Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Halloween Prank at Its Best

What the heck. It's Halloween and everybody loves to be scared - and a prank. So find below that theme with a geospatial twist - a UAS deployed in a very unique way:

Truly hope the night brings nothing but treats!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Disaster GIS at USDA

GCN recently reported on GIS use at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In more than a few ways, disaster response has been a driving force in those efforts. Additionally, GIS is increasingly being seen as a unifying element that connects together all components of the department's operations.  More below: 

(GCN, October 18, 2013)

Comment: One of the most aggressive uses of GIS at USDA is within the Farm Service Agency's (FSA) Crop Insurance program. In order to effectively evaluate disaster claims, this FSA GIS effort must track, determine and record the exact location of weather events 24/7.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A True Great Leap Forward: China's Emergency Mapping Effort

There can be little doubt that the technological prowess of China advances almost daily. Now the Chinese have set their sights on becoming some of the best emergency mappers in the world. In response to the natural disasters that often visit this Asian country, Chinese geospatial experts have been hard at work creating an approach that lives up to the idea that: "any effective disaster response starts with a map".  More below:

(China Daily, October 18, 2013)

Comment: I've seen where multiple blocks of the city of Shanghai have been transformed almost overnight. I would expect to see the Chinese do the same in the emergency response/GIS world. Love it - competition is always a good thing!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Real Time Crisis Mapping Comes to San Francisco

San Francisco's SF72 initiative - an online social networking and informational hub designed to help the city's citizens prepare for the first 72 hours after a major disaster - has recently been joined by a companion product which will deliver disaster situational awareness via an online map viewer. Called Crisis Mode, this real-time geospatial interface is a joint effort of San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management and Google's charitable branch. As a way to promote awareness and familiarity for the public, the site has been enabled with information of value on a daily basis, such as traffic conditions and weather (use the "Layers" button in upper right corner of the map). More below:

(Emergency Management, October 21, 2013)

Comment: Kudos to all involved. This effort represents a significant advancement in emergency mapping. Rather than launching a site after a disaster strikes, this approach creates awareness about where to look for disaster information by also offering a capability that has value in everyday life. Furthermore, it is significant that during a disaster, a map will become the home page of San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management! I love it!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Court Says: Probable-Cause Warrant Needed for GPS Tracking

In the latest battle in the GPS Tracking War, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District on Tuesday ruled 2-1 that a warrant must be obtained before police can use a GPS tracking device for surveillance. In upholding a lower court ruling in U.S. vs Katzin, the judges noted that actions by police in this case were "highly disconcerting". Although police had been suspicious of Katzin, et al., for an extended period of time, the police failed to obtain a warrant before installing a GPS vehicle tracking device which ultimately linked the suspects to a crime scene. For additional details and insights on this development, use the links below:

(The Washington Post, October 22, 2013)

Comment: Yesterday we ran a piece which highlighted concerns two prominent law enforcement officials had about the consequences of employing technology without having clearly defined laws/policy. And today, here's proof about the validity of those concerns.   

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

NSA Scandal Could Hurt US Law Enforcement Capabilities

This past weekend at the 120th Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference and Law Enforcement Education and Technology Exposition in Philadelphia, PA, attendees got to hear an ominous warning from at least two different sources: Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan, and Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey. The Edward Snowden incident has fueled concerns by the American public that the country is being turned into a police/surveillance state. Furthermore, failure to understand this trend and handle it in an open and forthright manner could mean Federal, State and local law enforcement will be denied technologies that potentially hold high value for crime fighting. More below:

(Reuters, October 20, 2013)

(Kenneth Lipp, October 20, 2013)

Comment: No doubt gentlemen. A way forward which preserves individual freedoms in an environment where technology can provide a "personal where" at any given moment, will have to be carefully charted if law enforcement is going to have effective use of the full range of current and future crime stopping tools.  

Graphic: wikipedia

Monday, October 21, 2013

FREE Webinar: The National Geospatial Platform - TOMORROW, Tuesday, October 22nd, 1:00 Central

The Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA) is at it again with another free webinar of value to readers of this blog. Tomorrow, Dr. Jerry Johnston, Geospatial Information Officer, U.S. Department of the Interior and representative of the Managing Partner organization for the National Geospatial Platform (NGP), will offer insights into current and soon to be released capabilities of this national geospatial data node. Event details below:
  • Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
  • Time: 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM Central 
  • Cost: Free
  • More detailsClick here
  • Add to Calendar (use button on page that opens): Click here
  • How to Attend Webinar InstructionsClick here

No need to register in advance, but space will be available on a first come, first serve basis. So don't be late if you want to attend!

(No need to pre-register)

Comment: The NGP is all about empowering data users through technologies that facilitate discovery, collaboration, cooperation and sharing. In literally hundreds of ways, that capability is absolutely critical to the Emergency Services Sector's ability to effectively deploy and use "Where" solutions. So don't miss this event! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Food Friday: Pancake Alert!, Spying Shelves, Rhino Microchip, Fast Food, and Sausage Geography

Normally, after watching the chaos in Washington, DC for the past couple of weeks, I'd be dedicating today to something along the lines of "Failed Friday". But with the Federal government inactive since October 1st, the story pipeline has pretty much dried up. So, what do you say we tackle something more meaningful - like a culinary extravaganza:

Pancake Alert!: Once upon a time in my youth I attended a pancake dinner hosted by a local Boy Scout troop. Just to make sure I got my money's worth out of the all-you-can-eat meal, I ate 29 "normal" size pancakes with syrup. When I finished I went home and laid on my bed and moaned for about five hours. Clearly, I didn't understand the financial realities of mixing batter with free labor, and paid the price. As a result, I personally don't think it's the least bit outrageous that a community would use its emergency alert system to notify the public about a pancake breakfast:

(KPIX, October 16, 2013)

Spying Shelves: As some readers of this blog may be aware, it brothers me tremendously that potatoes have eyes. For that reason I always keep them locked up in one of my kitchen cupboards as a way to limit their surveillance capabilities. And, for the same reason, I always spend the least amount of time I can in the fruits and vegetables section of the local super market. Now, just when I thought I had a plan that would limit the prying eyes in my life, comes a sobering new reality. Shelves throughout the market will soon be watching us:

(myFOXdc, October 15, 2013)

Rhino Microchip: Meanwhile, over in the Asian foods aisle, one of the patrons is asking - "HEY! What's with this tracking microchip in my Rhinoceros horn daily supplement?" Actually, the underlying reason for it being there is heaps more disgusting than finding electronic stuff in a pure "food" item could ever be:

(The Telegraph, October 16, 2013)

Fast Food: You know the type. Folks who drive while they are simultaneously rocking out to the radio, puffing on a cigarette, reading whatever, eating a burger and fries, AND talking on the phone. It's called distracted driving and it's the number one reason why you could end up dead or seriously injured in auto accident. Solution? As a first step, Microsoft has found a way to solve the phone distraction issue. Which would mean burger and fries are next in line for attention:

(New York Daily News, October 15, 2013)

Sausage Geography: Until recently I had no idea there was a place named Wallonia. That all changed after I heard it was where a war was being fought over sausage. Armed with that tidbit of information, I was quickly able to surmise the general location of this place on the globe. Use the first link below to go on a tour of Wallonia, while the second link can be used to put meat on the bones of this story:

(The Telegraph, October 3, 2013)

Truly Hope Your Weekend Satisfies Your Hunger for a Good Time!

Photo/graphic credits:
Fast Food:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Amen Brother, Amen

Sensors and Systems author Matt Ball got to experience firsthand the use of geospatial technologies during the early September flooding in Colorado. He isn't too happy about what he saw. More below:

(Sensors and Systems, October 15, 2013)

Comment: From experiences elsewhere, I have to believe Matt is spot on with problems he mentions in the article. In fact, taken together, his comments echo a core theme this site has been considering since inception - the inability of various response organizations to understand and effectively use geospatial technologies for disaster preparedness and response. We have a long way to go as a nation before this issue, won't be an issue...

Photo credit: USAToday

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gun Fire Reporting System Comes to South Florida

More than 70 cities across the nation have installed a system which allows them to accurately pinpoint the location of gunfire in their communities. Called ShotSpotter, the system uses an array of sensitive microphones to triangulate a gun fire location. That information is then verified by a system operator, and if determined to be an actual event, mapped information is passed along to the appropriate law enforcement unit. The Miami Herald reports on the current use of this technology in South Florida at the link below:

(Miami Herald, October 14, 2013)

Read more here:

Comment: Minneapolis has had this system in place since 2006. In 2012, they laid claim to being the first city in the nation to tie together the ShotSpotter technology with the city's surveillance camera network. More below - video in the story is definitely worth watching:

(WCCO, March 19, 2012)

Graphic credit: ShotSpotter

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Disaster-Relief Phone Apps Made Simple

A collaborative effort between the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently announced launch of a tool set that allows non-technical individuals to create disaster-relief focused Android applications. At the heart of the effort is App Inventor - open source software originally sponsored by Google. To create a new application, a user need only "snap" together color-coded components.  More below: 

(Paper - Workshop on Semantic Cities - Beijing, August 5, 2013)

 Excellent! Kudos to Google, QCRI and MIT!

Graphic credit: MIT

Monday, October 14, 2013

And the Winner is...

At the just concluded MN GIS/LIS Conference for 2013, Minnesota Chief Geospatial Information Officer Dan Ross announced the prestigious Minnesota Governor's Geospatial Commendation Award was being awarded to the City of St. Paul for creation and release of the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) product GeoMOOSE. As such, GeoMOOSE now joins one of the world's most heavily used geospatial programs - Mapserver  - as one of only two programs so honored with this distinction. Interestingly, as previously mentioned on this blog, GeoMOOSE holds great potential for use by the Emergency Services Sector as a Common Operating Picture (COP).  More below:

(EPC Updates, June 27, 2013)

Comments: Very cool!  Congratulations go out to the original three members of the GeoMOOSE project team - Bob Basques, Jim Klassen, and Dan Little for the vision, drive, and  smarts that have made GeoMOOSE possible.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

On the Conference Floor

EPC Updates will be off line for the remainder of the week while the staff participates in what is arguably the best state GIS conference in the nation.

Have a Great Rest of the Week! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Predictive Policing Comes to the U.K

In late August, the London Assembly's Budget and Performance Committee issued a report that warned the Metropolitan Police (Met) had not done enough to keep up (technologically) with the times. A failure to leverage mobile handheld devices, social media, and predictive crime mapping were specifically cited. When discussing predictive crime mapping, efforts underway in Los Angeles were noted with the following statement about the technology: "it works; it is evidenced; it is professional practice". In late September, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe followed up on the report by telling the press his force and others around the U.K. would soon be moving to predictive crime mapping as a standard practice. More below:

(Greater London Authority News Release, August 30, 2013)

(Greater London Authority, August 30, 2013)

(, October 3, 2013)

Comments: Three thoughts:
  1. Predictive crime mapping doesn't work without GIS. 
  2. Crime events in Los Angeles have dropped 12-25% since the technique was applied.
  3. If you are a Police Chief currently operating without a GIS capability, you might want to consider what's going to be the best bang for your buck next time you put in a budget request. The "on the street" manpower needed to achieve a 12-25% reduction in crime, or one good GIS operator with a computer and software?

Photo creditGreater London Authority

Monday, October 7, 2013

Twitter Alerts

A handful of days after Twitter announced launch of its alert system that allows vetted organizations to "push" information to subscribers during emergencies and disasters, the system got its first major test in the nation's capital. As Washington, DC police gave chase to a woman who had attempted to enter the White House grounds on October 3rd, the Senate's Sergeant at Arms used Twitter Alerts to warn politicians and staffers about developments. Links below for more:  

(Twitter Announcements, September 25, 2013)

(Government Technology, September 25, 2013)

(Washington Post, October 3, 2013)

Comment: Very cool effort by Twitter which will allow targeted distribution of information during disasters and emergencies. Unfortunately, so far only a limited number of organizations in 17 states and territories have committed to using Twitter Alerts. And, an important related issue will always be getting Emergency Services Sector (ESS) organizations to understand effective use of Twitter includes being able to use tweets from the "crowd" to help develop situational awareness. See: Trending: Social Media Use During Disasters, for more on this issue.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Found It Friday: Jail Bird, Naughty GPS (Again), Candid Camera, Meow Prints, and Surf's Up

Last time we tried to get together on a Friday, I had to exit stage left in a hurry, only able to leave behind a few clues about what I thought would be worth yapping about. However, this week, I've found my way back to my old routine. Me blabbing at length about the insanity of it all. What do you say we start out with a repeat offender?

Jail Bird: In the "you've got to be kidding me department", here's some of what's recently been found posted on Twitter: terroristic threats, bragging about crimes, and efforts to recruit fellow criminals. Let's hope this approach to lawlessness keeps coming because it's a goldmine for putting the socially inept, criminally minded, behind bars. 

(USA Today, September 29, 2013)

Naughty GPS (Again): Those darn GPS thingies. One minute you are on a nice paved two-lane highway headed to a RV rally, and the next minute, you are on a narrow dirt logging road traveling further and further back into the Oregon wilderness. Sort of like the "Highwayman" detour trick of days-of-olde. Only thing crazier is the press believes events like this are headline news. Unfortunately, that makes me think anybody dialing a wrong telephone number will be next on the hit parade of newsworthy stories. Anyway, thank goodness the victims of this electronic deceit were found safe and well-rested: 

(CBS Los Angeles, September 30, 2013)

Candid Camera: The time is coming when "Who dat?" will no longer be a question. That's because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues work on its version of high-speed facial recognition nicknamed BOSS (Biometric Optical Surveillance System). Clearly, we are headed for the day when anyone trying to sneak into the partying Superdome to do bad things (or any other major venue), will be found out.

(Biometeric, September 20, 2013)

Meow Prints: Just what every cat needs - proof positive that the iPhone in the Lost and Found belongs to him/her/it. 

(New York Post, September 19, 2013)

Surf's Up: Hey dude, what's up with the rocks in my surf? Freaky as it may be, the September 24th earthquake that took the lives of more than 400 Pakistanis, left behind some brand new real estate. An island where there was only waves before. Marvel at the power of the earth in pictures found above and in the link below:

(NBC News, October 1, 2013)

Hope You Have a Great Weekend!

Candid Camera: 
Surf's Up: Reuters

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Navy Sends Blimp to "Map" Capital Region

Another indicator that a rebirth of lighter-than-air (LTA) platforms is underway came on September 21 when a Navy blimp began a series of flights in vicinity of the nation's capital. Although it is currently the Navy's only blimp, the MZ-3A, "Advanced Airship Flying Laboratory", operated by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), is being used to evaluate LTA potential for a variety of missions. It was reportedly sent to the region to "map" several sensitive areas. With the ability to stay on station for extended periods of time while carrying a wide range of sensors, previous deployments of the MZ-3A have included response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. More below:

(NRL News Release, September 20, 2013)

Comment: As previous noted on this blog, LTA platforms are being considered, or will be used, for several missions related to homeland security/defense and disaster response. Links to those stories are offered below:

Photo credit: US Navy

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Smartphone Development Advances Earthquake Response Possibilities

Last year we reported on smartphone apps that will allow a user to report health and welfare items to friends and family following an earthquake. In concept, a way to summon help or let loved ones know everything is OK after an event. Now, researchers in Italy have released an extensive study which follows up on work at the University of California-Berkeley that demonstrated the feasibility of using a smartphone's sensors to detect an earthquake. Taken together with the long running computer/sensor based Quake-Catcher Network of Stanford University, this smartphone sensor development foretells creation of a highly accurate, real-time, world-wide seismic reporting network which could be used to quickly direct responders to an epic center. Links below, for more:

(, September 29, 2013)


(Stanford University)

Comment: Beam me up Scotty... The personal communicator in your pocket is well on its way to becoming part of an integrated emergency response network that will support many response needs. It's all about sensors, and what you can do with them.

Photo credit: USGS

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

FEMA Updates Flood Mapping Standards

On Monday of last week, FEMA issued a bulletin which highlights recently enacted policy changes to its Risk Map Program. Based on input received following a public solicitation for comments back in March of this year, the stand alone policy memo issued in August includes a substantial number of changes which impact mapping standards and data use within the flood focused mapping program. As noted in the bulletin, issuance of the policy memo is only part of a multi-year effort designed to upgrade and harmonize the information resources available to communities and citizens for flood planning purposes. Bulletin and policy memo links are provided below:
(FEMA, September 23, 2013)

(FEMA, August 2013)

Comment: If you are concerned about issues related to flooding and mapping, a review of the policy memo is worth your time. Since the the start of 2013, there have been over 100 changes to FEMA's standards. Each such item is clearly annotated in the policy memo.