Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Drone Update

Drone posts on this blog tend to be some of the least read/recommended items.  That's too bad because it's an area of technology that is changing before our eyes, and in ways that have implications for every American.  And in no realm is that more true than emergency preparedness and response.  Consequently, for your consideration, four articles about the drone changes taking place around us: 

Item 1: Last week in Congressional hearings, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed that DHS has started considering how drones can be used for disaster response operations.  To learn more, click the link below:

Item 2: Also from last week, the lead newspaper in the Twin Cities Metro, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, offered an extensive article about Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) developments in the region. Use the link below to learn more:

Item 3: On July 20, 2012, this blog featured University of Texas - Austin Assistant Professor Todd Humphreys in a post about GPS Dots/GPS Spoofing.  Busy guy - the day before he was on the Hill telling a congressional committee how drones could be highjacked.  To learn more, including the opportunity to watch a Cliff Note video about his testimony, click the link below:

Item 4: In the same hearing noted above, it was learned that applications for the authority to fly drones in U.S. airspace have increased substantially. Click the link below to learn more:

Comment: Items 1 and 3 tell a story that suggests the Emergency Services Sector is getting left behind by a revolution in technology - this time drone/UAV technology. Additionally, items 2 and 4 suggest the pace at which this revolution is taking place is accelerating.  That's truly an unfortunate combination of circumstances, because as offered by Assistant Professor Humphreys, in many ways, it's the same scenario that played itself out in the years leading up to 9/11.

Lead graphic: http://www.csmonitor.com/

Monday, July 30, 2012


The July 17, 2012, edition of USAToday featured an article about "Smart911", a system by Rave Mobile Safety that allows individuals to voluntarily provide medical and other personal data that will then be associated with their phone number.  As a result, dispatchers and responders have better understanding about potential life-threatening conditions that can be expected at a caller's address.  The system has now been implemented in 300 communities in 25 states, with Washington D.C. and Nashville, Tennessee being two of the more recent additions.  To learn more, use the links/view the video below: 

Comment: Currently, many communities have systems in place that allow the elderly and disabled to associate similar information with an individual's wrist-worn emergency call system.  The transition of that capability to the 911 system and expansion to the general population appears to be a wonderful development.  As of this writing, this author is unaware of any use of Smart911 in Minnesota - so looking forward to its arrival!

Friday, July 27, 2012

TGIF: Deadly Airports, Active Shooter Response, Right Address, Wrong Town, Cellphones Key to Investigations, and 70 Years Ago

Hang on, here we go......

Deadly Airports: MIT recently ran a series of simulations to determine which U.S. airports were the most likely candidates to facilitate the worldwide spread of an epidemic. Because of the interplay of three factors - connectivity, traffic and geography - results were not necessarily what some seasoned air travelers might expect:  
Kennedy Airport is ranked first by the model, followed by airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago (O'Hare) and Washington (Dulles). Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is first in number of flights, ranks eighth in contagion influence.
To learn more, use the links below:

Active Shooter Response: For some time now the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) has made available an online course that teaches strategies for dealing with an active shooter incident (the Aurora incident of last week).  It only takes about 45 minutes to complete, you'll get CEU credits from FEMA, it's FREE, and it very well could save your life.  Use the link below to access the course:

Right Address, Wrong Town: A Georgia man has died after a dispatcher sent the response to the correct address, but in the wrong town.  Sound familiar?  If not, see: The 9-1-1 Carnage Continues....  Otherwise, you can find details of this incident below:

Cellphones Key to Investigations: Here's the lead-in:
In the first public accounting of its kind, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to a startling 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations.
If you would like to read more on this one, use the link below:

More Demands on Cell Carriers in Surveillance (New York Times, July 8, 2012)

70 Years Ago: Courtsey of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers effort at the Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant during World War II - here's proof that just because you have a photo from above, you don't necessarily know for sure, what's below: 

Comment: As always, have a great weekend!

Lead graphic: MIT

Thursday, July 26, 2012

FOSS4G North America Coming to Minneapolis!!!

Yesterday, it was announced the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial North America (FOSS4G-NA) 2013 Conference will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota next spring.  Here are the details:

What: Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial  North America (FOSS4G-NA) 2013 Conference
When: May 22-24, 2013
Where: Marriott City Center in Minneapolis, MN
Event DescriptionFOSS4G brings together public and private-sector stakeholders, innovators and developers who are at the forefront of free and open source software for geospatial applications.  FOSS4G-NA 2013 will offer a broad program to discuss and build tools to help solve some of the world's most pressing problems and business needs. 

Comment: As readers of this blog may know, the Minnesota geospatial community has been involved in the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial movement from inception.   Consequently, the EPC used GeoMoose to create a Common Operating Picture (COP) for the 2008 Republican National Convention (graphic above), and to create a real-time situational viewer and online U.S. National Grid map distribution node during the 2009 Red River Valley floods.  Additionally, information about the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) program "Tickets" (see: Tickets – The FREE Open Source Computer-Aided-Dispatch and Situation Awareness Software) has proven to be one of the most popular posts on this blog.  So it's exciting news to hear developers of free software that has great value and utility for the Emergency Service Sector will be coming to town next spring.  Hope you will be able to join us at the event!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Recent Developments: Law Enforcement and Social Media

Although many Police Departments long ago implemented Facebook and Twitter sites, a series of recent news articles would seem to indicate U.S. law enforcement is now working hard to expand information flows potentially available from these two social media giants.  In that regard, here are some notable developments:

Item 1:  According to a report filed by Mashable Social Media on July 12, 2012, Facebook has been monitoring user chat activity for criminal intent, and then passing on that information to the Police. To learn more, click here.

Item 2:  On July 2, 2012, Reuters reported U.S. Police were making the most requests for Twitter information.  To learn more, click here.

Item 3:  Despite a Judge's ruling on July 2, 2012, that Twitter must surrender the tweets of Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris, on July 20th the Wall Street Journal reported Twitter planned to appeal.  To learn more, click here

Comment: In an effort to define user and law enforcement rights in this somewhat murky world of new technology, both Facebook and Twitter have set up information sites.  However, as suggested by the circumstances of Item 3 above, it is probably going to be some time before the relationship between law enforcement and social media is going to be clearly established. 

Lead graphic credit: http://www.techmaish.com/

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where Will You Be In 24 Hours? Your Phone Knows....

It's becoming almost a daily event - researchers announcing a technical breakthrough that seemingly defies logic.  And so it is with a recent report coming out of England. Reportedly, a smartphone algorithm has been developed that can predict with a high degree of accuracy where you are going to be 24 hours before you get there.  To learn more, use the link below:

A Phone that Knows Where You're Going (MIT Technology Review)

Comment: We are headed toward a Brave New World where our ability to understand location influenced behavior is going to hold great potential for the Emergency Services Sector.  On a personal level that's probably not a good thing, for example, surveillance on the level of granularity suggested by the article above.  But on a generic or crowd level, it's probably a great thing, for example, see any one of the three articles below:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Aurora Shootings: Maps and 9-1-1 Recordings

For your consideration, find below maps and 9-1-1 audio recordings for the Aurora, Colorado, Cinema 16 Shootings of last Friday morning.  Taken together, they tell a story of professionals responding to the unthinkable.  Links above the maps will provide expanded views.

Denver Post (Active):

New York Times (July 20, 2012):

Washington Post (July 20, 2012)

Expanded View - Oriented North (Google):

Police Radio (Law Officer, 16:28):

Fire/EMS Radio (JEMS, 35:48):

CommentA little more than a year before the horrific event of last Friday morning, the City of Aurora, Colorado's 9-1-1 call center was formally recognized as one of the nation's best.  It's hard to listen to the professional conduct of the dispatchers during this event and not come to the same conclusion. Furthermore, the fact that the Aurora Police were able to be on scene within 90 seconds after they were initially dispatched, may well have prevented a tragedy of even greater dimensions.

Hearts and prayers go out to all in Aurora, Colorado.

Lead graphic: Jeff Leiboff

Friday, July 20, 2012

Future Friday: APCO Annual Conference, GPS Dots/GPS Spoofing, GIS Helps Detroit, and The Lawnmower of Tomorrow

Here's another dose of TGIF tidbits, this time with a view to the future:

APCO Annual Conference: The 78th annual conference and expo of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 19-22.  Use the link below to learn more:

GPS Dots/GPS Spoofing: From TEDx Talks (Technology, Entertainment, Design) earlier this year - Todd Humphreys talks about how we are headed toward a world where everything down to shoes can be found by using a GPS "Dot", and how it's possible to spoof your GPS location.  A superb, thought provoking presentation worth all 15:37 of your time.

GIS Helps Detroit: As Detroit has been working hard to remove urban blight and reduce the public safety hazards associated with abandoned buildings, GIS has been central to efforts to develop a master plan.  Click the link below to learn more:

The Lawnmower of Tomorrow: If you think the current robotic lawnmowers are the cat's meow, you ain't seen nothing yet. Check out the lawnmower of the future in video below (2:28):

Comment: And with that, enough for this week.  Truly hope you'll be back to visit EPC Updates in the future.....

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Clash of Mapping Titans: ESRI Versus Google

As Geographic Information Systems (GIS) use in the Emergency Services Sector (ESS) has increased, mapping behemoths ESRI and Google have each taken steps to develop an approach for delivering online situational awareness to the public during disasters.  For its part, ESRI offers five different "Public Information" maps based on disaster type.  Find below a graphic example and link to their U.S. Wildfire Map:

ESRI offers this same approach for four other disaster types:

In contrast, Google's Crisis Map comes in two basic forms.  As shown in the wildfire example below, Google provides a dedicated view for any active disaster.  In addition, they incorporate other potential ongoing threats into one map. Links for both are provided below the wildfire graphic.

Comment: Three points:
  • Kudos to ESRI and Google for contributing to the common good by making these products available to the public.
  • Although both approaches have their pluses and minuses - the tie breaker goes to the 1st company that makes U.S. National Grid (USNG) a selectable feature. Given ESRI's past work with USNG, I would expect them to get there first.
  • Emergency Managers - are you thinking about maps as a way to communicate with the public?

Thanks to Fire Geek for a reminder that lead to this post.

Lead graphic credit: http://www.timetrips.co.uk

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Samurai Maple Seed

For many years, the lowly maple seed has been described as nature's helicopter. Recently, that thought has taken on a whole new meaning as science has moved to imitate nature in way that would have seemed impossible even a few years ago.  To understand that point, this is one you will have to see with your own two eyes.  If the video alone is not enough, a link to an accompanying  article has also been provided below (3:54):

Comment: Any operator who looses control of one of these rascals will come to appreciate the meaning of "Samurai" the same way James Bond came to appreciate Oddjob's hat.

Lead photo credit: wikipedia.org

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Track Me Tender, Track Me True

Last month, there was a flurry of activity related to location tracking.  On one paw, tracking of individuals and equipment was getting close scrutiny in legal circles in an effort to stop the activity.  On the other paw, various companies were doing everything they could to promote the practice - to  include tracking individuals inside work spaces. Here are some examples and links to where to go for more:

Left Paw:

Google Maps Where Your Workers Are (New York Times, June 21, 2012)

Comment: As related by the conflicting viewpoints found in the articles above, one of the issues we face going forward is determining when and where the use of location tracking technology is appropriate. With regard to Emergency Management, during Katrina one of the most vexing problems confronting planners and responders was there was no way to have any real-time picture of where equipment and manpower was located.  Consequently, within the Emergency Management world there is an absolute need for Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and similar tracking technologies in the years ahead. And given the capabilities now shown by the likes of Facebook and Google, there is also absolutely no reason why that technology can not be put in place sooner, rather than later.

Lead picture credit: JustForDogs.com

Monday, July 16, 2012

Emergency Management Information at the U.S. Census Bureau

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau rolled out its new online viewer and demographic data portal for emergency preparedness, response and recovery.  Called "OnTheMap for Emergency Management", the viewer also displays real-time data from the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center, Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  As reported in the Bureau's news release, OnTheMap for Emergency Management has the following features:

  • New emergency event data: Addition of FEMA disaster declaration areas and National Weather Service snowfall probability forecasts,
  • More complete hurricane archives: Capture and archiving of all daily National Hurricane Center storm updates,
  • Expanded report content: Addition of 2010 Census demographic and housing characteristics, and 2010 jobs and worker statistics,
  • New analyses and visualizations: New reports with charting and thematic map overlays showing population and worker origin and destination distributions,
  • New interoperability: New tool for exporting event areas to use in OnTheMap or other GIS applications, and
  • Updated interface and help documentation: Improved user interface speed and navigability, improved event searching, newly updated help documentation.

In addition to OnTheMap for Emergency Management, the U.S. Census Bureau also has a web page dedicated to other information that may be of value to disaster planning, response and recovery, and another one for geographically focused products like TIGER (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing).  To check out these products and what they can do for you, use the links below:

Comment: Bravo!  This is a huge step in the right direction for the U.S. Census Bureau when it comes to Emergency Management. Although some of their past efforts like TIGER were in many ways ground breaking, that level of innovation never really seemed to make the leap to Emergency Management. This product goes a long way toward fixing that problem. Keep up the good work!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday's Fearsome Five: MN Disaster Declaration, Your Cell Phone Location Data Is Not Yours, Indiana Data Model Reminder, HIFLD Live!, and Smart Grid Legal Troubles

For your consideration, Friday's Fearsome Five:

Minnesota Disaster Declaration: In response to severe storms and flooding that occurred in the state during the month of June 2012, on July 6th, FEMA announced President Obama had Declared a Disaster for Minnesota. With that declaration, federal funds will now cover up to 75% of reimbursable costs.  Use the links below to learn more, or to fiddle around with FEMA's Federal Disaster Viewer (example shown above):

Your Cell Phone Location Data Is Not Yours: Investigative journalists at Pulitzer Prize winner ProPublica recently filed a report on a mysterious fact.  It turns out that cell phone companies have been doing all sorts of stuff with the geo-location data collected from your cell phone, but if you want that same data, forget it. Click the link below to learn more:

Indiana Data Model Reminder: In a follow-up to the post "Webinar: The Indiana Data Model", here's a reminder concerning the time and place:

  • When: Thursday, July 19, 2012
  • Time: 2:00 to 3:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time (1:00 Central)
  • Audio Dial-in: (317) 278-7008 / 710589#
  • Video: http://connect.iu.edu/indiana/ - login as Guest

HIFLD Live!: Holy ta-mole-ez, Batman - the next meeting of the Homeland Infrastructure Foundation Level Data (HIFLD) Work Group will be available via webinar! If you would like attend via the web, here's what you need to know:

Smart Grid Legal Troubles: This is one of those items where I feel strongly about both sides of the issue (ha) - so over the weekend you're going to have to decide for yourself.  Question: Are smart grid readers an invasion of your privacy?  More than a few folks think so as you'll come to learn through the links below:

Comment: And with that, thanks for tuning in this week - have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A View to the Future: Unmanned Things in the Sky

For your consideration, two very different perspectives on whatever you would like to call unmanned things in the sky: drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS):

Item One: Last week, the New York Times Magazine ran an article on changes taking place within the U.S. Air Force (USAF) as the UAV community is becoming an increasingly bigger part of their everyday operations. Clearly, a paradigm shift is underway as documented by the following tidbits from the story:

  • Within a year, the majority of USAF flights will most likely be UAV operations,
  • Cars on U.S. roads are being used to hone UAV operator combat tracking techniques, and
  • Drone operations can mean an afternoon combat mission over Yemen, is followed by evening dinner with the wife and kids in the U.S.

To read the article, click the link below (don't miss out on the slide show capability at the start of the article):

Drone Zone (New York Times Magazine, July 6, 2012)

Item Two: In late May, Bob Nutch, GIS Coordinator for the State of North Dakota, blogged about his first trip to the UAS Action Summit held at Grand Forks, North Dakota, on May 22, 23, 2012.  Sponsored by the Red River Valley Research Corridor, the event was the sixth since inception and attracted over 350 military officials, industry experts, innovators, researchers, business leaders and students.  According to Bob's report, the North Dakota/Minnesota Red River Valley of the North is on its way to becoming the "Silicone Valley" for drones. Furthermore, given Bob's position in North Dakota state government, his drone neophyte perspective on the tsunami of military UAV technology headed toward the civilian sector is particularly refreshing and thought provoking.  Click the links below to read Bob's report or view the event presentations now available online:

From Battlefield to Farm Field (North Dakota GIS Hub, May 29, 2012)
Event Presentations (UAS Action Summit 2012, May 22, 23, 2012)

Comment: Just like mobile LiDAR is taking away a big piece of the traditional surveying business, standby for UAS's to do the same thing to the traditional "manned" aerial imagery business.  The world is changing before our eyes - if we don't adapt, we'll get left behind.

Lead photo credit: space4peace.org

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Featured Software: HURREVAC

For the first time since the start of record keeping in 1851, this year four named tropical storms have come and gone in the Atlantic before the end of June.  And although Chris was the only storm that attained sufficient wind speed to qualify as a hurricane, rest assured an early start to the season means somewhere between remaining 2012 storm names Ernesto and William, at least one Category 3 or above hurricane will pay a visit to the U.S. gulf/east coast or outlying island regions.  So, for your consideration, find below information and links to one of the first commonly available geospatial tools for emergency preparedness/planning and response - HURREVAC:

Program Description
HURREVAC stands for "HURRicane EVACuation" and is a restricted-use computer program historically funded by FEMA and/or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for government emergency managers to track hurricanes and to assist evacuation decision-making for their communities. This real-time data analysis tool allows state and local emergency management officials to make prudent and informed decisions based on information developed during the Hurricane Evacuation Studies (HES) process and real-time forecast data distributed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Tropical Prediction Center/National Hurricane Center (NHC).  Source: USACE
Cost: Free to federal, state and local government workers with official need. For-fee, commercial support for private entities is available directly from the developer.

Informational Websites:

Companion Efforts:

Comment: Because NOAA, USACE, FEMA, and HURREVAC software vendor Sea Island Software all have a dog in this fight, information about HURREVAC is not as well presented and easy to find as would probably be the case for one-party software. Consequently, although the pages offered above are good places to start learning more about the program, be advised you will need to do some digging around on these pages to gain full appreciation of available features and functions.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Augmented Reality Wars

In the past week, Olympus, the Japanese technology company best known for its cameras, and American computing titan, Apple, posted notice that Google's Project Glass is going to have competition in the field of Head-mounted Augmented Reality Display (HARD).  For its part, as shown in the above photo, Olympus revealed existence of its MEG4.0 project. Based on technology that Olympus has been developing for several years, the MEG4.0 uses Bluetooth, cellphone accessed data streams, a GPS/acceleronmeter combination, and a 320x240 pixel QVGA display to deliver the HARD technology.  As was the case in the past when Olympus teamed up NTT DoCoMo in 2010 on the experimental AR Walker project (see video below), it appears the company is going to let its efforts fly under the radar for the time-being by opting to keep publicity confined to the Japanese market.  (Click here if you would like to read the Japanese news release).

Meanwhile, over in the Apple camp, on July 3, 2012, the U.S. patent office delivered welcome news that it had been granted patent number 8,212,859 B2, based on its 2006 application for "Peripheral Treatment of Head-Mounted Displays".  The exact meaning of this patent left more than a few in the technology press scratching their heads, with some speculating it might mean Apple would soon be revealing technology that would leap-frog Google's Glass Project (contact lenses). For more on this item and the rest of the related developments, use the links below:

Comment: As noted back in February on this blog (see: Google's HUD Glasses), the value of this technology in support of the Emergency Services Sector is substantial. Indeed, a recent update on FEMA's Responder Knowledge Base indicates development of the Helmet Embedded Conformal Augmented Display (HECAD) has been moving along well.  If Olympus and Apple confirm in the coming months what appears to be their strong interest in the HARD arena, it can only mean good things about the speed at which HECAD technology will be available for the ESS.

Lead photo: Olympus.co.jp

Monday, July 9, 2012

NOAA's Critical Facilities Flood Exposure Tool

Early last month, the Coastal Services Center (CSC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began publicly promoting release of a new geospatially driven online tool that can help the Emergency Services Sector (ESS) quickly determine what critical infrastructure exists within the FEMA 100-year floodplain.  Called the Critical Facilities Flood Exposure Tool (CFFET), the program was originally created to support self-assessment efforts in flood prone areas along the Mississippi and Alabama coast, but has now been expanded to cover most coastal areas of the United States and Territories. Users can quickly determine if specific elements of infrastructure are inside the 100-year floodplain by seeing the physical location of that infrastructure on a map versus bright blue shading used to denote the flood zone. Additionally, by clicking on any specific infrastructure icon, a popup is displayed with expanded information about the location.  The CFFET uses Google's base map and features, along with data from FEMA's HAZUS-MH program to perform assessments.  

The CFFET is accompanied by "Coastal County Snapshots", which provide a text and graph based overview concerning relative risk for select counties.  To give these products a test drive, click the links below:

Comment: Over the weekend, Novorossiysk, Russia's busiest Black Sea port had to cease all operations because of torrential downpours that brought massive inland flooding, extensive damage to infrastructure and scores of deaths. Taken together with the circumstances that played out in the Duluth region late last month, comes understanding that there is good reason to carefully consider the potential for flooding in seaports and surrounding regions. Because these locations bring together several types of transportation in one place (inter-modal exchange) - the impact can be disproportional large and far reaching.  In that regard, HUGE kudos go out to NOAA for this effort to take the basic capability of HAZUS-MH and make it easily accessible, understandable, and usable by the ESS and decision making communities.  And now that NOAA has shown the way with coastal and port areas, let's hope FEMA and/or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers quickly does the same thing for the rest of the nation!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Four For Friday: Tornado Tracks, EPA Flyovers, Waldo Canyon Fire Imagery, EPC Meeting Videos

In no particular order - Four For Friday:

Tornado Tracks: As seen above, last month John Nelson at his IDVsolutions blog released a graphic and supporting materials which show the location, track and intensity of 61 years of tornadoes across the U.S.  That effort was recently joined by one showing the intensity and location of earthquakes around the world since 1898.  More on these efforts is available using the links below: 

EPA Flyovers: Recently, the EPA started conducting regulation compliance inspections of Midwest farms from the air. Reminiscent of issues associated with a drone being used in the arrest of a North Dakota farmer last year (see: Drone Arrest - Legal or Not?), area ranchers, feed lot owners, farmers - and now local legislators - are not real happy about this development. Use the link below to learn more:

Waldo Canyon Fire Imagery: Sanborn has made available an aerial mosaic of the burn area for the Waldo Canyon Fire that occurred to the west of Colorado Springs. Hearts and prayers go out to those who lost their homes or more.  The links below will provide access to the viewer and background information (screen opens dead center over the edge of the burn area, works best in FireFox and Chrome):

EPC Meeting PowerPoint Videos: OK, so they are never going to win any Academy Awards.  Now that we're past that issue, for your extended viewing pleasure and education, find below links for the three educational presentations that were offered at the EPC's June 14, 2012 meeting (links to these presentations, as well as stand-alone, high quality slides, are also available in the right side bar):

Comment: Next week, come back ready to go swimming.  Until then, have a great weekend!