and loss of use functions for hospitals, schools, and fire stations in the Essential Facilities portion of the hurricane module,
  • Windfields updated for several category 4 and 5 historical storms in the hurricane module,
  • Forecast/advisories disabled if issued more than 24 hours before the expected time of landfall for the Coastal Surge analysis capability,
  • Flood module Average Annualized Loss (AAL) analysis feature reactivated, and
  • Much, much more.

HAZUS-MH can be ordered online, free-of-charge through  FEMA's Map Service Center (MSC) Web Store (use the HAZUS link found under "Products").  Alternately, proceed directly to the order page by using the link below:

Comment: HAZUS-MH is one of the world's first user developed pieces of geospatial software that supports the Emergency Services Sector.  If flooding, earthquakes, or hurricanes might be in your future, you owe it to yourself to learn about this FREE software.  Note: An update to the HAZUS-MH Comprehensive Data Management System (CDMS) companion software was released at about the same time as HAZUS 2.1.  Go here for more information and links to order CDMS.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Location Tracking Mess - 7th Circuit Allows Warrantless Searches of Cell Phones

On February 29, 2012, in USA vs. Abel Flores-Lopez, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit determined it's OK for a police officer to search a suspect's cell phone in the process of making an arrest. For more on this development,

Comment: If you have been paying attention over the past couple of years, you'll realize this latest ruling is just another one that points to confusion caused by technology leaping ahead of the law.  Even more interesting, a survey of the popular press mirrors the situation in the courts.  Some are claiming this ruling gives police broad new powers, while others are saying nothing has changed.  Truth is, from the perspective of location, the situation is probably far more the former than the latter.  Consider this:

Since Judge Terrence McVerry of the  Western Pennsylvania U.S. District Court ruled in 2008 that police needed a warrant before obtaining a history of location information about a suspect from a cell phone provider, the federal government has been working without success to get the case reversed. Go here, or here

Then, as reported on this blog in late January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled police must obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS to a suspect's car.  In effect, another case confirming information about personal location is special and deserves unique protection under the law.

Then comes the 7th Court of Appeals ruling mentioned above.  Although the opinion handed down was based on past law giving police access to information discovered on a suspect during an arrest (like a diary), the ruling appears to give police access to the highly detailed "unintentional recording" of a  suspect's travels over an extended period of time without a warrant.  How so?  Although a big flap occurred this past spring when a couple techno-geeks figured out iPhones, iPads and the like were storing location data, few seemed to be aware that more than a few police departments have the ability to use a system like the Cellbrite UFED Ultimate to decode the when's and where's of mobile devices. 

Consequently, for a mind untrained in legal matters like mine, it sure seems like we have a mess on our hands - a warrant must be used to obtain cell phone location tracking records, or track an individual with a GPS, but if that same information is obtained from an individual's cell phone during an arrest, a warrant isn't needed?  Undoubtedly the difference has something to do with information being obtained as the result of an arrest, but I'm not seeing it.  Hopefully, there's a lawyer in the house that can help straighten this one out for me and the readers of EPC Updates.....

Friday, March 9, 2012

UN: 2011 was Planet's Most Expensive Year In History for Disasters

According to the Associated Press, the UN is reporting 2011 was the planet's most expensive year in history for disasters.  Central to those numbers were the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan.

To read the article, click here.

Comment: As previously reported on this blog (see: NOAA - 2011: Bad Year for Weather Related Disasters), the United States was not spared from the carnage.  2011 was the nation's worst year on record for the economic damage caused by weather related disasters.  However, what the press fails to do in reporting these stories is give consideration to ways to hold down the costs from these events.  Probably the single best example in that regard is the apples to apples comparison that is available for flooding in the Red River Valley.  In 1997, floods in the valley caused $3.7 billion dollars in damage.  In 2006, floods of the same magnitude caused $6.5 million dollars of damage.  What caused the dramatic change in cost?  Following the 1997 floods, a cooperative effort between North Dakota and FEMA used HAZUS-MH to plan mitigation efforts throughout the valley.  The value of using GIS as a mitigation tool is evident in the results.  Unfortunately, its a story that often goes overlooked, not only by the press, but by many political leaders and decision makers as well.  "We can't afford that fancy geospatial stuff".  No, its the other way around.  You can't afford to NOT have that fancy geospatial stuff for mitigation planning, situational awareness, more efficient dispatch, disaster response, etc., etc. etc.