Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disaster Modeling

The above graphic comes from a presentation I gave last year about the impact of natural and man-made disasters on U.S. infrastructure.  In a nutshell, the number of individuals impacted, and the associated monetary costs for major disasters, has increased year-over-year as the U.S. population has become increasingly dependent on technology, concentrated in urban environments, and less self-reliant. Consequently, as a way to better anticipate the effects of any given disaster, over the past two decades efforts have been underway to use GIS as the backbone of "disaster modeling." Although current efforts are being driven primarily by the insurance industry, there are indications the Emergency Management community is starting to take note. To learn more, consider either of the articles below:

Risky Business: Modeling Catastrophes (Earth Magazine, September 30, 2012)

Leveraging the Power of Geodata in the Reinsurance Industry (Directions Magazine, October 25, 2012)

Comment: When it comes to the use of geospatial technologies in the Emergency Management world, it's my belief there will be three big trends going forward: (1) Full scale deployment of integrated Common Operating Pictures (COP); (2) GPS replacing street addresses for response efforts; (3) Anticipatory planning and pre-event staging of assets based on disaster modeling.  Give me ten years before you call me wrong......

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three Storm Surge Tools for New York City

Many parts of the New York Metropolitan region are no more than ten feet above sea level. Consequently, most of this high density urban area is susceptible to storm surges like the one presently occurring with Hurricane Sandy. In an effort to record, analyze and predict the extent of these types of events, at least three different systems are available. Find descriptions below:

Stony Brook Storm Surge Research Group (SBSS): According to its website, the SBSS:
...displays observed, astronomical and predicted sea level variations at key NOAA tide stations on the northeastern coastline with an emphasis on New York Harbor. Our storm surge prediction model (SBSS Version 1) consists of the Stony Brook 12-km MM5 mesoscale weather prediction model coupled to the ADCIRC ocean circulation model. The model predicts winds, pressure, tides, storm surge and currents with a 50-hr time horizon. The MM5 model is run twice daily and the output is used as input for ADCIRC. The water level predictions and observations are updated at 3am and 3pm daily. The predictions are 5hrs behind real time due to the model's run time.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS) - One of the 11 regional associations in the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), MARACOOS is managed by Rutgers University and is described by the Center for Innovative Technology as follows:
... is a National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-funded project focused on:
  • Delivering real-time information products for ecosystem-based decision support, maritime safety, water quality, and coastal inundation in the Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB);
  • Establishing an integrated system of buoys, gliders, and an array of high frequency (HF) surface-current radars; and
  • Saving lives of those at sea as an official operational component of the U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue Operations System (SAROPS).

National Weather Service Extratropical Water Level Forecast: This system use graphs by location to depict current and future surge events. As described on its website, each:
... graph combines several sources of data to produce a total water level prediction. To do so, it graphs the observed water levels in comparison to the predicted tide and predicted surge before the current time. This allows it to compute the "Anomaly". The "Anomaly" is the amount of water that was not predicted by either the tide or the storm surge model. This "Anomaly" is averaged over 5 days, and is then added to the future predictions of the tide and storm surge to predict the Total Water Level.

Comment: While preparing to publish this blog, it became apparent that the Stony Brook and MARACOOS systems had dropped off line. A quick review of the Consolidated Edison and PSEG electrical outage maps available at Hurricane Sandy - Available GIS for Disasters told me why.  

As for being ready for this type of event, more than a few folks out there have been thinking about this for awhile:

New York Unprepared for Flooding, Sea Level Rise (Homeland Security News Wire, September 24, 2012)

New York Is Lagging as Seas and Risks Rise, Critics Warn (New York Times, September 10, 2012)

Lead picture credit:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Special Sunday/Monday Edition: Hurricane Sandy Geospatial Resources

With the impending landfall of Hurricane Sandy, EPC Updates companion website "Available GIS for Disasters" has been updated.  On that site, East Coast residents, responders, planners and businesses who need Sandy related information will find a page devoted to event viewers, maps, and data. Additions or corrections to those links can be sent to:  

In addition to the Hurricane Sandy site link below, find also links to two articles on smartphone apps that may be of value:   

Hurricane Sandy: Seven Apps to See You Through (Washington Post, October 26, 2012)

Track Hurricanes With One of These Smartphone Apps (The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 24, 2012)

Comment: The Hurricane Pop Quiz is back, this time for real.  And just like being ready for a quiz that pops up out of nowhere - being ready for a disaster means having maps and data collection systems ready to go before things turn ugly.

Lead photoUniversity of Wisconsin's Space Science and Engineering Center

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fhoto Friday: Bigfoot Blimp, E911 App Guidance, My Waterway, Track Your Kids, and Memoto

OK, for all you folks out there that like comic books, it's time to let the picture tell the story. Each picture above, has something to do with each story below.

Bigfoot Research Gets Lift from Stealth Airship (, October 16, 2012)

APCO and NENA Draft Guidance Document for E9-1-1 App Developers (Government Security News Magazine, October 10, 2012)

How’s My Waterway (EPA Fact Sheet)
How's My Waterway (EPA App) 

Photo credit: GPS Magazine

Thursday, October 25, 2012

GAO Report: Mobile Devices and Location Privacy Issues

Earlier this month, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report examining how location data is being collected from mobile devices and how it is being used. Major conclusion: the public has little understanding or appreciation for the pervasive level of data collection taking place. Additionally, the public doesn't understand the manner in which that location data is being used. Specifically cited - issues stemming from police acting without a warrant. Below for more:

Comment: Shortly after the GAO report hit the street, members of Congress used it to promote efforts to put some of the report's recommendations into law. Legislation has been previously offered by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, and Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts. This is going to be an interesting one to watch play out!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Italian Earthquake Prediction Court Ruling

Normally this blog tries to keep from running two posts about the same general topic on back-to-back days. Today will be an exception given developments in Italy during the past 48-hours concerning earthquakes.  As previously mentioned on this blog (referenced article: Earthquake Damage: Are Bad Maps to Blame?), some researchers have been investigating the idea that seismic risk has been poorly communicated to urban planners because current mapping efforts fail to properly portray those risks. On Monday, an Italian court took it one very large step further by convicting seven seismologists of manslaughter for their failure to adequately warn residents of the central Italy town of L'Aquila prior to a devastating earthquake in April 2009 that killed 300 people. That verdict has triggered a worldwide outcry from the scientific community and caused four Italian government disaster experts to resign in protest.  Links below will provide more information:

Comment: I don't have a clue when it comes to the Italian legal system, but by any reasonable measure it appears to me this is a complete travesty of justice.  In support of that point is the report by a panel of international experts commissioned by the Italian government after this event which clearly states: 
....earthquake generation is a very complex process occurring in an underground environment that is very difficult to observe. Given the current state of scientific knowledge, individual large earthquakes cannot be reliably predicted in future intervals of years or less. In other words, reliable and skillful deterministic earthquake prediction is not yet possible.
So why would anyone believe the convicted individuals should have been able to predict the deadly earthquake?  More importantly, who's next?  A meteorologist who predicts the next day will be sunny, only to have storms roll in and somebody gets killed by lightening at a picnic?  This issue is a biggie - so please consider sharing your thoughts on the subject on MnGeo Emergency Preparedness Committee's LinkedIn discussion board. Click here to view.   

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Smartphone Earthquake Apps

Recently, two smartphone apps were released that offer location reporting options for anyone caught in an earthquake.  First, ahead of the IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference being held in Seattle, Washington this week, developer Adam Wells of Australia has begun offering Earthquake Buddy at the iPhone App Store. Among its features, if the iPhone's sensors determine an earthquake of 5.0 or greater has occurred, the app will automatically send an email indicating the location of the report and that help may be needed. Those emails are sent to individuals designated in advance by the app owner. Second, the American Red Cross has rolled out an app with many of the same capabilities as Earthquake Buddy, but instead of automatically sending a notification to family and friends about the earthquake, the owner can manually send a "I'm safe" notification. To learn more about these applications, use the links below:

Keeping Safe During Earthquakes? There’s An App For That (Homeland Security Newswire, October 3, 2012)

Comment: Excellent efforts!  Over time it would be great to see a technical approach that would allow the Emergency Management community to automatically aggregate, filter and plot reports from these apps, instead of only relying on friends and family to provide follow-up.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

GPS Shoes

Since 2009, efforts have been underway to develop shoes with a built-in GPS tracking device as a way of helping families who have members with dementia. Following initial release in the U.S. late last year, the shoes went on sale last week in the U.K.  Click the links below to learn more:

Comment: Great use of the technology!  A point which means someone out there has probably been working real hard to come up with a variation.  Sure enough - shoes that will lead you home.  Click below for more:

These Shoes Guide You Home Using GPS, However Lost You Are (Gizmodo, September 19, 2012)

Lead graphic:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Find Something Friday: OpenStreetMap, Waze, Galileo, Your Location, and Data

Seems like everybody is trying to figure out where stuff is located....

OpenStreetMap: In case you missed it during the Google/Apple Maps food fight, there is an alternative available called OpenStreetMap (OSM).  Created and supported primarily by volunteer efforts, OSM has been lauded for its granularity in Europe where many consider much better than Google Maps. And, as the video above shows, volunteers have been very busy for the past five years as the OSM effort has gained steam in the United States. Link to the OSM website is provided below:

Waze: Another competitor that appears to have been granted smooth sailing out of the Google/Apple Maps fight is Waze. Described as a "fun, community-based GPS traffic and navigation app" that helps users get to their destinations quicker, truth be told, smells like a way to avoid getting a speeding ticket if you ask me.  Check it out for yourself:

A Waze Ahead of Apple in Map Race (AdWeek, October 16, 2012)

Galileo:  Big event this past week for European GPS efforts. Galileo satellites three and four were placed into orbit. With four satellites parked above, an operational check of the system will get underway.  Then, as additional satellites join the 24 platform constellation, coverage and system performance will improve.  Consequently, GPS users will be able to get lost using either the U.S. or European systems.  More below:

Your Location: Knowing your location is valuable information ($$$$$$$) for plenty of folks. Check it out below:

5 Reasons Location Is The Smartphone's Killer Map (Fast Company, October 3, 2012)

Data: Growing up in a town where one High School's mascot is a lumberjack, I would never believe a paper mill could look so good. Leave it to Google. Paper mill turned data center - where all "wheres" are stored.  More below:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Great Shakeout

Sponsored by a slew of institutions and government agencies, Great Shakeout earthquake drills will be held in a large number of states today - Thursday, October 18th, 2012.  As described by organizers, the effort is designed to, "help people in homes, schools, and organizations improve preparedness and practice how to be safe during earthquakes."  As such, the event website provides a significant amount of information that can be used by, "individuals, businesses, schools, faith-based organizations, community groups, government agencies, and others to participate in the ShakeOut, to get prepared for earthquakes, and to share what you're doing with others so they can do the same."  For more information, use the links below:

Comment: Preparedness education is always a good thing, so congratulations go out to the organizers of this effort to promote earthquake planning and awareness for communities at risk.  However, that being said, there appears to be one thing oddly missing from a program co-sponsored by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) - mention of the extensive online resources and earthquake risk maps available from the USGS (example above).  Admittedly, I might have missed them in the wealth of links provided, but just in case I didn't, here are some services that could go a long way to helping Great Shakeout participants better visualize and understand risks and ongoing events worldwide:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

PlaceRaider - The Spy in Your Pocket

This is one that could make James Bond's "Q" a bit jealous. 

Researchers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, and Indiana University Bloomington, have developed malware that can be used to hijack a smartphone's camera. The camera is then used to generate a data stream of snaps that the receiving software can assemble into a 3D mosaic of the phone's location. Consequently, victims of this scenario would be providing a view of their location along with any  personal information in it like passwords and account information.  More below: 

Comment: Since this development was first announced in late September, the technology blogs have been batting it around as proof that privacy no longer exists. While there is probably more hype than truth to that thought, one thing is certain. We are just beginning to learn all the ways that sensors in smartphones can be used for purposes that are good, or bad. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fighting Malaria With Cell Phones

In an article published in Science magazine on October 12, 2012, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and seven other institutions offered findings about the spread of malaria in Kenya.  Unique to their two-year effort was use of location data gleaned from tracking some 15 million cell phone users. The study found that when cell phone data was compared with known outbreaks in Kenya, discernible patterns emerged that were related to population mobility. Find below three options to learn more:

Quantifying the Impact of Human Mobility on Malaria (Science, October 12, 2012, for fee)

Using Cell Phone Data to Curb the Spread of Malaria (HSPH Press Release, October 11, 2012)

Comment: This story is proof positive that not all instances of cell phone location tracking are bad. It's more a matter of how the data is "scrubbed" and then used. Kudos to all for such an inventive effort!  

Also worthy of note are plans to use cell phones in a very different way to fight malaria. See below:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Training for the Bin Laden Raid

Last Monday, this blog ran a post about how Google, Apple, and Nokia have been applying varying degrees of censorship to the imagery they provide online (see: Blurring the World for Security's Sake: Google, Apple, and Nokia). Since those blurring efforts are focused on military and economic locations of national significance for countries around the globe, the quality of the respective censorship efforts have been inviting review by military, security and legislative leaders worldwide. As an example, last Tuesday Taiwan let it be known that it was upset about imagery Apple was serving up of a top secret military radar facility.  Even more interesting, by week's end another twist on this story emerged when Cryptome announced it had used differences in source imagery and collection dates to locate the training site for the Bin Laden raid. This time, Bing was the one unintentionally offering up the revealing imagery. More below:

Satellite Images of the CIA's Secret Bin Laden Training Facility (The Atlantic Wire, October 9, 2012)

Osama bin Laden Compound Raid Mock-up (Cryptome, October 9, 2012)

Comment: There are at least four take-aways coming out of these recent stories about the amazing level of imagery now available online from commercial vendors:
1.) If you are doing something you don't want the bad guys to know about, military satellites and aerial collects aren't the only ones you need to worry about.
2.) Depending on location, resolution varies by vendor. Examples below:

3.) The currency of photos can change by scale.  In the full "zoom in" example of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport found below, note the Northwest Airlines paint job on the aircraft. Given the aircraft type on the left were all changed from Northwest to Delta Air Lines colors by March 2010, the default image below is at least two years old. However, when backing out the zoom using the minus button on the left side of the image, note the aircraft paint scheme changes to that of Delta, which means the small scale images for this location are more current than the large scale.

4.) Provided limitations are understood, online imagery providers like Google and Bing have a lot to offer the response community. However, local units of government typically have access to imagery that has even better resolution and is more current. Consequently, any responder who wants access to the best imagery available for his/her area of responsibility needs to be thinking about the who/how/where of what's available before a disaster strikes.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Far Out Friday: Aliens, Cows, Kids, Stalkers, Pigs, and DHS

Hey, if Sarah Brightman can buy a ticket to the International Space Station - I think it's fair to say there is nothing I can do here that is going to be too far out.......

Aliens at Area 51: What do you say we stick with the Brits for the first story.  On the list of far out, dumb stunts that people do just to see what will happen, this would be number one. In order behind it would be: (2) flying an airplane into the protected airspace around the White House, (3) carrying a gun through a TSA checkpoint, (4) attending an Al Qaeda training camp in Somalia, and (5) going into the drug business with "The Knife" from Columbia. Let me guess - these folks really didn't think the sensor network around a place like Area 51 was actually going to work. See that rock over there?  Surprise, it's not a rock (and it's solar powered)!  Story below:

Cows Text Farmer When Ready: Close your browser and walk away from your computer if anyone below the age of 18 is in the room. Title says it all:

Swiss Cows Send Texts to Announce They’re in Heat (New York Times, October 1, 2012)

What Did I Tell Ya - Kids Rebel in San Antonio: As long as we are on the topic of juveniles, what do you say we check out how things are going in San Antonio schools, where in the name of school funding, students are required to carry ID's with RFID tags. Looks like a few folks are headed to the principal's office for noncompliance. More below:

Attention Facebook Stalkers: For all you obsessive compulsive, obsessive compulsive, obsessive compulsive folks out there, beware. Facebook knows who you are, knows who you are:

Facebook Is Now Recording Everyone You Stalk (Gizmodo, September 21, 2012)

When Pigs Fly: This story is as far out as they come. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently apologized for the poor quality of an Apple product and then encouraged customers to consider purchasing a replacement product from its competitors. I wonder when the oinkers are going to be flying south for the winter?  Details below:

DHS Huh?: The individual who will most likely end up being responsible for protecting the nation's cyber infrastructure recently offered an interesting confession about her technical prowess (or her Washington D.C. street smarts, depending on what you would like to believe) - she doesn't use email. Smoke signals anyone?

All for this week.  Hope you have an enjoyable weekend!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cybersecurity - An Update

As you may be aware, October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a designation intended to help raise awareness about potential cyber threats to the United States. Although many Americans think of this issue as one confined to personal events like denial of service attacks and malicious emails, truth is, a well executed, coordinated cyber attack on U.S. infrastructure could be just as damaging to the nation's economy as bombs dropped from enemy aircraft. For that reason, during the past six months, the White House and Congress have been trying to culminate several years of legislative discussions on the topic in order to pass a bill codifying several cybersecurity initiatives. Adding urgency to the situation, approximately one year ago, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security were forced to investigate circumstances at an Illinois water treatment facility that appear to have been the first successful cyber attack against American infrastructure by foreign agents (see: First Successful Cyber Attack Against U.S. Infrastructure).  As an update to this series of developments, find below a chronological list of articles that relate recent developments:
July 26, 2012Rise Is Seen in Cyberattacks Targeting U.S. Infrastructure (New York Times)
August 5, 2012Congress Goes On Recess Without Cybersecurity Law (Tech Crunch)
August 8, 2012: Obama Considering Executive Branch Action on Cybersecurity (Bloomberg)
September 7, 2012White House Draft Cyber Order Promotes Voluntary Critical Infrastructure Protections (Federal News Radio)
October 9, 2012The Dangers of Delaying Heightened Cybersecurity (Senator Lieberman Editorial, Washington Post)

Comment: Serious stuff  - which exists as an issue for the nation's infrastructure because of visualization and control through Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems which increasingly use the Internet, yet employ virtually none of the standard security features found in many online systems. So let's hope between local effort to share information between utilities and responders, and Washington's effort to enact guidelines for protecting the cyber security of the nation's infrastructure, we can find a way to work together to solve these issues before we are beset by another 9/11.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Digital Maps for Responders

In late September, the online publication Government Technology ran an article about an effort underway in Fredrick County, Virginia, that is replacing the paper map books in county response vehicles with a hand-held application. The replacement application works on smartphones and tablets and is designed to work without Internet connectivity.  Driving this innovative effort is the county's need to save the money associated with printing map books. Click below for more:

Digital Maps Assist Emergency Responders (Government Technology, September 21, 2012)

Comment: Kudos to the folks in Fredrick County for their inventive spirit in response to the budget ax!  That being said, based on the information available in the article, I personally have some concerns and think this is going to be a very interesting one to watch going forward. 

In my opinion, there are many instances where paper has no rival - and a map is one of them. Particularly when it is being used by any part of the "response community", whether that part is first response or last response (military). Beyond the big picture capability that is possible with paper, as the saying goes - "A bullet through a computer equals a pile of scrap, a bullet through a paper map equals a hole through a piece of paper." In other words, unlike a hand-held, a paper map still has utility even when damaged. Toss in the fact that paper maps work without the need for batteries or recharging, and I fear Fredrick County is setting itself up for a potential electronic Waterloo in the middle of a major disaster.  Consequently, to me the hand-held application makes sense as an additive feature, not as one that is exclusive.

Note also this quote in the article: "According to Coulson, the biggest request has been for driving directions to the addresses entered into the program. The problem is that doing so would require network access, which isn’t reliable in all areas."  Perhaps a solution to that problem would be indexing the map books using the U.S. National Grid (the 1000 meter grid notation is the index), and equipping response vehicles with GPS units that have a USNG "drive-to-capability" (see: Garmin Greatly Expands the Number of Units With USNG Capability).  That way the response address, the map book index, and GPS drive-to commands interlock and work without cellular or Internet connectivity.  A reality made possible by using a standardized approach to mapping.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Seattle Cops and Twitter

As a City with a reputation for introducing innovative technology solutions, it shouldn't come as a suprise that the Seattle Police Department recently armed its officers with a very unique weapon: Twitter. Except for removal of sex crime related reports, and a one hour system delay, Seattle Police are now broadcasting happenings on the street in real-time via this social media tool. Consequently, with electrons instead of pen and paper being used to record crime events and simultaneously distribute that information to Seattle's public, the "Tweets-by-beat" program is being called "trailblazing" and "the most ambitious effort of its kind in the nation." For more, use the link below:

Hey, @SeattlePD: What’s the Latest? (New York Times, October 1, 2012)

Tweets-by-beat (Seattle Police real-time site)

Comment: A very cool effort by the City of Seattle - and an essential step in developing a Common Operating Picture (COP) in any community. As demonstrated here, members of the Emergency Services Sector (ESS) are making their "what's happening now" data readily available in a way that could be used to create an effective COP. Along that line of thought, the Seattle Police Department has also deployed a very nice mapping interface for crime visualization.  Example and link below:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Blurring the World for Security's Sake: Google, Apple, and Nokia

The post on this blog that has had the most hits is: Blurred Satellite Images - Living in the Post 9/11 World, first published on August 22, 2011. In it, a reader will find insights about some approaches that have been used since 9/11 to restrict the open distribution of geospatial data in the online world.  As the thinking goes, maps and imagery on the web make it far easier for terrorists to plan an attack than do paper maps and photos in a library.

With release of Apple Maps last month, a different version of "the world from above" entered the public domain. It's a circumstance certain to invite a comparative review, which is exactly what Aaron Souppouris did on September 28, 2012, while writing for The Verge.  Find it below:

Comment: Interesting development. Since Apple failed to respond to The Verge's request for information about its "blurring policy", it could be that release of the sensitive imagery noted in the article was unintentional.  A point which opens up the ultimate can of worms.  As overhead imagery continues its drift from a capability possessed only by nation-states, to one also owned and managed by commercial entities around the globe, who will be in charge of setting censorship standards?  Legislators - start your pens.

Lead photo credit: The Verge

Friday, October 5, 2012

Firefighting Friday: Two Florida Firefighters Have Something to Say

In 2005, Florida became the first state in nation to adopt the United States National Grid (USNG) as the geo-location communication standard used by Fires Services during disasters; a decision based on the experience of numerous hurricane responses.  Those events had suggested responders from across Florida and the nation didn't have a standardized way to effectively communicate information about "where" when deployed to areas requiring assistance.

Now, seven years after the move to adopt USNG as the Fire Service geo-location communication standard in Florida, results are mixed.  Consequently, two Florida firefighters have decided to share their thoughts about the situation in the October edition of Florida Fire Service magazine.  See below:

Comment: Nice article Lieutenant Studt and Captain Scott - thanks for sharing!

All for this week - have a great weekend!   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

GIS is Everywhere in Homeland Security

According to a September 26, 2012 article appearing in Homeland Security Today, perceptions of GIS in the Homeland Security community have been rapidly changing. GIS is no longer being seen as simply a way to electronically produce maps, but rather as a geospatially based suite of tools that can fuse multiple data streams into visual real-time situational awareness.  For more, link is below:

GIS: The Backbone Of Homeland Security (HSToday, September 26, 2012)

Comment: Couldn't agree more - it's exactly the point I have been making for years.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Drones in U.S. Airspace - Privacy Gone?

Last month the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a comprehensive study on the expanding use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS's or "drones") in U.S. airspace.  On either side of that report, a survey on the topic was released that received significant attention from the national new media.  First was a Monmouth University survey that found Americans generally support the use of domestic drones by law enforcement officials provided those activities are limited to significant protective actions such as apprehending a dangerous known criminal or protecting U.S. borders. Second was a survey conducted by the Associated Press and National Constitution Center which reported that more than 1/3 of Americans fear drone use by law enforcement will impact their personal privacy.  Oddly enough, the same concerns Americans were making known in these surveys, the GAO report found had the potential to exist in fact. Along those lines, here are two important passages on the subject from the report:
Currently, no single federal agency has been statutorily designated with specific responsibility to regulate privacy matters relating to UAS for the entire federal government. UAS stakeholders with whom we spoke disagreed as to whether the regulation of UAS privacy-related issues should be centralized within one federal agency and, if centralized, which agency would be best positioned to handle such a responsibility.
We recommend that the Secretaries of Transportation and Homeland Security and the Attorney General initiate discussions, prior to the integration of UAS into the national airspace system, to explore whether any actions should be taken to guide the collection and use of UAS data.
To review the surveys and GAO report, use the links below:

Comment: Besides the privacy issue, the GAO report does an excellent job of exploring many of the issues that are emerging as the U.S. moves toward full integration of UAS's into the national airspace by 2015.  If you would like to review a well written document on these issues, the GAO report is well worth your time.

Lead photo: ACLU

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Flood Footprints For European Insurers

On September 10, 2012, PERILS, a Zurich based "insurance industry initiative aimed at improving the availability of catastrophe insurance market data," announced it would begin providing flood footprints during and after major flood events using satellite imagery. According to the news release issued by the company, 
These footprints can then be used for rapid flood impact assessments and will facilitate the understanding of insured flood risk and ultimately help to broaden the range of flood insurance solutions. The project is a joint effort involving satellite operators, earth observation service providers and the insurance industry. It is supported by Allianz, EQECAT, ESA, Guy Carpenter, Munich Re, PERILS, SERTIT, Swiss Re, Vista and Willis.
To learn more about this development, use the links below:

Satellite Flood Footprints (Download examples from the Xynthia flooding)

PERILS Press Release (PDF, 213KB)

Comment: Digitalglobe and a few other commercial imagery firms have previously offered their services in support of similar efforts, but what is remarkable about this development is the projected scale of what has been announced. Rather than an approach of selling products to individual customers after an event, the PERILS effort amounts to a group of European insurance companies banding together and "prescripting a mission assignment" to collect flood imagery and discern what it means, during and after the event. No waffling around with - should we, shouldn't we, should we - when it comes to deciding the importance of collecting and processing this type of data. These companies have made the decision up front - if it's possible flooding is going to take place - give us flood footprints so we can estimate losses as they are happening. It's a powerful example that others could learn from.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Wearable Map Generator for Responders

Last week, one of MIT's research teams announced they had developed a system that a responder can wear to generate a real-time map on the move. Using a combination of technologies that includes LIDAR, inertial navigation, camera, and barometer, the system generates a spatial "recording" of the surrounding environment as it is moved through an area. As envisioned by the MIT team, the system could  be used by responders who need to preserve this type of information for follow-on efforts, such as Urban Search and Rescue teams, or HAZMAT response teams.  Find links below for a demonstration video and the school's news release:

Comment: Pretty slick - congrats go out to MIT!  

One point of note after cruising the blogs on this story. Some have pointed out that the Zebedee Handheld 3D Mapping System, which has existed as a working prototype for about eight months, is a product for the general public that has similar capabilities. Check it out below.

Lead photo credit: MIT News