Tag Archives: Auburn University

Crisis Mapping and Collaboration–Alabama leads the pack

Alabama Department of Homeland Security

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

Collaboration platforms for emergency response organizations are generally designed to accomplish one or more of the following: 1. Provide a common operating picture/situational awareness; 2. Provide a means to determine the deployment of resources in order to prevent duplication of effort; and 3. To provide a means to aggregate data into a format that enables real-time analysis. In Alabama, they are  adding a couple more endeavors to that list, including providing accurate and timely information to, and eventually from the public.

Innovation happens for a reason, either you have a specific problem that needs to be addressed and/or you have to a champion or a “sparkplug” who pushes the cause. Virtual Alabama (click the link to watch a great 3 min. video) was first initiated in October of 2005 at the request of the Governor.  The Alabama Department of Homeland Security’s website describes the project as one that was “initiated… to access new technologies in 3D visualization. At the request of Governor Bob Riley, AL DHS began exploring and identifying ways to leverage existing state asset imagery and infrastructure data into a visualization tool that is affordable, scalable, maintainable, and capable of employing the power of existing and evolving internet based applications. As a result, the Virtual Alabama program was created.” It was built using a customizable/enterprise version of Google Earth that allows for the inclusion of data overlays. The data can include block by block information such as location of fire hydrants all the way up to flood-plain visualization.

The system spurred Virtual Louisiana and led to the creation of  Virtual USA, yet the Alabamans have not rested on their laurels. What they have come to understand is that although this information was available to first responders, there needed to be a way for the public to have access. To address this concern they are about to roll out  a “portal based environment” designed for public access which will even be available as a mobile application.  The end-goal is to have a single interface where private business information, critical to citizens during a crisis, is available:

  • data from gas-stations (e.g. whether of not they are out of fuel)
  • hotel capacity and pet policy information
  • available kennels and veterinarians
  • grocery stores information, etc.

They are also considering how they will integrate situational awareness information provided by the citizens, such as video or pictures from the scene of a disaster. The opportunity to include eyewitness accounts is appealing, but has to be understood within the context of the policy limitations of a Government agency; this has led to the development of a computer “filter” that would be able to recognize things such as nudity or  graphic imagery not suitable for public distribution. I’m not sure when this feature will be implemented, but the public app is in the vulnerability testing phase and should be available the first part of December.

Alabama also has been innovative in its proactive use of technology volunteers. Recognizing that its much more expensive to clean up after a severed gas-line than it is to map it in the fist place, they have enlisted the help of the Auburn University GIS students to plot GPS coordinates of utility lines along the coast. This data would be available to heavy equipment operators after a hurricane, for example, through either a mobile app on a smart phone, or on a mobile computer. Since the data already exist on the platform it can be used offline, another great feature.

Students in the Auburn Management Information Systems’ Department also were enlisted  by AL DHS to help with a “report suspicious activity” feature available on the new citizen portal, also available as a mobile application. Taken from the Department of Homeland Security’s “see something, say something” campaign, this feature will allow citizens to upload video, pics or information to a “government eyes-only” law enforcement site. This takes citizen “tips” line to a whole new level.

I look forward to seeing all of these new feature available to the citizens of Alabama. Let’s hope other states are watching and learning.

Thanks to Shane Hammett , the Virtual Alabama Team Leader for the information. Questions can be directed to Alabama’s Criminal Justice Information Center.