Caught with your plans down?

Discover emerging disaster-mapping tools to help


      One disaster manager calls it "GIS for Dummies." The state of Georgia calls it indispensable.

   In June of 2004, the G8 Summit was held on Sea Island, Ga., 80 miles south of Savannah. G8 Summits are magnets for protestors. An estimated 200,000 demonstrators gathered in Genoa, Italy, during the 2001 Summit. The year before, some 20,000 armed police, six navy warships, and a 2-kilometer nautical exclusion zone were necessary to protect world leaders assembled for the G8 on Okinawa, Japan. The remote Georgia location was chosen because it was nearly impossible for protestors to access.

   Nevertheless, Georgia authorities were prepared for the worst. One essential tool that helped them get ready was a new GIS mapping system developed in academia called the Geographic Tool for Visualization and Collaboration, or GTVC. Developed by engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, GTVC gave emergency managers a new way to coordinate incident planning in real time.

   GTVC is designed to track the location and availability of critical emergency resources such as hospitals, transportation equipment, and water during disasters.

   "GTVC enables an easy, secure mechanism for sharing geographically oriented information regarding emergency response planning," says Kirk Pennywitt, a senior research engineer in GTRI's Information Technology and Telecommunications Laboratory.

   Pennywitt says that the GTVC kit provides tools that let managers easily annotate maps of an area of interest using Department of Homeland Security-compliant symbology. It provides messaging and incident tracking, and supplies detailed text information regarding an event. The system interfaces with resource databases and electronic alert systems to facilitate the search and display of the closest resources.

   "GTVC is unique in providing a Java-based client-server real-time collaborative view of an exercise or live situation," Pennywitt says.

   Currently, GTVC is used to support the Georgia Office of Homeland Security and other first responders in Georgia, and is commercially licensed as a component of the National Emergency Management Network. The system is currently being configured by the Georgia Trauma Commission to track all ambulances in the state of Georgia to better coordinate responses in the event of a multi-jurisdictional mass-casualty incident. Pennywitt says the ambulance-tracking feature should be online within the next three months.

   GTVC has also been adopted by the Florida Department of Emergency Management, as well as several other state and county agencies throughout the United States.

   Pennywitt says GTVC allows a variety of different map and imagery types to be used from multiple map servers (including user-provided products), automatically records all actions in a relational database so that a complete audit trail of all activities in a session is maintained, and provides the ability to graphically playback any portion of a session from any user's point of view so that after-action reporting and analysis can easily be performed.

   "It was deliberately designed with ease-of-use in mind and does not require any GIS expertise to effectively utilize its mapping capabilities," Pennywitt explains. GTVC is open architecture, meaning it can be easily extended via plug-in modules.

GIS for dummies

   One attractive feature of GTVC is its relative simplicity.

   "GTVC is GIS for dummies," says Ralph Reichert, director of the Terrorism Emergency Response and Preparedness division of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. What he means is that many GIS platforms require a degree of computer knowledge and training that most responders and command staff lack.

   "With minimal training, GTVC can be used to add value to both strategic and tactical planning," Reichert says.

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