Master of Disaster

Master of Disaster<@VM>Still No Standards<@VM>GIS Put Through Paces In Ice Storm Aftermath

Gordon Ballinger, MapInfo

By Ed McKenna

GIS is beginning to gain serious recognition as a versatile technology for civilian and defense applications including land management and logistics as well as emergency response.In the wake of Hurricane Georges this summer, U.S. government emergency relief organizations faced the difficult task of helping to restore vital infrastructure to areas damaged by the storm.

Especially hard hit by the hurricane were Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico, where more than 250,000 residents applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster assistance. That number far exceeded the previous record of 185,600 applications taken in Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

FEMA led a multiagency emergency management team that included the Army Corps of Engineers, which supplied potable water, ice and temporary roofing to almost 23,000 houses on the island.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology played a significant role in the corps' efforts, says Andrew Bruzewicz, program manager of the Corps of Engineers' emergency management remote-sensing and GIS support program at the Remote Sensing-GIS Center, Hanover, N.H.

The program generated daily maps of the area, plotting water and roofing needs as well as the recovery of the power grid using GIS technology developed by Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), Redlands, Calif.

"We captured the maps as PDF [portable document format] files and put them on our intranet," where they were available to other corps and emergency personnel, says Bruzewicz.

GIS is beginning to gain serious recognition as a versatile technology for civilian and defense applications including land management and logistics as well as emergency response.

These varied uses helped boost GIS software revenue 16 percent last year to $684 million worldwide, according to Bruce Jenkins, vice president of Daratech Inc., a market research firm in Cambridge, Mass. Public sector spending accounted for $207 million, including $91 million from federal agencies and the rest by state and local governments.

ESRI and Intergraph Corp., Huntsville, Ala., garnered the lion's share of that revenue, reaping 48.2 percent and 24.8 percent shares of the government market, respectively. On their heels were ERDAS Inc., Atlanta, with 3.7 percent, and MapInfo Corp., Troy, N.Y., with 3.5 percent.

The technology also is boosting the bottom lines of technology resellers and systems integrators, such as Science Applications International Corp., San Diego.

GIS is a critical component of SAIC's Consequences Assessment Tool Set (CATS), which FEMA uses to predict the potential damage from disasters like Hurricane Georges.

Daratech's Jenkins says the lower cost of such technology and its increased ease of use also are spurring revenue gains.

"The cost per seat has gone from $100,000 in the early 1980s to $5,000 or less" for full functionality systems, says George Korte, executive marketing manager of Intergraph Corp.'s Federal Systems Division in Reston, Va.

Less functional desktop GIS analyst tools that run on a PC also are available for only a few hundred dollars, Korte notes, adding that vendors now offer solutions that provide much wider access to GIS databases over the Web.

"The cost of putting that data on the desk of somebody that just needs a Web browser to look at it is only tens of dollars," he says.

At the same time, Jenkins says GIS has become easier to use, as more and more of the software is being sold for the Windows NT environment with its familiar graphical user interface.

The technology also is increasingly being plugged into company information systems. "Major companies, such as telecommunications companies, are integrating mapping into all of their businesses," says Gordon Ballinger, director of services and training for MapInfo. Those maps then facilitate communications among engineers, sales people and customer service people, he says.

In addition, there has been a "big push to develop a spatial component to commercial database systems, such as Oracle," says Dana Paxon, federal marketing coordinator for ESRI, which has a product that competes with Oracle's spatial product.

Known as Spatial Database Engine (SDE), it "essentially takes the topography out of the data. You can look at it and manipulate it without pulling all the topology up, which sometimes can take hours," she says.

Meanwhile, Ardent Software, Westborough, Mass., has incorporated spatial data capability in its O2 object-oriented database. For GIS users, an object database can provide faster access than a relational database because it "stores objects in their entirety, rather than breaking them up and storing the pieces like a relational database," says Jim O'Leary, Ardent's director of marketing.

"We [also] have a spatial image manager we designed specifically for the GIS market that allows you to represent and index spatial information in O2," he adds.

George Korte, Intergraph Corp.

Lack of standards remains a key stumbling block to the development of comprehensive databases. There have been an "incredible number" of different databases that have propagated over time, says O'Leary, whose company has run "into lots of organizations that have made investments in different incompatible GIS systems."

In some cases, there are differences in the way physical information is presented. These include cartographic issues, such as which data is used, says Bruzewicz. In addition, there are four or five major GIS vendors using their own proprietary formats.

Several industry and government groups, including the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the Open GIS Consortium, are working to resolve these issues.

At the same time, vendors are offering tools that allow different systems to read the various proprietary formats. Among them are MapInfo's universal translator.

Nonetheless, the emergency response community is making greater use of the technology as it amasses more and more spatial data. The Army Corps' Remote Sensing-GIS Center has acquired a 10-gigabyte database from Geographic Data Research, Bruzewicz notes. He says ESRI loaded it for the corps, and that the database runs on Oracle format using the ESRI SDE system that was acquired off that company's General Services Administration schedule.

The Corps of Engineers also used its River and Environmental Engineering GIS (REEGIS), operated by the Corps' Mississippi Valley Division, to address the effects of Hurricane Georges on the Mississippi River area. The storm impacted some of the levee systems and infrastructure along the river, says Steve Cobb, chief of the environment analysis division, Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg, Miss.

REEGIS incorporates 250 map features covering 1,400 miles of the river between Hannibal, Mo., and New Orleans. They include navigation facilities and aids, hydrographic surveys and environmental and habitat data.

Built on an Intergraph GIS platform and workstations, the system mainly is used for managing river engineering and navigation projects and for producing navigation charts of the Mississippi River, says Cobb. Indeed, "we just produced a new navigation book for the lower 1,400 miles of the river out of this database," he says.

However, REEGIS also monitors the land cover and habitats on the flood plain, Cobb says. During flood stages "we use the system to help emergency management operations people, sending them data on levee locations and roads," he says. "We've spent around $5 million developing this database over the last five years," most of which was spent on data development, he says.

In addition to emergency response, GIS is being used to help predict the possible effects of disasters. About 24 to 36 hours before Hurricane Georges hit land, "we started running our CATS to model estimated wind damage to structures, giving us a notion, for example, of how mobile homes, single family homes and multifamily homes might be affected," says Leslie Weiner-Leandro, lead geographer, GIS and software development team, Information Technology Services Directorate at FEMA.

Inputting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine advisories into the system, which uses ESRI's ArcView PC-based GIS, FEMA plotted maps showing the potential track and wind speed of the storm, she says.

"If we know about where a storm is going [as was the case with Georges], we also start to prepare basic demographic maps," including information like median household income and housing values in the area expected to be affected."

Today, 35 federal agencies and 24 states have CATS at their disposal, says Brian Hays, senior vice president and deputy group manager of the technology analysis and applications group at SAIC.

Initially, the system used ESRI's Arc/Info on a Unix platform, but now uses ArcView on PCs, adds Morton Rubenstein, assistant vice president for SAIC in the area of natural and technological hazards.

While the most dramatic uses of the system are for earthquakes and hurricanes, "there are several other modules in CATS which are classified and can predict the consequences of chemical attack plumes and other sorts of frightening attack scenarios," Hays adds.

A joint Defense Department-FEMA program, the system is funded under a long-standing Defense contract, called the CORES, or Consolidated Radiation Effects, which looked at nuclear weapon effects," says Rubenstein.

"The agency has another model called HAZUS [Hazards U.S.] for estimating damages from earthquakes," says Weiner-Leandro. "It is pretty new, and we haven't used it yet in an actual disaster, but we are getting trained so we can."

Developed over the last five years by Risk Management Solutions Inc., Menlo Park, Calif., the system is PC-based and uses GIS technology, says Jawhar Bouabid, lead engineer at RMS. In fact, there are two versions of HAZUS ? one using MapInfo GIS and the ESRI's ARCView systems.

HAZUS will be used to estimate earthquake damage to infrastructure such as buildings, roads, water and power as well as the social effects of the disaster, such as the estimated number of light and serious injuries, deaths and the number of people who will lose their homes, he notes. The system also will help provide estimates on the dollar losses and the immediate and long-term impact of the disaster on the economy in the region.

Sponsored by FEMA, the program is being funded under a contract with the National Institute of Building Sciences. Within the next five years, that contract is expected to be valued at more than $10 million, he says, noting that HAZUS will be expanded in that time to cover hurricanes and floods.
Confronting massive power and telephone outages stemming from a severe ice storm in January, New York's State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) turned to GIS to help repair key infrastructure.

The storm, which began on Jan. 5 and affected more than 8,400 square miles in upstate New York, cut off power to more than 320,000 residents in the northern part of the state.

SEMO marshaled a force of more than 3,000 personnel to respond to the power crises, and used GIS technology contributed by MapInfo, Troy, N.Y., to help coordinate its efforts, says Linda Thorburn, operations officer at SEMO, Latham, N.Y.

In the past, she says, her office would rely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's state emergency management office, which tended to slow down the process because they had to go and find a map and then call us back."

First, the GIS technology helped pinpoint [the location of] some of the smaller towns and localities that were suffering most in terms of loss of power, she says.

But in order to do so, authorities required up-to-date street maps rather than the 10-year-old maps they were using, says Gordon Ballinger, director of services and training for MapInfo. They also needed topographical maps to help guarantee line-of-site telephone communications between emergency crews and command post at the Albany International Airport.

GIS technology also was used to show where the electricity companies should prioritize repair efforts, says Ballinger. "The electricity company was able to give us Excel spreadsheets that showed by township what percentage of power had been restored," he says.
"The very first thing we did was produce a thematically shaded map of the townships and their boundaries, with each of the townships color-coded to reflect how much power had been restored" in the different areas, he says.

During the first three weeks of the emergency, updated maps were produced at least once every day to keep track of the power restoration effort.

The next step involved adding demographic information for each of the townships so that instead of simply shading an area based on whether or not it had power, "we were able to shade the areas based on how many people did not have power," Ballinger adds.

In all, the emergency repair effort lasted three months, says Thorburn, adding that SEMO is studying whether to add GIS capabilities to its information system permanently.

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