Thursday, January 31, 2013

FCC Issues Report on Loss of E9-1-1 During June 2012 Storm

In the closing days of June 2012, a violent straight-line wind storm technically known as a derecho hit several eastern Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states. As related in a post this blog ran after that event, the derecho knocked out power for millions, and E9-1-1 service for many, particularly those living in Northern Virginia near Washington, DC. That widespread loss of E9-1-1 systems near the U.S. Capital gave pause to many and resulted in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) convening a special panel to look into causes and recommend improvements. On January 13, 2013, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn released those findings as the culmination of the investigation. Key determinations included a conclusion that "system monitoring" best practices already known in the industry, weren't being followed. Below, for details:

(FCC, January 13, 2013)

Comment: Toward the very end of the 53 page report (7.4), the authors note that Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) systems would have avoided many of the problems that beset the older E9-1-1 systems during this storm. And as the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) has appropriately pointed out in the past - NG9-1-1 won't work without use of robust GIS and high quality data. Add to that NAPSG's recommendation U.S. National Grid functionality should be considered an important component of any future NG9-1-1 buildout, and it looks like lots of folks have a whole heap of work to do.

Lead graphic: FCC

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

GPS Tracking Devices in Pill Bottles

More than a few news outlets covered the story of pill bottle meets GPS tracking device when it hit the wire in the middle of the month.  After all, it was the sensational next step after boxes of Brazilian laundry detergent Omo and U.K Nestle candy bars were previously equipped with similar devices.  However, this time the event took place in the U.S., and focused on putting criminals behind bars.  For more on this brainchild of the New York Police Department, use the link below:

(CBS News, January 15, 2013)

Comment: When I was a kid, my old man got tired of the local ice fishermen stealing wood from a big wood pile outside our "up North" cabin.  So, he told the local gossip that he had hidden a stick of dynamite in several different chunks of wood on the pile. The story wasn't true, but the theft of wood stopped. So when I saw this story, I was left wondering......

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Great Lakes Oblique Photo Viewer

Since 2010, FEMA has been leading a consortium of organizations in an effort to update the coastal flood hazard information and Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) for Great Lakes coastal communities. In addition to FEMA, collaborators include the Association of State Flood Plain Managers (ASFPM), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Risk Assessment, Mapping, and Planning Partners (RAMPP: Dewberry, EPS, and URS) and the Strategic Alliance for Risk Reduction (STARR: Atkins, Greenhorne & O’Mara, Stantec, and CDM Smith).  Together, these partners are creating a comprehensive storm and wind study of the Great Lakes basin using analytic and geospatial tools. One of the more interesting of these tools is the USACE's Great Lakes Oblique Photo Viewer. Released in summer of 2012, the viewer provides detailed oblique views for the entire U.S. Great Lakes shoreline.  More below:

(Great Lakes Coastal Flood Study News Item, August 17, 2012)

Comment: Besides the very cool Great Lakes Oblique Photo Viewer, it's great to see this many moving parts headed in the same direction. Kudos to all involved!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Microsoft Rolls Out Its First Disaster App - HelpBridge

In the middle of January, Microsoft announced release of its first disaster app for smartphones. Called HelpBridge, the app allows an individual to send a pre-formatted help request via SMS, email and/or a posting on Facebook. Location information can be included in the request. The app also has a feature that individuals who are not in need of help can use to connect to services where they can donate money, goods or time. More below:

(The Next Web, January 16, 2013)

Comment: Here's the review - GOOD: Great to see a company like Microsoft engaging in efforts to bring technology to the disaster response equation.  OTHER: Rather than everybody going off and doing their own thing, it sure would be great to see corporate America get together and work with FEMA to develop standardized apps that facilitate interoperability and channel information flows so that they also support government's role in response.

Lead graphic: Microsoft

Friday, January 25, 2013

Find It Friday - Gun Map, Stealth Wear, Hot Spots, Moon Beams, Bad Map

Bang-Bang Map Goes Boom. The reports are all over the place on this one. Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, White Plains, NY newspaper the Journal News published a map showing the homes of gun owners in two New York metro counties. Now the newspaper has pulled the map.  The newspaper says it's because of a new state law. Others claim it's because the map was actually making the community more at risk by helping thieves know where to go to steal guns.  You decide:

(LA Times, January 20, 2013)

Now You See Me, Now You Don't. Speaking of things disappearing, have I got a deal for you. Coming to a high fashion store near you, clothes that will make you and your electronic goodies disappear from things like drones and infra-red sensors. Not to be confused with dieting. More below:

(Discovery News, January 18, 2013)

A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight. There might be an exception to the concept discussed above - that being when your "glow factor" is sufficiently high enough that you no longer look like background radiation. Thank goodness efforts are underway in places like Washington, DC to get a handle on the issue. Of course, it can't be done without remote sensing and tons of electronic maps:

(CBS-DC, January 5, 2013)

Beam Me Up - Scottie. This one is almost too good to be true, especially when considering the potential for future emergency communications in disaster areas, or where conventional comms won't work. Burst transmissions with lasers. If it was good enough to send Mona Lisa to the moon last week, I've got to believe it will be good enough to someday use here on earth.  More below:

(, January 17, 2013)

Another Ghost Island? I know, it's hard to believe but the South Pacific seems uniquely endowed with mysterious islands. Islands are shown on maps, but they can't be found. And, open ocean is shown on maps, where islands (reefs) can be found. From recent travels, trust me when I say the politics are high after an American minesweeper ended up where it shouldn't be because of a bad map.  Opps, scratch that.  That sentence should read because of a bad "chart".  It's a nautical thing.

(The Washington Post, January 18, 2013)

Here's Hoping Your Weekend Plans Find Smooth Sailing!

Lead graphic:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Social Media Brief from FEMA Region V RISC

Over the past year there have been several interesting developments when it comes to units of government trying to solve the puzzle that is social media. They include:
Along these lines, a brief given yesterday to FEMA Region V's Regional Interagency Steering Committee (RISC) provided solid information and links helpful to those trying to understand how social media can be used to increase situational awareness and effectively deliver on mission during disasters. The link below can be used to view that presentation:

(Carolyn Deming, FEMA Region V, January 23, 2013)

Comment: Although this presentation is without the accompanying audio, it is well worth the time to review. I found a link to a product I didn't even know existed - maybe you will too! 

Lead graphic:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New York's Volunteer Firefighters Join the Discussion: U.S. National Grid

Following Hurricane Sandy, the discussion has begun, as it always does after a major disaster - "Isn't there a way for responders to communicate location information in a standardized and efficient manner?" Indeed, it's a question volunteer firefighters in New York are pondering after a piece was recently published in the current issue of The Volunteer Firefighter, the official publication of Firemen's Association of the State of New York. Front and center in that discussion, the publication's first article about the U.S. National Grid.  The link below will take you there:

(The Volunteer Firefighter, January-February 2013)

Comment: This article, like many on the subject in Emergency Services Sector publications across the nation, owes its existence to the exceptional efforts of Florida Firefighter, Al Studt.  Great job Al, looking forward to more!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

FBI Uses GIS to Look for Bank Robbers

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) started 2012 by trying to increase their use of social media and open source data mining. For 2013, they started the year by unveiling their first public web site that uses geospatial technology. Released as part of a FBI web site that requests help from the public, a Google map shows the locations of recent bank robberies. Robbery location markers can be expanded to show a picture of a robbery suspect as taken by the respective bank's surveillance camera.  Data associated with the map can be searched down to details like type of weapon used in the robbery. Use the links below to learn more:

(FBI News Release, January 10, 2013)

Comment: It's pretty interesting that a Federal agency known for its cutting edge use of technology finds itself catching up with what has been a standard feature on many local law enforcement web sites for the past couple of years (i.e. Eagan, MN Police Incident Mapping Application). But, better late, than never; and the FBI's approach offers some significant improvements.  Keep'm coming!

Monday, January 21, 2013

MLK Day of Service

"I have a dream....."

In remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Corporation for National & Community Service is promoting January 21, 2013 as a "Day of Service".  The event's web site opens with a poignant thought:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"  
If you haven't planned participation in the day's events, it's not too late. A search feature on the event web site allows you to find a Day of Service activity near where you live. 

Photo credit: Star Tribune

Friday, January 18, 2013

Funding Friday: And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor

As you may have noticed, about a week ago a widget appeared on this site that readers can use to donate to the nonprofit that sponsors this blog: SharedGeo. Truthfully, in terms of cold hard cash, it costs pretty much nothing to run this site. Google's free Blogger service serves as the editing tool, and a Go Daddy domain costs less than what I sometimes pay for lunch. However, what it does cost is time. Personal time that otherwise would be donated to helping keep the lights on at SharedGeo. And if you truly care about the information and less than conventional viewpoint of the world that's offered on this blog, then you care about the existence of SharedGeo.

In the seven plus years since I walked out of the National Military Command Center (NMCC) after serving a 45-day straight, 24/7 stint on the Joint Directorate of Military Support (JDOMS) Crisis Action Team tasked with simultaneously dealing with hurricanes Katrina, Ophelia, Rita, and Wilma, the nation has come only a fraction of where it should be in deploying situational awareness tools that support the Emergency Services Sector (ESS).  It's as though the rapid pace of technology advancement in the "electronic mapping" realm and the ESS are on divergent paths. Indeed, since 2005 there have been repeated instances where units of government have either ignored the Geospatial Revolution and suffered serious financial consequences as a result, or squandered 100's of millions of dollars of our nation's wealth on ill conceived applications of geospatial technology - all in the name of making us safer and better protected by those "enhanced" services. Anyone doubting that point, need only do a cursory review of the nearly 550 posts that populate this site. Thus, if this nation is ever going to solve this critical issue, and the myriad of important issues that travel with it - ranging from legal, to top-down geospatial data collection efforts - then there needs to be an organization that sits in the space between government's reluctance to take technology risk, and industry's reluctance to fund anything that doesn't fuel the bottom line. I believe that entity is the IRS approved nonprofit that I help found back in 2008 - SharedGeo.

To date, SharedGeo has existed as an unusual nonprofit - funding for non-grant related operations has come almost entirely from the personal funds and donated labor of SharedGeo staff who believe like I do. And, although the history of accomplishments has been both ground breaking and substantial, the financial realities of running a technology focused nonprofit mean additional funding needs to be found if "what's possible" is ever going to be delivered in a way that maximizes the benefit for the common good.  For that reason, I am writing today to humbly request your support of SharedGeo through a tax deductible donation.  Prior to making that decision, you can use either link below to learn more about about SharedGeo's mission and efforts to date. Thank you.

Have a Wonderful Weekend!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

iPhone/iPad Disaster Apps

In late 2012, the Mission Mode blog did a very nice job of reviewing disaster and crisis apps for the iPhone and iPad. Their effort included brief reviews of 15 apps with capabilities that range from simple look up features like a NIMS pocket guide, to those that display dynamic real time data like NEXRAD weather radar. Over half the apps reviewed - have a mapping interface (but who's counting). To check out the offerings, use the link below:

(Mission Mode Blog, November 29, 2012)

Comment: The truly amazing thing in this review - the iPhone is only five and one-half years old and all the featured apps are considerably younger than that, with most being less than two-years old.

Lead graphic:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

FOSS4G-NA 2013 Conference Registration is Now Open!

OK, so I'm going to make an exception to the rule of never again posting event information on this part of the blog. But, it's for a very good cause. Over the past couple of years, units of government have begun to understand that geospatial software developed by the open source software community has solid utility and real value. Practitioners of this belief include geospatial heavyweights like the Department of Defense, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and NASA. In many cases these efforts to develop and promote Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) have ultimately benefited the Emergency Services Sector (ESS). Just yesterday this blog featured a post about Mission Manager, a free and open source software platform that can be used to manage Search and Rescue operations. Before that, you'll find mention of Minnesota's own GeoMOOSE, used to create a Common Operating Picture (COP) for the 2008 Republican National Convention and a real-time situational viewer/online U.S. National Grid map distribution node during the 2009 Red River Valley floods. And, the free Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) program "Tickets" (see: Tickets – The FREE Open Source Computer-Aided-Dispatch and Situation Awareness Software). So against that backdrop, I think it's important to pass along that registration for the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial North America (FOSS4G-NA) 2013 Conference officially opened yesterday. The conference will be an unparalleled opportunity to learn, and meet developers from a unique community who are open to building products the ESS truly needs. Sign up early because ticket prices go up after April 1st! 

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
  • Abstract Cutoff: February 15, 2013
  • Event website:

Comment: Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mission Manager - FREE Software for SAR

It's been about six months since we last checked in on Michael Bailey, a long-time, cutting-edge programmer and  Search and Rescue (SAR) Reserve Deputy Sheriff in Southern, California.  In that time, Mike has been hard at work on his free SAR mission management software called, oddly enough, Mission Manager. His efforts have come a long, long way. So much so, you might find yourself asking - Why is he giving this away for FREE?

Here are the advertised features:

  • Customizable fields for your type of team - SAR, FD, USAR, MFF, SED, PD, etc.
  • Nothing to install, runs in the Cloud on the Web or offline without a Web Connection
  • Keep track of all your members contact information, certifications, and equipment
  • Member Messaging - via Email, Text Message and Phone calls
  • Collect member responding status for missions
  • Real-time access to all mission and member data from different computers and locations
  • Team Calendar to organize events, request RSVPs from your members, all integrated with your team
  • Simply drag and drop your available personnel in standard ICS positions or on team assignments
  • Create detailed maps in several formats
  • Track your team's progress in the field real-time on Maps
  • Print standard ICS forms, such as Team Assignments, Mission Status, Logs, and many more
  • Track Clues with automated reports and locate them on your mission maps automatically
  • Supports all major Web Browsers, Smart Phones and iPads
  • Customizable login access levels for all your members
  • Mission Manager can be interfaced with a callout phone line where your members can get information about the current mission
  • Create team accessible Links to other Web sites
  • Upload your team's documents and control who can see and edit them
  • Create, assign, and track team member Tasks
  • Supported by a very active user forum

Want to know more? Then use the link below:

Comment: Mission Manager includes a very nice integration of the U.S. National Grid (USNG) in the program's map viewer. Given this software supports the SAR mission, and the National Search and Rescue Committee has designated USNG  as the coordinate system to be used for all land based SAR efforts, this feature makes an already great program, truly top notch!  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Common Operating Picture Streamlines County's Sandy Response

One success story recently coming out of the Hurricane Sandy response is one involving GIS. Indeed, responders in Rockland County, New York, report a Common Operating Picture (COP) that had been implemented following Hurricane Irene and a blizzard last year was critical to the efficient and effective deployment of resources in the county during this response. Lauded for its ease of use and real-time data stream, the COP was described as particularly helpful to road clearing efforts. More below:

(NewCityPatch, December 26, 2012)

Comment: This is a nice story to start off the week. Rockland County now joins the ranks of those units of government that have come to believe in the significant situational awareness capabilities available from COP systems.  Good job!

Lead graphic:

Friday, January 11, 2013

First Friday - 2013

Ya, I know it's actually the second Friday of 2013, but it's the First Friday of a Full Work Week. And that's all that really matters, so my version of the world rules. And with that issue straightened out, off we go on the first head banging of 2013...

Have a Drone Problem?  No Problem - With Laser DefenseI know this story is hard to believe, but as a kid I used to go to the Saturday afternoon movies sponsored by the Wausau, Wisconsin PTA at the Grand Theater; movie, popcorn, drink and a two hour high fructose lolly-pop was 50 cents.  Of course the running series that preceded the main event was some ancient Buck Rodgers deal where people and things were always getting vaporized by some fakey looking light beam.  I mean, the situation was totally unbelieveable, so time to press on to something that is believable (picture above):

(BBC, January 8, 2013)

Yes, It's Legal to Video Record the Police in Action. Apparently I had a crystal ball on January 4th, 2013, when I ran "Flush It Friday - Part Two and Three", which included Video Record Cops - Go to Jail - Earn Big Bucks, because a whole three days later a Little Canada, Minnesota man made national news when he got busted for, you guessed it, filming the police in action. I love the men and women in blue - so I'm trying to help them out here by posting these technology stories as points of awareness. Please read below and pay attention to the comments by Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and media law at the University of Minnesota:

(, January 8, 2013)

Student Looses RFID ID Challenge.  Looks like if the police have to obey the rules, so do the rest of us.  In a case we have been following in San Antonio, a student's challenge to a Texas school system's RFID ID tracking system was dismissed for a very good reason - there was no RFID in the ID offered.  More below: 

(Slate, January 8, 2013)

Call Back Later. I just hate it when I call 9-1-1 and they tell me to call back later. Apparently, a resident of Detroit feels the same way. More below:

(CBSDetroit, January 5, 2013)

Maps Brings Death Threats. You would have to be living in a cave in Afghanistan to have missed out on the flap when the Journal News piled on the Sandy Hook tragedy by publishing maps of where all gun owners in a couple New York City metro counties live. The reality of the Geospatial Revolution makes these sorts of controversially maps possible. What's right, or wrong here, is something we are going to have to collectively figure out after everyone calms down. Until then, find below a story and maps for you to ponder:   

(, December 23, 2012)

Lead photo: Rheinmetall

Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More Wildfires on the Way

If you thought 2012 was bad for wildfires, you would be correct. On top of being the warmest year on record since records have been kept, 2012 was number three for the amount of acres burned by wildfires, and number one when it comes to the average size of those wildfires. Unfortunately, review of 2012's environmental conditions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), and NASA point toward 2013 being as bad, perhaps worse. Links below provide the details:

(NOAA, National Climatic Data Center, January 7, 2012)

(NASA, Earth Observatory, December 6, 2012)

(NASA, December 4, 2012)

Comment: Two things:
  • A note about the imagery - Orange and yellow are the major fires.  Red has been used to denote smaller fires, a grouping which includes controlled burns and those set for agricultural purposes.
  • Wildfire community - Got U.S. National Grid?  

Lead image: NASA

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Using Satellites in Space - To Predict Volcanic Eruptions on Earth

For a number of years the scientific community has been exploring use of GPS movement sensors and similar ground-based approaches as the way to detect earth deformation processes which precede a volcanic eruption. Driving development of this technology has been the fact millions of people in the United States and around the world live on or near volcanic peaks. An unanticipated eruption in one of these heavily populated areas could lead to a disaster of epic proportions. Now, scientists believe they have found a better way to create an advanced warning system for volcanic eruptions by using satellite borne Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR). This approach offers two significant advantages over ground-based only approaches - "(1) it can be applied to extremely remote and otherwise unmonitored volcanoes and (2) it gives scientists a real image of the deformation field, not just deformation at a series of points on a map." Some scientists believe this approach holds potential for predicting earthquakes as well. For more, see below:

(, November 11, 2012)

Comment: Exciting stuff. By using geospatial/remote sensing capabilities it would appear the scientific community will soon be able to offer near real-time predictive warning of what's about to happen, versus previously only being able to record what happened (e.g. seismometers/seismographs). Ultimately, the Emergency Services Sector will be one of the communities that will receive the greatest benefit from these efforts. 

Lead photo credit:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

More ALPR - Minneapolis Police Department

The Minneapolis Police Department seems to be stuck in the cross-hairs of the national Automatic License Plate Recognition (APLR) controversy, a topic of discussion on this blog for some time. In the middle of last year, the Star Tribune began running a series of articles about how ALPR systems work and which police departments in Minnesota were using them.  A theme woven through those articles was a discussion about how various state and local data policies were enabling private parties to request ALPR information, and then use that data to constructively track other individuals. In those articles, Minneapolis was singled out for its policy of requiring collected ALPR data to be saved for one year.  Now, the issue has caught the attention of Minnesota Public Radio - this time with the twist that the saved data can be used to track the police. More below:
(MPR, December 27, 2012)

Comment: I'm going to be a stuck record on this one. Here is another example for the Emergency Services Sector about the perils of ignoring the Geospatial Revolution. A couple of hours of thoughtful consideration about the implications of saving ALPR data, followed by a crafting of an appropriate policy, would have saved the Minneapolis Police Department lots of money and a whole bunch of time.

Lead graphic:

Monday, January 7, 2013

Experts on Two Continents Say the Same Thing: GIS Can Prevent Illness

In the last quarter of 2012, experts at conferences on two continents were saying the same thing at just about the same time: GIS is critical to efforts to improve health care, and use of the technology needs to be expanded in that sector. Since the nature of these conferences couldn't be any more different, that basic idea was directed at a combined audience with very diverse needs.  In Australia, attendees were asked to think about how to use GIS within that country's well developed health care system to help stop health problems before they start. In Africa, attendees were asked to think about how to use GIS to effectively focus development of emerging health care delivery systems in their respective countries.  To learn more, use the links below:

(Spatial Source, November 20, 2012)

(The New Times, November 13, 2012)

Comment: It's very encouraging to see GIS promotion efforts like these directed at the medical and public health communities.  "Where" is critical to developing ways to help stop the spread of diseases, particularly those which hold the potential for becoming disastrous worldwide pandemics.

Lead picture: From the Harris and Ewing Collection, Library of Congress

Friday, January 4, 2013

Flush It Friday - Parts Two and Three

Ironic, don't you think, that just one day after I post "2012 - Ten Trends" which includes examples of "accidental" ruptures of underground pipes during 2012 (see: "What's Underground Needlessly Mystifies") a construction crew working in downtown Minneapolis rips open a 36" water main and floods six city blocks with 14 million gallons of water in 15 degree weather? I guess they just wanted to participate in today's wet proceedings by confirming the trend will needlessly continue into 2013 (and beyond).  

Anyway, after last week's attempt to flush the bilge of stories that didn't make the front page cut during the past 18 months, I had to haul out the Drano. Now, I'm thinking that after this week's swirl of items originally planned for "Flush It Friday - Part Two" and "Flush It Friday - Part Three", it's going to take a bit more than that to return things to normal - probably one of those long metal snakey things. So, with that background item out of the way, find below, in no particular order, a collection of viewpoint diverse stories that crisscross the spectrum of geospatial and related technologies impacting the Emergency Services Sector. In other words, the remainder of the past year-and-one-half of scraps from my editing room floor.....

Lead photo:

Have an absolutely Great Weekend!

(and stay dry)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012 Obituary - Landsat 5

Not so long ago, the NASA/U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Landsat satellite program celebrated its 40th anniversary. Although not a provider of high resolution imagery, the effort continues to be a foundation program which provides remote sensing for a variety of purposes including overhead imagery of disasters worldwide.  Three of the better known ways to access Landsat imagery are: 

In late December, the USGS announced that in the coming months, one of the program's satellites, Landsat 5, would be decommissioned and future efforts would be carried forward by Landsat 7 and 8.  To learn more about the end of the world's oldest observation satellite, use the link below:

(USGS Press Release, December 21, 2012)

Comment: Landsat 5 is a truly amazing story. A satellite with a three-year design life that has lasted 29 years plus.  Congratulations to NASA, the USGS Flight Operations Team, and all others who made this extraordinary accomplishment possible!