Monday, September 30, 2013

The Yarnell Hill Fire: A Different Viewpoint

Late last week, the Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Report was formally released to the public. According to an article offered by USAToday, review of that document suggests two key themes:

  • There was "no indication of negligence, recklessness actions or violations of policy or protocol" on the part of the firefighters, and
  • "The fire that overtook the men was not survivable."

The article by USAToday then goes on to say that:
While the report laid no blame for the tragedy, it found that radio communications were "challenging throughout the incident" and that "some radios were not programmed with appropriate tone guards" but were later fixed. It also noted the command structure for fighting the fire changed several times in just 20 hours.
To read the USAToday article and/or the formal report, use the links below:

(USAToday, September 29, 2013)

(Arizona Sate Forestry Division, September 23, 2013)

Comment: As an individual who has had the unfortunate experience of being directly involved in the investigation of six major military aircraft accidents which resulted in airframe loss and/or death, I must say I'm disappointed by the methodology used by both the popular press and official investigative team to review this incident. The "gut-check" question never gets asked. Instead, the lack of awareness about this crew's location - which was a major factor leading to their deaths - gets attributed to clogged and inefficient communications. When peeling back the USAToday comment on this point for a look at the formal report we find the following:
Although much communication occurred among crews throughout the day, few people understood Granite Mountain’s intentions, movements, and location, once they left the black. The Team believes this is due to brief, informal, and vague radio transmissions and talkarounds that can occur during wildland fire communications. Based on radio conversations, Operations and other resources had concluded that the Granite Mountain IHC was located in the black, near the ridge top where they had started that morning. This resulted in confusion about the crew’s actual location at the time of search and rescue. (emphasis added) 
A formal aircraft investigation would have asked the question which lies below the above discussion point: Why is the wildland firefighting community still using the "brief, informal, and vague radio transmissions and talkarounds" which led to the confusion about this crew's location, when a proven system which solves this problem has existed for more than 60 years? A system which not only offers a way to clearly, precisely, and efficiently report current location and point of intended movement, but facilitates radio discipline as well? But rather than you hearing about that recommended course of action from me, I think it's far more effective if you to hear it from another part of the nation's firefighting community. Consequently, I invite your attention to the "Special Topic - Personnel Accountability" section of the United States Fire Administration's publication Firefighter Fatalities in the United States in 2005. The recommendation can be found on page 44.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Figure It Out Friday

It's been "one of those weeks". So instead of me getting myself in more trouble than I'm already in, I'm figuring it's probably best to let you figure out what I would be blabbing about today, if I were blabbing.  Link below will help you figure that out - and answers below that if your figuring ain't so hot.... (links repaired 11:37 AM, September 27th)

Truly Hope You Figure Out How to Have a Great Weekend!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

NAPSG Foundation: Implementation Guide to the U.S. National Grid

After many months of hard work, late yesterday afternoon the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) formally announced  release of the Implementation Guide to the U.S. National Grid. Designed as a non-technical tool to help units of government and industry understand basic concepts and benefits of the U.S. National Grid (USNG), the 22-page document was written by a team of 14 high-experienced responders and geospatial experts from around the nation. Major project partners in addition to NAPSG were the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Use the link below to download for FREE:

(NAPSG, September 2013)

Comment: Bravo and congratulations to all who were involved in this project. It makes me have happy feet!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Free GITA Sponsored Training: Hazardous Material Plume Pre-plan Maps

For the past year, the Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA) has been offering a series of free webinars on topics of interest to the infrastructure community. As part of those efforts, in the coming weeks GITA will be hosting an event that should be of interest to readers of this blog. On October 8th, two experienced and well-placed members of Ohio's response community, GISPs Dick Kotapish and David Phares, will share basics, techniques and tips for effectively using Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) plume modeling software combo CAMEO (Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations) and ALOHA (Areal Locations of Hazardous Atmosphere). Event details below:
  • Date: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
  • Time: 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM Central 
  • Cost: Free
  • More details: Click here
  • Add to Calendar (use button on page that opens): Click here
  • How to Attend Webinar Instructions: Click here

(No need to pre-register)

Comment: OK, with FREE instruction, for FREE software, attendance at this one is a no-brainer. Although there is no need to register, space will be available on a first come, first serve basis. So don't be late if you want to attend!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Google Crisis Map Follows Proven Track

Back in 2005, Google made headlines when it rolled out its Google Maps product. It was a development which caused more than a few to ask - "Why didn't I think of that?" But no matter how novel the concept, it still took a few years before Google's unique approach to delivering geospatial information became an expected standard with the American public. Now, according to several recent reports in the popular press, that same series of events may be playing itself out with another Google mapping effort. Only this time the product is focused on the world of emergency preparedness and response. Links to an example article and Google Crisis Map for Colorado can be found below:

(Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 2013)

Comment: As noted in the article: “A lot of problems during disasters are typically information problems," says Nigel Snoad, product manager at Google Crisis Response. "People are increasingly turning to the Internet during this time.” Yup - and oddly, the vast majority of data in a Google Crisis Map which satisfies those information needs is government produced data. So, I think it fair to ask, why then is Google doing government's job?

Monday, September 23, 2013

USGS Topo Data Goes Mobile

The recent edition of the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Access Newsletter offers an extensive article on USGS efforts to enable The National Map data sets for use with hand-held devices. According to the release,"the type of data that are available includes USGS imagery and topographic maps from The National Map, as well as road and contour layers." By working with several different developers, the USGS has been able to gain support for both Android and iOS system devices. To learn more, use the link below:

(USGS Access Newsletter, Summer 2013)

Comment: Nice!  Information from the venerable USGS topographic map series has long been an essential part of rural Emergency Services Sector efforts such Search and Rescue (SAR). So it's great to see USGS working to provide this imagery and data sets in a way that matches the capabilities of today's technology.

Graphic: USGS

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fatheads of the Future Friday: Live Forever, Dead Beat, Map Head, Bad Code and Endless Maps

Ever been called a fathead? I have been, and it was well deserved at the time. Something about sticking a finger through a fan's grill to see if it was running. I still have the scar - not from the comment, but from the fan blade hitting my finger. So when it comes to a subject like immortality, I'm not entirely sure that keeping all of us around through time infinite is a great idea - but once again, I could just be a fathead  - about the future...

We Are Not Our Bodies: You've got to hand it to Google's top futurist, Ray Kurzweil, the guy definitely knows how to think outside the box. In fact, he also knows how to think outside the brain - earlier this summer he was talking about a plan to take it with him on the day when he leaves it all behind. And if you followed that trouncing of the English language, there is not much point in hanging around for the day when your personal ones and  zeros disappear as your battery pack finally loses its charge:

(Mail Online, June 19, 2013)

OK, How Is This Going to Work? One minute somebody is telling me I will no longer need my body, and the next minute somebody is telling me I'll need it to identify who I am? What's up with that? Using your pulse, to equal your password:

(CBSNewYork, September 16, 2013)

If Your Head Was a Map: Given the wide variety of ways we could be uploaded, the truth about how we see the world is probably going to be evident to all. The shape of your robotic head will be the key. A circumstance predicted by Scientific American magazine all the way back in December, 1921. Orthographic and Mercator lovers will be identified as the fatheads that they are...

(Jen Christainsen, Twitter, September 15, 2013)

Not All Uploads are Created Equal: Now if Mr Kurzweil needed proof that maybe some electrical signals should get left behind when this uploading thing gets cooking, he need look no further than Google's own staff. Three hit and runs in one day while driving a Google Street View car which visually screams at everyone in sight who the driver works for - and somehow this dude thought he wasn't going to get caught? Delete...

(AFP, September 14, 2013)

Too Many Maps: Forget about geographers in the future. The love of maps will cause the hard drives of all who get uploaded - to crash. Think I'm kidding? Just peruse the selection of maps at the link below and then try telling me your brain is not saying...I want more, more, more... As for fatheads in the present, looks like the elected leadership in 40 states (that would be anybody who isn't blue), might want to check the mirror.

(Twisted Sifter, August 13, 2013)

Here's Hoping Your Weekend is an Out of Body Experience!

If Your Head Was a Map: Scientific American
Too Many Maps -

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Special Edition: Drones, Colorado Flooding, and FEMA

Last week this blog offered a post which explored the idea that the Emergency Services Sector (ESS) and the world of social media were on a collision course. Now offered for your consideration is a report coming out of the flooding event currently playing itself out in Colorado.  However, this time the technology that has leapfrogged the ESS's plan for business is the one found in the sky. IEEE Spectrum, a publication devoted to robotic technologies, reports on "FEMA" telling civilian operators to stop using drones to collect disaster imagery, or face arrest:

(IEEE Spectrum, September 16, 2013)

Comment: This story is "wrong" on so many different levels:

With regard to the drone community - just because you have the technology to do something, doesn't mean you have the authority to do it. Under federal law, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) has the authority to be there - in fact it is a big chunk of the reason they exist - to be the ESS's first eyes in the sky over a disaster site. And a big piece of the reason they have been designated to be there is they have been trained for the mission. The CAP effort responds to a formal "tasking" process which assigns areas of responsibility, targets, and then provides a plan for the ingest and use of the information collected. What exactly was the plan for bringing drone collected imagery into that same formal process? You have collected a bunch of great information - now what? Furthermore, NEWS FLASH to drone fans: it's not just all about you. In the pecking order of importance, there just might be a greater need for the airspace where your drone is flying. Like a rescue helicopter. And if birds, as in "bird strike" are a significant enough threat (Miracle on the Hudson) to manned platforms that the FAA posts bird threat information for U.S. airports, I think a drone, the size of which is being offered in the article, easily exceeds the "bird" standard. Great imagery - too bad it cost a rescue helicopter and 5 lives to get it. 

With regard to the Emergency Services Sector - shame on you guys. You know the deal, and don't anybody try to fudge it. Air response over the Katrina op area was a disaster because there wasn't a plan for deconflicting or controlling assets. Rescue helicopters were searching the same sectors multiple times while totally ignoring other areas, there was no real plan for domestic imagery collection and ingest, there was no aerial request process that anyone outside the FEMA chain of command had a snowball's chance of understanding, and so on. Now eight years later, along come civilian drones - with data collection capabilities honed in the "response" environment of combat and no one has a clue as to how to use that potential data stream. Right now, I can walk into virtually any Federal, State or Local EOC (I will assume Florida gets a bye) and know exactly what to expect when it comes to the formal plan for drone use - there isn't going to be so much as a single piece of paper. So, without a plan, a data stream gets turned off. Heads down isn't going to allow you to escape the reality that civilians are now outflanking the ESS with their access to technologies which exceed the ESS's structural and organizational ability to handle the data. You are way behind, and getting more so by the minute.   

With regard to IEEE Spectrum - congratulations! Not often someone can get me to unload - but the biased nature of your article got me there. Usually, when big, bad government does something "evil" like telling drone operators to stop flying, there's some logic behind it. You can tell by my comments above that you have grounds to complain, but not for the reasons you think. FEMA has lots and lots of good people working for it - and many of them leave behind their families for months at a time to work exceptionally long hours in places and conditions you don't even want to think about.... Please remember that next time you wander down the road of piling on "government".

Photo: Still from Falcon UAV video

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


To much fanfare, last week California State Attorney General Kamala Harris, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee, and San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr formally launched a new smartphone app for police officers in the Golden State called JusticeMobile. Collaboratively developed by the California Department of Justice and San Francisco's Police Department (SFPD), the app has been described as a technology which will transform the law enforcement community. With field testing and the official roll-out complete, every police officer in the city will now have smartphone access to real-time SFPD internal records, as well as those from California Department of Justice and federal law enforcement authorities. The rest of the state to follow in the coming months. More below, including a link to a Power Point of JusticeMobile screen shots:

(AsianWeek, September 9, 2013)

Comment: Exciting development - I truly hope the potential matches the hype. Consequently, this is going to be one worth watching as the app is implemented across the rest of California.   


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

GIS SOG for Coastal Oil Spills

The folks over at the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) are back at it with another important online training event. This time it is GIS, oil, and America's coast line that will be getting attention.  Point of focus: the power of GIS for mitigating damage caused by that thick black gooey stuff if it should end up in the water near you. This event is also sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Geospatial Management Office and will use the lessons learned in the soon to be released Standard Operating Guidance (SOG) document for implementing GIS for Coastal Oil Spills to guide the discussion. Details below:

Here are the event details:
  • Date: Monday, September 23, 2013
  • Time: 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT (1:00 PM-2:00 PM Central)
  • Cost: Free - however, only a few spots remain, so act quick if you would like to attend
  • More detailsClick here
  • To Add to CalendarClick here

Use link below to sign up for the event:

(Login details are provided during registration)

Comment: Good stuff! NAPSG has been doing an outstanding job keeping meaningful lectures about GIS and the Emergency Services Sector in the queue. Keep'm coming!

Monday, September 16, 2013

HSIP Gold and Freedom Released for 2013

Last Monday, September 9, 2013, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data (HIFLD) Working Group officially announced release of the Homeland Security Infrastructure Protection (HSIP) geospatial data sets for 2013. New this year, HSIP Freedom will be available for download from the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Hazards Data Distribution System (HDDS). For detailed information about this year's release and  how you can obtain the data sets to support your all-hazards response efforts, use the link below:

Comment: Additional background information about these data sets can be found by reviewing the "Comment" section of posts on this blog which announced release of these data sets in 2012, and the HSIP promotional video in 2011. See links below: 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Foot Stomper Friday (Pssssst - Try "T")

Ah, come on. Back in school for the first full week and you didn't think you were going to get a quiz?  Proof positive what follows is going to be good for you - it will put you on your toes for the rest of the school year. Never mind you aren't a student and I'm not a teacher - just roll with the punches, because here we go:

Topic: Current Affairs

All questions are True or False - 

Question #1: While texting, a young woman recently drove her car into a Maryland lake.  T or F?

Question #2: To prevent incidents as described in question #1, Mercedes has just unveiled the first commercially available car with extensive self-driving features.  T or F?

Question #3: Some techno freaks have recently figured out how to fly a drone with nothing more than Google Glass and some head nods.  T or F?

Question #4: In early September, a critic attending the Toronto Film Festival became so angry about other movie goers using their cellphones during a screening that he called 911.  T or F?

Question #5: A Michigan judge deciding a runaway young teen lover case has recently opted to use GPS tracking in order to keep apart "Romeo and Juliet".   T or F?

Question #6: It is now possible to buy a cellphone which also doubles as a stun gun.   T or F?

Question #7: This past week, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court ruling cleared the way for a class action law suit to proceed against Google over Wi-Fi data collected during the company's Street View mapping effort. T or F?

Question #8: A pair of recently suspended Detroit 9-1-1 dispatchers may be facing criminal charges for their failure to properly fulfill duties while at work.  T or F?  

Question #9: In October, Deer Trail, Colorado will be holding an election to authorize the issuance of  "Drone Hunting Licenses".  T or F?

Question #10: The weatherman says you are going to be having a GREAT weekend.  T or F?

Truly Hope Your Weekend is GREAT!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Stare Down: Social Media Versus Emergency Management

With increasing regularity, the publication Government Technology has been covering the impact emerging situational awareness technologies like Common Operating Pictures (COP) and crowdsourcing are, or will be having, on the Emergency Services Sector (ESS). Latest in those considerations - social media. Interestingly, the article finds that there is a long way to go before the worlds of Twitter et al. and emergency preparedness and response will be able to effectively work together.  More below:

(Government Technology, August 15, 2013)

Comment: This article is just another spin on the same theme the MnGeo Emergency Preparedness Committee (EPC) has been hard at work on for the past 10 years. Except in that case, it's bringing together the GIS and ESS communities.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering a Shipmate

In the spring of 2000, yours truly left the Pentagon after a three-year stint as a Navy Military-Political Officer. It had been an interesting tour, punctuated further still by events which unfolded 14 months later. On September 11th, 2001, hijacked American Airlines flight 77 impacted the E ring (outer ring) of the Pentagon a handful of columns down the building from office space where I had once worked. Miraculously, none of my colleagues from that time in D.C. were hurt. Fate had passed them by. But, as anyone knows who has been in the Armed Forces of United States, it's the smallest, biggest thing around. Somehow, someway, paths often cross despite 100's of thousands in uniform. And so it was in the days following the attacks, I was greatly saddened to learn of a shipmate's death from different time and place. An absolutely great guy who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing what he loved most - serving his fellow countrymen as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Pat Dunn was his name. A persona, a charisma, that bellowed when he walked into a room. Add to that brains to back up his friendly swagger that let you know, whatever it was you needed done, it was going to get done, and done right. So, while it is humanly impossible to effectively remember everyone who lost their life that day, pause with me now, and remember "one". I give you Commander Patrick Dunn:

(The Washington Post)


(Smithsonian Institute of American History)


The detailed history of the Pentagon attack can be found below:

(Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense)

Lest We Forget

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Improvements Coming Soon at the FEMA Map Service Center

The FEMA RiskMap Customer and Data Services Team recently announced there will be some important changes coming soon at the FEMA Map Center. According to the bulletin sent out late last week, the following changes to the MSC Product Catalog and Map Search features will become effective September 23, 2013:

To learn more about theses changes and other GIS related efforts to improving the availability and quality of U.S. flood data, use the links below:

Comment: In 2009, FEMA approved a 5 year plan (FY 2010-2014) to comprehensively improve the nation's flood information resources. Now, four years into the process, it's obvious progress has been solid and is headed in the right direction. Kudos to FEMA!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Eagan's New Interactive Crime Map

Last week the Minneapolis Star Tribune took note of a growing trend at police departments across the nation - they are posting detailed information about crimes online using a mapping interface. An app that integrates with the website is also available. Featured in the article was the Twin Cities suburb of Eagan, although the RAIDS (Regional Analysis and Information Data Sharing) Online interactive crime map is also available for several other Minnesota cities such as Apple Valley, Bloomington, Lakeville, and Richfield. More below:

Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 3, 2013)

Comment: The article drives home the point of this effort with the following: "“There isn’t any reason not to make crime information available to [residents] so they can make better decisions about their own safety and help them protect their own property,” said Eagan Police Chief Jim McDonald. “If a police car shows up in your neighborhood, it could create a sense of uneasiness. Now there’s the ability to see what transpired.” As an Eagan resident, I couldn't agree more!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fad Friday: Smart Watch, Hand Chip, Spy-Bird, Kiddie Drone, and Future Map

Funny thing about fads, somebody has to start the lunacy, and then a whole bunch of other somebodies have to follow. And who is who, is often hard to figure out.  Check it out below:

Funny - Comic Strip Foretells Future: OK, here's a shocker. In my youth I always looked forward to Sundays when I would be able to read the "funnies" in the weekend newspaper. And as any Baby Boomer will tell you, Dick Tracy and his radio watch would be prime among the comic strips perused. Now, many years later, it looks like he was a trend setter:

(Slate, September 4, 2013)

Somebody Is Always First: Not to be confused with a smart watch on the wrist, there is now a dumb chip in the hand. It's a fad I'll pass on until I'm forced to comply with animal control regulations.

(Fox News, August 28, 2013)

Fowl Copycat: Not to be out done by Sudan and Turkey, it looks like Egypt has just joined the ranks of those claiming to have discovered a spy-bird in their midst. And when I say spy-bird, I mean spy......bird. Coming to a backyard near you:

(AP, August 31, 2013)

A Drone in Every Garage: Speaking of crazy things flying through the sky, seems like all kinds of folks have great ideas about how they would use drones to do whatever. Just don't let facts get in the way of the sales pitch. A politician inspired plan now trending in Chicago (and elsewhere):

(DNAinfo Chicago, August 27, 2013)

Finally - A Crystal Ball That Works!: Since the dawn of time, human beings have been looking for a way to predict the future. Now it appears, that way has been found. Ironically, the exact same means used to orient us in the present, can be used to orient us to the future. It's called a map:

(Fast Company, August 27, 2013)

Have a Fadulous Weekend!

Disco: birthdayexpress
Maps: Fast Company

Thursday, September 5, 2013

RFID for Teachers

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings of last year, schools on all levels have been increasing the use of location based technologies to facilitate an emergency response. Notable in those efforts, this past summer, Skyview High School in the fast growing community of Nampa, Idaho, decided to equip its teachers with Wi-Fi enabled RFID badges. It is thought to be the first time such a system has been installed to enhance school safety - the badges can be used to call for a police or medical response. More below: 

(ekahau News Release, June 12, 2013)

(ekahau Case Study, June 24, 2013) 

Comment: Clearly, the links provided above are promotional in nature. But beyond the "show room sales pitch" is the reality that this application of RFID technology is, unfortunately, in its infancy in deployment. Time and time again - the nation is seeing instances where location driven information is of increasing value to the Emergency Services Sector.

Graphic: ekahau

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More and More 9-1-1 Cell Phone Calls are Missing Location Data

It's hard to believe, but a recent report out of California to the FCC is saying that since 2008 the location reporting feature of 9-1-1 cell phone calls has declined in accuracy. Furthermore, that decline is characterized as "significant" by the California chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (CalNENA). According to the report, more than half of all cell phone calls made in five California sample areas failed to provide location information that was accurate enough to be used for an emergency response. More below:
(The Hill, August 14, 2013)

Comment: For another interesting perspective on the issue brought forward in the report, take a gander at: FCC Test Findings: Cell Phone 9-1-1 Indoor Positional Accuracy. Pretty much the same thing is being said as in the report, but from a different direction: cell phones are increasingly being used indoors to make 9-1-1 calls, and location information provided to responders is becoming less accurate as a result.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

3D Mapping in Real-Time

Funded by a grant from the Science Foundation of Ireland, the Irish Research Council and the Office of Naval Research, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and National University of Ireland (NUI) at Maynooth have been able to achieve continuous 3D mapping in real-time. Building on work from 2011 by a team from Imperial College London and Microsoft Research, "highly detailed 3-D maps of indoor and outdoor environments" were created by applying an algorithm to videos filmed using a low-cost Kinect camera. More below:

(MIT News, August 28, 2013)

Comments: (1) Taken together with previous work at MIT to create a wearable map generator for first responders, and the reality of developments like 360-degree, high resolution camera systems and flash LiDAR, and the future is going to look very different for the Emergency Services Sector (ESS) when it comes to location based technologies. (2) Don't miss the video in the above article.  It starts out slow - but then really comes together.

Graphic credit: Still from video by Thomas Whelan and John McDonald/NUI; Michael Kaess and John J.Leonard/MIT