Thursday, May 31, 2012

RFID Tracking of Students Comes to San Antonio

Over the weekend, the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas confirmed it will begin a pilot program next school year that will allow school officials to track students using Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags installed in their school ID's. Although the initial effort will include only one high school, one middle school, and all special education students, the costs to implement the effort for just over 6,000 students of the District's nearly 100,000 are: $525,065 to install the tracking system, and $136,005 per year to run.  To read more, use the link below:

Comment: Holy burritos Batman, that sure seems like some serious bling to know where students are at any given moment on school property!  At least it does until I step back from the situation and think for a moment........ What if this program saves the life of a District student by being able to provide that student's location in a variety of personal safety scenarios? Something I would argue is going to happen over time. The price tag then looks really small compared to what a law suit settlement would look like.  
The only thing running counter to the Return On Investment analysis offered above is the inventive nature of the teenage mind. How long is it going to be before an enterprising bunch of students gets together and forms a compact where they rotate responsibility for carrying a pack of ID's to school while everyone else plays hooky? Honest, Mr. Mayer, I was here - look....see...the RFID tracking record of my location shows I was here!!!!  Can you say: "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trending: Social Media Use During Disasters

Coming on the heels of the American Red Cross' (ARC) opening of a Social Media Operations Center back in March (See: American Red Cross Opens a Social Media Operations Center), two publications have recently revisited the topic of social media use during disasters. Sources and points of interest from these discussions include:

Homeland Security Newswire article of March 20, 2012
  • 1/3 of respondents would use social media to alert family and friends that they were safe.
  • 80% felt that emergency response organizations should monitor social media sites regularly.
  • The internet is the third most popular way for the public to gather information about emergencies.

North Carolina State University News Release of May 22, 2012: Highlighting the upcoming release of Dr. Andrew Binder's paper on Twitter use following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster, the news release noted:
"...that social media haven’t changed what we communicate so much as how quickly we can disseminate it." 

Additional background information on these trends (and more) can be found on the American Red Cross web site announcing the opening of their Social Media Digital Operations Center for Humanitarian Relief.  Go here.

Comment: During the Katrina/Rita disaster, the greatly accelerated and near continuous flow of information by the 24/7 televised news media meant more than a few units of government were caught red-faced by "not so" timely information they were providing at news conferences.  Similarly, unless the public relations function of the Emergency Services Sector (ESS) gets its arms around the rapidly expanding capabilities of social media to further accelerate the transmission of disaster related information, another credibility gap looms in the future.  Case in point: unlike the approach taken by many ESS organizations who have tried to stick their toe in the social media pool by simply broadcasting their news items using Twitter and the rest, the American Red Cross effort mentioned above is more like a listening post on the web so that it knows what is happening and can transmit its message accordingly.  In other words, the ARC understands that social media going forward means the response community will have to be prepared for a bi-directional flow of social media information to-from the public in volumes never seen before.

Lead graphic: Mr Mojo Risin

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SUPRAMAP - Virus Tracking Software

Last week, biomedical informatics researchers at "The" Ohio State University announced they had taken a series of technical steps to make a geospatially focused virus tracking software, SUPRAMAP, available to other researchers and public health officials. The software, which began its development in 2007 as a cooperative effort between the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), had previously been used to visualize the spread and evolution of pandemic (H1N1) and avian influenza (H5N1). However, in order to increase the utility and use of the software, the original client and server elements have now been decoupled so that individuals outside the Ohio State development team can use a web service to try, " ideas, data, and clients to create novel applications.”   To learn more, use the links below to read a news release from the OSC, visit the SUPRAMAP Home Page, or view an overview video:

Comment: BINGO!  Finally somebody in the biomedical informatics community that "gets it".  Effective virus outbreak tracking is not about filling in county outlines with different colors to relate progression of spread.  Pretty....but basically worthless beyond use as an overview tool.  To truly understand the factors at work, granularity is needed; and that's exactly what this effort is all about. 

Lead graphic: Janies Research/OSU

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering Why: Memorial Day

Memorial Day started after the U.S. Civil War as a way to honor fallen soldiers of the North and South. And to be certain, the nation was in need of healing after a four year war that was the bloodiest the nation has ever known. Combined Confederate and Union troop losses totaled nearly 750,000 dead, or 7,789,798 if thought of as a percentage of the nation's current population.  (As a further point of comparison, only 12 states currently have a population greater than this number, with Virginia being number 12 at 8,096,604.)

Although the tradition of remembering those who gave their lives in defense of the nation continues uninterrupted to this day, offered below for your consideration are two short memorials devoted to the Civil War units that bear the unfortunate distinction of having sustained the greatest percentage losses during any single engagement:

Unit: 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry
Date: July 2, 1863 
Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Circumstances: 1st Minnesota unhesitatingly makes suicide charge against advancing Confederate troops in order to give other Union forces the time needed to secure key terrain on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Result: Regiment sustains the largest loss by any surviving military unit in American history during a single engagement.
Description on Gettysburg Battlefield Plaque (clarification added): 
On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles' Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.
As his (Sickles) men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies (1st Minnesota) to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.
The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy's front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war...

Unit: 1st Texas Infantry Regiment
Date: September 17, 1862
Location: Antietam Battlefield/Sharpsburg, Maryland
Circumstances: Although vastly outnumbered, the 1st Texas Infantry Regiment CSA, unwaveringly stands its ground against Union forces in order to seal a gap in the center of Confederate lines.
Result: On the single bloodiest day of fighting in the Civil War, the 1st Texas sustains the highest percentage loss by any infantry regiment during the war, North or South, with 82.3% causalities.
Description on Sharpsburg Battlefield Plaque (clarification added):
...Here in the cornfield early on the morning of September 17, the Texas Brigade helped blunt the attack of elements of Mansfield’s Union Corps.  Almost alone during this powerful Federal onslaught the Texas Brigade sealed a threatening gap in the Confederate line. In so doing the 1st Texas Infantry Regiment (sub unit of the Texas Brigade) suffered a casualty rate of 82.3 percent, the greatest loss suffered by any infantry regiment, North or South, during the war. Of approximately 850 men engaged the Texas Brigade counted over 550 causalities...

Comment: In honor of all those who have paid the ultimate price to secure the freedom of this great nation, from Colonial times to present, in "peace time" and war, know that we remember you, and will be forever in your debt.

Photo credits -  Lead: jpellgen   Minnesota Monument: wikipedia      Texas Monument: Stone Sentinels

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fishy Friday: Fish-bots Sniffing for Pollution

Leave it to those "at sea" crazy Brits to come up with this one.  To head off slow moving disasters known as water borne pollution, British researchers have been investigating using sensor-laden, robotic fish to swim around looking for things that shouldn't be in the water.  And if the fish-bots find pollution, they are programmed to sniff their way back to the source like a shark following a blood trail. All, of course, monitored and recorded using geo-referenced telemetry sent back to shore where it can be used to write a "ticket" for the unfortunate polluter who just got caught red-handed - by a robotic fish. To learn more, use the links below to read an article, or view a video, by BBC:   

Comment: We have now have a trifecta of robots - robotic planes in the sky, robotic cars on land, and now robotic fish in the sea.  Lets hope this all stops before someone comes up with a bright idea like robotic piranha.  

Lead photo Credit: BBC

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Keep Your Kids Safe Apps

It's becoming hard to keep up with the onslaught of smart phones apps that are supposed to help keep us or our loved ones safe.  Recently, the New York Times reviewed two such "child related" iPhone apps that were released earlier this month. They are:
  • FBI Child ID (graphic above) - designed to provide authorities and searchers with immediate access to relevant data about a lost child.   
  • Footprints - designed to provide parents with a variety of ways to track the real-time whereabouts of a child.
To read the review, click the link below:

Comment: The concept behind each of these apps appears to be solid.  However, like a New Year's Eve resolution, the ultimate value of each will be the degree to which the owner (and child in the case of Footprints) is willing to stick to the plan for the app over time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Humanitarian Mapping

The most recent version of "Words into Action", a periodical of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, features an interview with Patrick Meier, one of the co-founders of Crisis Mappers.  In the article, Patrick shares his thoughts on the advent of volunteers working together to remotely produce map products in support of disaster responders.  Based on recent experiences in Libya, he also offers his ideas about the connection of disaster maps to social media, and where this mix of technology is headed in the future.  To learn more, use the link below:

Comment: Good article - I enjoyed seeing this topic covered in an international disaster response organization publication.  However, one thing.  In reference to the first sentence of the third paragraph, I'd like to offer a correction.  When talking about the creation of Crisis Mappers, Dr. Meier states the concept of remote disaster mapping by volunteers was invented by what is now the Crisis Mapping organization when he states (emphasis added): "That’s because it had never been done before and it wasn’t even started by humanitarian organizations." Ah, not so fast.  I know we are out here in the sticks, but a little old organization by the name of the MnGeo EPC beat Crisis Mappers to the core concept by almost a year when EPC volunteers reacted to record flooding in the Red River Valley of the North during March of 2009.  In that instance, an extensive series of continuously updated 1KM and 10KM U.S. National Grid maps showing flood extent and location of critical infrastructure was produced for the entire valley north from Fargo-Moorhead to the Canadian Border.  Furthermore, that system employed its own online viewer which allowed responders to search and download available maps by location.  All implemented remotely, all implemented by volunteers. For more on that story, click here

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tornado In the Twin Cities - What You Going To Do?

Last week, KARE 11 television in the Twin Cities, and Minnesota Public Radio, teamed up to deliver a three part evening news series intended to help regional viewers become "storm ready" for the upcoming summer.  Central to those broadcasts was a scenario that had a tornado traveling southwest to northeast across the western metro region with the final point of destruction being the Twins Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Focusing on the reality that it has been more than 50 years since a major storm has hit the Twin Cities (causalities in the hundreds), insights provided were designed to keep individuals safe whether at home, on the road, or at a major venue.  Click the links below to view the videos (7:15 each) and/or read the associated news pieces.  Also find below the link to the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management's (HSEM) "Tornado Safety Information Page".  

Comment: This series is worth your time to review as we head into late spring and early summer.  And for a geospatial "spin" on this theme, go here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Google "Seas" U.S. Navy Ships

Like the screen shot above from, ship tracking applications have been around for more than a few years. However, most of these viewers have a regional focus and only report transmitter locations of large commercial ships participating in the Automatic Identification System (AIS) anti-collision system.  

Last week, Google raised more than a few eyebrows when "Chief Technology Advocate" at Google Ventures, Michael Jones, announced at a U.S. Navy technology focused event in Virginia Beach, VA, that it was in the final stages of preparing to publicly release a satellite-based ship tracking system that can display the location of virtually every ship at sea - including U.S. Navy warships.  To read an article on this development from AOL Defense, click the link below:

Comment: Although this effort may appear unpatriotic at first, there are some very good reasons why such a system could be valuable from the standpoint of disaster response.  For example, after Katrina, an armada of U.S. Navy ships was deployed off the U.S. south coast and tasked with providing a wide range of services.  Indeed, "warships" became a floating city that included: hospitals, berthing quarters, search and rescue command centers, logistics bases, airports, water purification plants, and much more. And although the Navy knew where all its response assets were - virtually no one outside the military chain of command could make the same claim.  A situation that is problematic on many levels when last responders, become first responders.  Thus, from the perspective of emergency preparedness and response there is solid merit in Google's efforts in this realm.  (Now if I could just get them to fix their U.S. National Grid issues......)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Foolish Friday: "War of the Worlds" Drone Paranoia Comes to Chicago

Within the past 48 hours, several major local news outlets in the Chicago area, such as CBS and Fox News, reported on a YouTube video which purportedly shows the flight of an armed drone over a soccer field in the Chicago suburb of Elgin, IL. The event is then linked by speculative commentary to protection efforts for a NATO Summit that will be taking place in the Windy City this weekend. Find below the video in question:

After 50,000 plus views and a slew of comments on lesser known websites that in some cases approached Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" level of paranoia, some inquiring minds came to the realization that the above video was a fake. To learn more, use the link below to read an article from The Cardinal:

Comment: What we don't understand, we fear.  A point that is particularly true when it comes to things in the sky. Throw in a surveillance capability - and the situation is going to be heightened.  And so it is for some reporters and news consumers in Chicago - they got fooled by something they didn't understand.  On reflection, was it realistic to have an armed drone in the skies above Chicago?

Despite the comments above, frequent readers of EPC Updates will realize this author has great concerns about where the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle/Unmanned Aircraft System/Drone revolution is headed.  That's because of the general lack of public engagement and discourse on the legal and ethical implications of what these systems will eventually mean in modern society. Much like the legal issues that have come to the forefront with GPS tracking (See: The Location Tracking Mess - 7th Circuit Allows Warrantless Searches of Cell Phones), we are now forging ahead with another branch of geospatial data collection that has the potential to push the limits of legal understanding (See: Drone Arrest - Legal or Not?).  Consequently, the irony of the original video is that instead of creating a fake incident in an effort to stir up the masses, a far more meaningful and substantial result could have been potentially achieved by simply reporting the truth - on Monday, May 14, 2012, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) issued guidelines that significantly ease the restrictions on the use of drones by public safety officials (i.e. police).  Not that the development was bad on its own - its that the easing of operational restrictions came without any legal guideposts for how these systems can be used.   

Thursday, May 17, 2012

FEMA "Situational Awareness/Common Operating Picture" Courses for FY-2013

Late last week, FEMA's Emergency Management Institute (EMI) released its course schedule for Fiscal Year/FY-2013 (October 1, 2012 - September 30, 2013).  Included in the offerings are two courses specifically dedicated  to "Situational Awareness/Common Operating Picture".  These courses are offered as part of the Integrated Emergency Management Curriculum.  

Available dates for EMI's Resident training program are as follows: 

  • E948 Situation Awareness and Common Operating Picture. Dates: December 10-13; March 25-28; July 15-18; and September 9-12.
  • E143 Advanced Situational Awareness/Common Operating Picture. Dates: December 17-20; and February 25-28.

Available dates for FEMA's Mobile Training Course program are as follows (location of instruction for all courses is To Be Determined):  

  • L948 Situation Awareness and Common Operating Picture. Dates: October 22-25; November 13-16; January 22-25; February 11-14; March 18-21; April 15-18;  May 13-16; June 17-20; and August 5-8 and 19-22.
  • L143 Advanced Situational Awareness/Common Operating Picture. Not available.

In addition to the above courses, FEMA also offers courses designed to help Emergency Managers learn how GIS can serve as a force multiplier, as well as courses about FEMA's mitigation planning software HAZUS. There are some remaining 2012 training opportunities for a couple of these courses. To learn more, use the links below:

Comment: In FY-2013, available dates for most EMI courses with a geospatial flavor are front loaded to the first half of the year (starting in October 2012).  So apply early if you would like to attend. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

UN Geospatial Revolution

In late April, the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management, met in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to consider future trends in the world of geospatial data management.  Ahead of that meeting, Peter Batty, founder and VP at Ubisense was asked to produce a 1000 word background report to help shape conversations going forward and serve as the starting point for the committee's final report to be released in summer 2013.  However, the interim report sets a brisk pace - it identifies over 80 developments that, "...will contribute to the local, national and global strategic agendas of economic growth, social cohesion and well-being, environmental sustainability, disaster management, public safety and good governance."

To read the 8-page paper, click the link below:

Comment: I can't recommend strongly enough a review of this document.  It's a quick read and by the time you are done there will be little doubt that the geospatial world ahead is going to be very different place than what we know today.....kiss the security of the desktop goodbye...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Is There a Surveillance Aerostat in Your Future?

According to Wikipedia, an aerostat is, "a craft that remains aloft primarily through the use of buoyant lighter than air gases, which impart lift to a vehicle with nearly the same overall density as air. Aerostats include free balloons, airships, and moored balloons." After United States Coast Guard efforts to detect low-flying drug runners validated proof of concept for modern era designs during the early 1980's, eight surveillance aerostats were subsequently deployed as part of the U.S.-Mexico border security initiative in the 1990's.  Then, starting about 2003, surveillance aerostat use expanded significantly when they were added to the skies over 50 plus U.S. installations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Assigned the acronym of RAID, or Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment, these latest generation "observation blimps" have been successful at providing commanders with site-specific, 24/7, "eye-in-the-sky" imaging surveillance, thereby significantly improving the ability of U.S. forces to anticipate and respond to localized threats.  Based on these results, for the past couple of years manufacturers have been approaching civil authorities in the United States and other NATO countries about aerostat use for emergency preparedness and response, law enforcement, and crowd management.  Results have been mixed  - including a successful demonstration event at the Indianapolis 500 in 2009, investigative efforts by the U.S. Geological Survey, and a determination by Manchester, UK Police that the concept was unworkable because of regional meteorological conditions. To learn more, use any of the links below to read background documents, or watch the embedded video.

Comment: As noted above, to date the aerostat surveillance concept has had very limited success moving into the civilian market  - with only a few manufactures like SkyDoc Systems actively targeting the sector.  However, the concept of civilian sector use will not be going away. Unfortunately, it will just be dormant, waiting for the day when a major disaster could have been stopped (man-made), or response results improved (natural), by use of a comprehensive area surveillance system.  

Lead photo credit: Manchester Evening News

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nursing Homes and Disasters - Where to Now?

In the middle of last month, the Office of Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a report that found emergency preparedness and planning for disasters was woefully inadequate at the nation's nursing homes.  Given a report in 2006 came to similar conclusions, the popular press has since published a number of editorial pieces on the situation, most recently in The New York Times. While there are many issues addressed in these reports and press considerations, one theme is crystal clear.  Nursing home staff rarely develop any detailed understanding of how to manage a disaster that forces them to move patients from their current location to other sites.  Indeed, an ongoing review of nationwide nursing home regulations and plans by the University of Minnesota reiterates that point:
We found no State currently had a specific regulation about contracts for transportation for evacuations... (even though such) plans ended up being inoperable in recent large-scale disasters because all nursing homes had contracted with the same few companies, and/or federal or State emergency authorities had commandeered all the available vehicles.
To learn more about these issues, use the links below:

Comment: Because of the wide variety of elements impacting outcome, evacuation planning tends to be the soft underbelly of all disaster planning efforts - not just those in the nursing home community. However, as noted in "Nuke the Neighborhood - Part2", it can be managed. For those that missed it, here again is the link to the University of Minnesota's Evacuation Planning Software:

Photo Credit: LA Times

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fearless Friday: Driverless Car License Issued in Nevada

As related in an extensive post on this blog back on March 12, 2012 (see: Look Ma, No Hands! Driverless Cars Coming to a Road Near You!), Google and several other companies have been working with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in anticipation of starting legally sanctioned testing of driverless cars on Nevada's public roads.  On Monday, May 7, 2012, those efforts paid off when Nevada's DMV issued Google the world's first driverless car license.

To learn more, click the link below to read an article by Time:

Comment: The next thing you know, someone will be trying to put pilotless airplanes in the sky.  Oh.....ya, never mind.......

Lead Graphic Credit: New York Times and Google

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The First National Preparedness Report Is Issued

In keeping with the requirements of Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-8 (National Preparedness), one week ago the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) formally released the first National Preparedness Report.  The report is based on self-assessments from around the country that graded some 31 mission areas identified as core capabilities supporting National Preparedness.

According to the report, the Nation's current strengths are: 
  • Planning
  • Operational Coordination
  • Intelligence and Information Sharing
  • Environmental Response/Health and Safety
  • Mass Search and Rescue Operations
  • Operational Communications
  • Public Health and Medical Services

While the Nation's current weaknesses are:
  • Cybersecurity
  • Long-term recovery

To learn more, use the links below to read a FEMA Blog post or download the report:

Comment: As the report relates, we have come a long way as a nation since the dark days after 9/11.  However, I would respectfully disagree with the glowing assessment about the pervasive and sophisticated employment of Geographic Information Systems as offered on pages 49-50 of the report under "Situational Assessment".  Reading this section would lead one to believe that things are tracking along just great with the deployment of systems like FEMA's Situational Awareness Viewer for Emergency Response & Recovery (SAVER2), HHS’s MedMap, and others.  Perhaps from a  federal perspective of system technical implementation that is correct.  But if the federal government is going to be involved in responses on the local level (as in: "All disasters are local"), then federal visualization systems are going to need fidelity on the local level. Which means federal systems will need local data - both static and real-time. Something that will never happen without local support and engagement.  Can you say MnGeo Emergency Preparedness Committee?     

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

USDA and Disasters

As has been mentioned previously on these pages, agriculture is an often overlooked community when it comes to emergency preparedness and response. That's ironic, since the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), like many of its state counterparts, has made substantial investment and developed significant capabilities so that it can respond to disasters in the rural areas that make up the majority of the United States' territory.  Furthermore, a significant part of these efforts have a geospatial component.  Here are a few:

CropScape (graphic above) - The crop land data layer for the United States. When matched against recorded NOAA weather track data, this data can be used to create preliminary crop damage assessments after events like hail storms, tornadoes, drought, and other weather events.  To read an abstract on the system, click here.  To give the application a try, click the link below:

National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) - Although its original intended use was support of the USDA's Common Land Unit program, NAIP imagery has become the defacto U.S. standard for rural imagery.  It is now used in everything from various commercial online viewers, to serving as the base imagery  for the U.S. Geological Survey's  US Topo - a product specifically designed to support emergency response operations through incorporation of the U.S. National Grid.  To learn more, click here. Or, to access imagery, use one of the links below: 

Farm Service Agency's Aerial Photography Field Office (APFO) - Many USDA imagery products are available to both public and private entities for emergency response planning through the APFO.  Information on how to obtain this imagery can be found by using the link below:

If you would like to find out more about USDA's geospatial and emergency response efforts, there's plenty that can be learned by exploring USDA's extensive web resources, starting at the links below:

Comment: It's really easy to see pictures of the aftermath of Katrina, Fukushima, Haiti, Joplin, Missouri, and mentally associate disasters with urban areas as a result. However, whether it is the intentional breaching of a dike to save a city downstream, a severe drought, or a disease like hoof and mouth, reality is disasters can visit with equal wrath in the countryside.  A point which has clearly brought geospatial into the mix for response efforts in America's rural communities.   

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Webinar: Talbot Brooks on TerraGo Publisher for ArcGIS

Long-time friend of the MnGeo EPC, Talbot Brooks of Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, and sidekick Michael Maloney, will be online a week from today in a TerraGo Technologies sponsored webinar to discuss how to use, "Publisher for AcrGIS to extend, exchange and exploit geospatial assets by producing portable, intelligent and interactive TerraGo GeoPDF maps and imagery."  Central to the discussion will be how these gentlemen have used this approach to respond to nearly 50 disasters worldwide as well as create on-demand maps supporting disaster planning, defense and other applications.

Additional learning highlights of the event according to the official sell include:
  • Create GeoPDF applications that are automatically enabled for dynamic updates and sharing by anyone, anywhere using the no-cost TerraGo Toolbar and Adobe Reader,
  • Leverage ESRI data-driven pages to automate GeoPDF map book production, and 
  • Export feature layers and attributes into TerraGo GeoPDF maps and imagery as geomarks to allow markup and editing in TerraGo Toolbar and Adobe Reader.

Here are the details:
Date: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Time:  2PM Eastern, 1PM Central, 12PM Mountain, 11PM Pacific 
Event registration is required, use the link below:

Comment: The only thing that worries me about plugging this webinar is I'm concerned Delta State's Fighting Okra might show up.......  

Monday, May 7, 2012

A New National Geospatial Infrastructure?

In late April, the Congressional Research Service - a part of the Library of Congress that works directly for Congress - released a background study on geospatial data issues confronting the nation. Key points of the report entitled "Congress Issues and Challenges for Federal Geospatial Information", include:

  • The vertical and horizontal sharing of geospatial data at all levels of government is not would it should be,
  • One of the lead areas where this lack of coordination should be of great concern is (you guessed it): emergency preparedness and response,
  • Geospatial data is on par with the likes of electricity, water, and road networks as a national strategic infrastructure, and
  • Legislators need to do something or the situation will only get worse.

Here are some tidbits (emphasis added):

  • On the growing importance of geospatial data:
As much as 80% of government information has a geospatial component, according to various sources. The federal government’s role has changed from being a primary provider of authoritative geospatial information to coordinating and managing geospatial data and facilitating partnerships.
  • Failure of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) to mature:
Yet, some members of the geospatial community have indicated that the past efforts to create a national spatial data infrastructure have not met expectations, and have called for a new effort to build a “national GIS” or a “NSDI 2.0.” In addition to promoting the efficiency and interoperability of such a national system, some promote NSDI as “digital infrastructure” on par with other parts of the nation’s critical infrastructure—such as roads, pipelines, telecommunications—and underscore its role in the national economy and in national security.
  • Why geospatial data is important and becoming more so:
Producing floodplain maps, conducting the Census, planning ecosystem restoration, and assessing vulnerability and responding to natural hazards such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis are examples of how federal agencies use GIS and geospatial information to meet national needs.
  • Emergency preparedness and response is one of the key reasons why geospatial data coordination needs to be fixed:
The National Research Council (NRC) notes, however, that the need for complete national land parcel data has become urgent particularly for at least one application—emergency response. During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, some critical land parcel data that was needed by emergency responders, public officials, and even insurance companies was not readily available or did not exist
Further, the NRC report asserts that many of the property fraud cases associated with the geospatial data, specifically land parcel data.
  • Efforts right now are poorly executed and are costing the taxpayers a great deal of money:
Between 2003 and 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) invested approximately $1 billion in the Map Modernization Program, a large-scale effort to collect new elevation data, update existing data, and digitize older paper flood maps. State governments and local partners also contributed considerable funding to the effort. The FEMA effort produced digital flood maps covering 92% of the nation’s population; however, according to the NRC report only 21% of the population has flood maps that fully meet FEMA’s own data quality standards. As a result, insurance companies, lenders, realtors, and property owners who depend on the flood maps to determine flood insurance needs, plan for development, and prepare for floods still have to deal with uncertainties inherent in the less accurate flood maps.

To read the report use the link below.  A link to a companion background report about GIS that was produced for Congress last year has also been provided below:

Comment: This document should be mandatory reading for every public-private decision maker in the country.  The implications of the nation not acting on the issues discussed are far reaching for every American, with significant impact on employment opportunities, government services, and national security. But to fix problems identified in the report, it is going to take more than Congress passing a bill.  Because the value of geospatial data is ultimately one of granularity, there also needs to be engagement at the local level to create grass roots approaches that will enable a national process to grow. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fast and Furious Friday: Bird Flu, StreetView Hotwater, Female Spy, Play Cube

Bird Flu Study Released: The study detailing how Bird Flu could be easily modified to become transmittable by air instead of direct contact was released on Wednesday, May 2, 2012. The subject of several past posts on this blog, more information is available by using the link below to read the opening article by publisher Nature:

Privacy Hot Water for Google: Recent revelations that Google may have knowingly collected personal data from Wi-Fi sites during its StreetView development efforts has raised eyebrows of European regulators.  Click the link below to read an article on this development by the New York Times:

National Reconnaissance Office Gets First Female Boss: Long the bastion of men, the super-secret "eye-in-the-sky" National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) which supports U.S. clandestine missions world-wide, will get its first female chief when Betty Sapp moves up from her current role as Deputy.  Use the link below to read more from

Things Are Pretty Relaxed in Mountain View: They might be in hot water in Europe and elsewhere because of StreetView privacy issues, but you would never know it when checking out Google's latest contribution to the geospatial world - Cube, an addictive online map-based game that plays like the old roll the steel ball through the wooden maze toy.  Use the link below to play (sorry - it doesn't work in Windows Explorer, and if the boss asks, I did not tell you about this).

Comment: Little doubt things are happening at a fast and furious pace in the geospatial world. Ten years ago, developments that would have been points of discussion for weeks, are now passed by in the blink of an eye.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Next HIFLD Meeting Heads Up: 19-20 July, San Diego, CA

Here's a "Save the Date" heads up for the next Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data Work Group (HIFLD) meeting:

Date:  19-20 July, 2012
Where:  San Diego State University (SDSU), San Diego, California 

  • 2012 HSIP Gold/Freedom Data Feedback Session 
  • Online Dynamic Services Supporting the Status of Infrastructure for shared use among HIFLD WG participants.
  • Other topics of general interest related to how geospatial technology and data supports efforts to enhance the protection and resiliency of our Nation's infrastructure and international infrastructure significant to the US.
  • Full meeting information: Additional details will be provided on the HIFLD website ( when they become available.      

Questions: Casey Theisen, 703.377.9684, and/or the HIFLD Support team at

Comment: As has been the case in the past, this HIFLD meeting will piggyback on both the ESRI Homeland Security Summit (July 21-24) and the ESRI International User Conference (July 23-27) at the San Diego Hilton Bayfront Hotel and San Diego Convention Center respectively.  A fact which leads one to ask: "So about if you send me to Southern California for a 10 day conference in July?"  Yup, there's an "app" for that!