Surveying, Mapping and GIS

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    Exploring all aspects of mapping and geography, from field data collection, to mapping and analysis, to integration, applications development, enterprise architecture and policy

Emergency Response and GIS

Posted by Dave Smith On 6/14/2007 07:23:00 AM 0 comments

One of the other events which will be happening concurrent to the ESRI Conference is the SONS 07 event - "Spill Of National Significance", which will replicate a major catastrophic event - to include simulated release of oil, hazardous material, and/or other associated threats to health and safety. This year's event will take place in the midwest, replicating an earthquake along the New Madrid fault zone.

Through our work with USEPA, we will be among the participants in this event, as we did for Hurricane Katrina, supporting the effort through our own GIS staff at the USEPA Emergency Operations Center. The two main stakeholders and participants on the environmental side are USEPA and USCG, along with FEMA, state, regional and private sector participants to support the response as appropriate.

It's good to see these events take place, and it no doubt will give us many more new lessons learned and opportunities to refine response. The bottom line still comes to being proactive, in terms of GIS preparedness, as opposed to reactive. With regard to availability of information on impacted facilities, we will no doubt be in better condition than we were for Katrina, but many of the other pieces are still lacking. Specifically, there is still little transparency or availability of realtime or near-realtime data, when it comes to assessing response capacity and many other pieces.

Here, we should go back to HSPD-5 which deals with communications and interoperability, and examine how well our GIS assets work together, and how well they support standards, how well-documented they are to allow users to make informed decisions regarding the data.

Closely affiliated and associated with this is HSPD-8 for preparedness - which comes along with a host of other questions - how current, scalable, flexible and robust is your GIS data, and does it address the need? For example, how many burn units are immediately available in a 100-mile radius right now, how many pieces of fire apparatus are available right now - with the right now being key. In looking at a dozen or so counties nearby, I see almost 500 fire stations, almost 200 law enforcement offices, and nearly 200 emergency medical providers. Yes, they participate in surveys and report in data, but how timely is it? Now consider that Pennsylvania has 67 counties, and the scale of the problem magnifies greatly. Say your EOC is impacted, loss of power, loss of communications, otherwise rendered inoperable. Can you cascade your operations over to a COOP site and continue seamlessly?

Here in Pennsylvania, we have many gaps, overlaps and stovepipes for data and communications flow, and many points of failure, from local to local, local to county, county to county, local to state, county to state, between state agencies, local to fed, county to fed, state to fed, and fed to fed. I can't think of any one of these which genuinely works seamlessly with the next. This is what we have been referring to as the gap of pain, and something for which we have a concept and team already up and running to address.
The February 2007 snowstorm, which caused widespread damage and notoriously left hundreds of motorists trapped on Interstate 78 for 20 hours, still remains a major fiasco here in Pennsylvania, with solutions still thoroughly unadressed politically, fiscally and bureaucratically. On the other hand, technologically, we can address the data, communications and preparedness issues. This is something that we have been looking at quite closely ever since 9/11, investing a lot of time and thought into, and something I will be running through again, considering the SONS exercise. It's time to act and become proactive, and to break through the stovepipes and fiefdoms.

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