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2005 July 7


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Editor's Introduction

In this issue of GIS Monitor I report on a conversation with Erich Seamon, San Francisco�s Geographic Information Officer, about that city�s use of GIS for emergency planning and response � a topic particularly timely today, in light of the terrorist bombings in London and the consequent tightening of security in U.S. cities. I also bring you my usual roundup of industry news from press releases.

— Matteo

GIS for Emergency Response in San Francisco

San Francisco, which has a population of about 800,000 and covers about 49 square miles, began an enterprise GIS five years ago, under mayor Willie Brown. Erich Seamon, the city�s Geographic Information Officer, told me that San Francisco�s 65 departments and 27,000 employees were using GIS in �nonstandard� ways and the Brown administration wanted to standardize GIS applications and procedures �without taking away ownership from the departments.� According to Seamon, �A lot of departments had GIS information, but only a few had created an enterprise system for themselves. A few of the bigger agencies had a server or two. We snuck in before many of the departments were so far down the road [of GIS development] that they did not want to participate in a city-wide system.� The new enterprise GIS focuses mostly on Web services, though it also enables city staff and the public to download raw data.

I asked Seamon whether his shop is responsible for maintaining the city�s emergency deployment plans. No, he told me, that is a responsibility of the city�s Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security. �Our enterprise GIS is in another agency — the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services. We provide technical support to emergency services, but we do not develop plans for them.�

What kind of wireline and wireless access do police, fire, and EMT personnel have to the city's GIS? �We have a city-wide network that they can access via a Web browser or via a GIS client,� Seamon told me. The city also has a limited WiFi capability, but it is not specifically intended for use by emergency services. Due to strong concerns about data security, GIS access is primarily via wireline connections. So, I pressed him, city staff do not yet have wireless connectivity? �Yes,� he acknowledged, �we have problems with that. We are not currently pushing real-time updates to officers in the field. But we are looking into it.� Command centers, on the other hand, may have hard connections and be able to access GIS data and applications that way. �We also load GIS data and applications on individual devices used in the field,� he added. �However, this is less for use by first responders and more to collect information.�

What mobile hardware and software do city staff use? �We were using iPAQs but we moved away from them because they are small and hard to read. Now we are looking at more heavy duty Windows XP devices, such as tablet PCs. We want a more robust operating system [than what PDAs use].� City staff use ESRI software, mainly ArcGIS and ArcPad. However, Seamon told me, �We are looking to move away to something we can develop on our own, such as VisualStudio.NET and VisualBasic.NET for Windows applications, or the equivalent for Web applications. Of course, this assumes Web access, which is still problematic.� Given the choice, Seamon would much prefer to develop Web applications, accessed through a Web browser, rather than GIS applications running on staff�s local machines. �Security is currently the hurdle, because emergency personnel use extremely sensitive information.� While he feels �very confident� in the security of the city�s servers and wireline networks, wireless connectivity is another story — especially given that there is no citywide WiFi system. �We have to use other providers. Someone could snatch a data packet off from the air. Our first responders want to make absolutely sure that their information is secure.�

What kind of training do emergency personnel have in the use of GIS? �We�ve done minimal training, such as ESRI training for public safety personnel, but still have a lot of work to do.� The police, Seamon told me, use GIS mostly for crime analysis — not in the field. �The lack of training is holding all the agencies back [from greater use of GIS]. We could do a better job at that.� City staff who do use GIS on mobile devices �have been trained on the devices and have had minimal training on GIS technology. You have to train them continuously, until they feel comfortable using the devices, or they will not use them.�

What kinds of technical assistance does Seamon�s agency provide to field personnel during an actual emergency? �We do regular disaster drills, table-top exercises. From a GIS perspective we are fairly well engaged in that. If an emergency were declared, analysts would report to command centers.� GIS analysts are part of the city�s emergency planning teams and GIS information supports personnel in the field. �The technology is at the back end, at the command centers.� What software do GIS analysts use during field deployment? �They would use the full suite of ESRI software � plus FME or other metadata translators, XML editors, and other third party software to support the executives in charge.�

I asked Seamon for a recent example of GIS use in an emergency. �Most recently we had a tsunami warning,� he told me, �but an emergency was not declared. If one had been declared, GIS analysts would have reported to emergency operations command centers. They would have created inundation layers and pushed them out to the network.� First responders would not have had direct access to these layers, he clarified, unless they had a wired connection. However, requests from the field for specific GIS products would come in to command centers and be passed on to GIS analysts. Requests for other kinds of support would arrive via the E Team collaboration portal software that the city uses to manage crises. �For example,� says Seamon, �someone might write �We have a shelter and we need 100 blankets.��

What are some of the biggest technical challenges of operating a GIS during a city-wide or large-scale emergency? �You know,� Seamon told me, �San Francisco is somewhat unique. We have a small but high-profile jurisdiction, so we have very robust data. Our challenges are less around the data [than is the case in other cities]. We have technical challenges and then we have organizational and political challenges. Often the latter are more difficult than the former.� According to Seamon, the city has redundant servers, mirrored data, and very strong network architecture and metadata. However, �during an emergency, the challenge is about how people use the information. For example, during an exercise, we had a map service displayed on the large screen in the command center — but the police were huddled around a paper map and were drawing on it. The technology did not suit their needs at the time.�

�We do have technical challenges — such as pushing information out to first responders wirelessly and problems with mobile data terminals that don�t allow everybody to look at the same maps.� Nevertheless, Seamon stresses that the biggest hurdles are organizational and political challenges. For example, convincing executives of the importance of continuously training staff in the technology, so that they will actually use it in an emergeny. �Even though GIS has been around for a while, it is still perceived as a complex technology.� Another organizational challenge is that each city department is focused on its own needs and responsibilities, such as putting out fires, so �they may not like to conform and may not have a lot of incentive to share data.�

The city has a lot of heterogeneous data that becomes valuable when combined with geospatial data. An example is fire inspection information stored in a database at the fire department. The challenge is to mine it and geocode it for 60, 70, or more types of information. �From a regional geospatial level we�ve been interested in a Google-type search for metadata,� Seamon told me. A step in that direction is the Bay Area Regional GIS Council (BAR-GC), an effort funded by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to integrate geospatial information for nine counties in the Bay Area and push it out as a Web service. �We have four redundant sites in the Bay Area. The information is replicated every day in all four sites and if any of the data were destroyed we would automatically re-direct users to another site.� ESRI, the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have been extensively involved in this effort. The federal government likes it because it sees regional data sharing as a first step toward national data sharing. �Regionally,� says Seamon, �is the best approach for data sharing. Eventually, if you have a standard regional model, you can patch all the regions together.�

While San Francisco is rich in geospatial datasets, the challenge, according to Seamon, is to mine all the dynamic attribute information and combine it with GIS. �If it were all in one system,� he told me, �it would be much easier. Even though we have an enterprise GIS, that doesn�t meant that all the relevant attribute data is integrated. Integrating it presents a technical challenge in terms of the network, the databases, connectivity, application interactions, etc.�

Finally, I asked Seamon what technical developments � in hardware, software, data, and/or communications — would most help him with GIS deployment in a crisis. In short, what�s on his wish list? He told me that his office wants to become more proficient in developing its own applications, particularly Web services, and expanding access to its technology and data. He wants to develop map services that generate XML that can be dynamically consumed by other mapping APIs, such as Google — rather than having to download data and overlay it on maps. �That and peer-to-peer networks are key areas of development.� Ultimately, Seamond believes, the biggest constraint is the limited supply of smart people. �Having good analysts and developers is critical,� he told me.

News Briefs

Please note: I have culled the following news items from press releases and have not independently verified them.


Progress Energy has selected Intergraph Corporation's G/Technology to upgrade and merge disparate FRAMME-based AM/FM/GIS systems within its two electric utilities, Progress Energy Florida and Progress Energy Carolinas, into a common G/Technology network model. This centralized Geospatial Resource Management (GRM) system will improve data access for Progress Energy employees such as project planners, designers, GIS operators, inspectors, and maintenance teams in the field.

Spatial Insights, in association with Applied Geographic Solutions, Inc., has released its current year updates and five and ten year projections of demographic attributes for both census and postal geographic areas. The data covers five broad topic areas: population, households, income, labor force, and dwellings. The data are based on Census information from the 2000 Census, both the SF1 and the SF3 release. The most recent additions to the Estimates and Projections series is disposable income, aka �buying power,� and extensions to the distribution of household income to include detailed breakdowns in the $150,000+ category. All boundaries are now based on Census 2000 boundaries.

Merrick & Company — a provider of LiDAR, digital orthoimaging, photogrammetry, and GIS mapping — has completed the Precision Topographic and Bathymetric Mapping project for the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council. The mapping data is the basis for a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of the cumulative effects of natural and human activity on the main stem of the Yellowstone River. Merrick delivered true color orthophotos, compressed orthophoto mosaics (MrSID), a digital terrain model, and planimetric data including roads, buildings, waterlines, and topographic contours on CDs to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC).

The New York State Department of Transportation has placed an order for 84 Leica Geosystems System 1200 GPS surveying instruments, which it will use for general surveying and construction applications throughout the state. Technical support and service will be provided under a five-year service agreement.
     The receivers feature Leica Geosystems� new SmartTrack GPS measurement engine and incorporate fast self-checking RTK algorithms and a graphical user interface.

LiDAR Services International (LSI) has recently purchased the new Riegl model Q-560 laser scanner which incorporates full waveform digitizing of all return laser pulses. With this purchase, LSI becomes the first airborne LiDAR survey company in North America to acquire this advanced laser scanner.
     The Q-560 laser has a unique feature in that it digitizes the echo waveform of each laser pulse as it travels from the airborne platform to the ground below. This provides access to full surface information with the return waveforms giving detailed insights into the vertical structure of earth surface features, surface slope roughness, and reflectivity. Waveform digitization offers an unlimited number of returns for each laser shot, enabling detailed resolution of surface roughness, slope, and ground vegetation. For forestry applications, the Q-560 will reveal detailed canopy and sub-canopy layers, height of all canopy layers, facilitating the determination of species, vegetation health, forest structure and biomass.

TVGA Consultants recently completed an orthophotography project that will provide Arlington National Cemetery with the base layer for a central GIS. TVGA captured 36 individual color photographs of the memorial park from 1,500 feet above using a $200,000 Wild RC 20 camera, then combined the images into one seamless photograph. The end product was a 1.08 gigapixel image that captured every street lamp, monument, and gravesite on the grounds.
     The project, which took TVGA a year to complete, provided a detailed record of the 200-acre cemetery. Arlington�s updated central GIS will combine all burial records and headstone information in order to allow for easier access to and identification of gravesites. To complete the project, TVGA deployed a team of 16 surveyors and photogrammetrists. Each object photographed was georeferenced and the image was then overlaid with feature information. Interactive Design, Inc. will utilize this information as the foundation for a GIS that will serve as the base for the modernization of Arlington�s records.


The Nebraska Realtors Association will offer its 4,000 members the Pathfinder — an HP iPAQ Pocket PC for real estate professionals that includes a GPS receiver, wireless access to MLS (multiple listing service) data, and MS-Outlook-synchronized contact and task lists. The device, which was developed by Advanced Marketing Services, allows real estate professionals to search MLS data in real-time, download listing data to the PDA, and receive turn- by-turn voice and active map directions for getting to the downloaded listings. has released TopoWorld 3D satellite imagery, a double layer of Landsat7 satellite imagery and SRTM elevation data, available in regional blocks. These datasets are designed to run in DeLorme's XMap mapping software, which includes a world-wide vector dataset and GPS functionality. Within the XMap environment, one can view in 3D, controlling pitch and rotation, as well as check the profile of a route. GPS functionality comes with all versions of XMap, permitting the users to visualize their travels on the imagery as they track, as well as play back GPS logfiles in movie-mode. XMap International can be purchased bundled with the new LT20 GPS receiver, which plugs into the USB port of a laptop.
     Landsat7 satellite imagery is a 14.25 meter resolution dataset, in which major roads and features are visible; it was collected by NASA in the year 2000 timeframe. The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) elevation data is created from a 90 meter posting dataset, visible as contours or 3D features in XMap. Regional blocks cover 300,000 square kilometers or more.


Only three weeks remain to register for the 18th Annual GIS in the Rockies conference at the advance rate of $175. The conference will be held 21-23 September 2005 in Denver, Colorado, at INVESCO Field at Mile High. Program details are added to the Web site as they become available. Program tracks include technical topics, policy issues, and professional development.


ESRI has released the latest edition of two printed sourcebooks: Community Sourcebook of ZIP Code Demographics and Community Sourcebook of County Demographics. This new release also contains updates and projections for data such as population, age distribution, and income. Demographic spending potential indexes are also included for 20 categories, such as financial services, home improvement, entertainment, home furnishings, apparel, automotive aftermarket, health insurance, pets, and pet supplies.

GeoSpatial Training & Consulting, LLC, a provider of virtual and instructor-led GIS training and consulting services, has added three new courses to its offerings: �Introduction to VBA for ArcMap,� �Introduction to ArcObjects,� and �Introduction to Geoprocessing with Python.�


URISA, the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, has announced the results of its 2005 Board of Directors election: Ed Wells, GISP, AICP will become President-Elect and Ingrid Bruce, Zhong-Ren Peng, and Cy Smith will begin their three-year terms as members of the board of directors, at the close of URISA's 43rd Annual Conference in Kansas City, Missouri this October. In 1984 Ed Wells began his career as a principal planner for the City of Pittsburgh. He has been the GIS Liaison for Transportation / Operations in the District of Columbia government�s Office of the Chief Technology Officer since 2002. He has been an active URISA member since 1984 and served on the Board of Directors from 2000-2003. He is currently co-leader of URISA�s Address Standards Working Group (a collaboration between URISA, NENA, and U.S. Census on an FGDC street address data standard).
     Ingrid Bruce is GIS/Special Districts Supervisor for the City of Rancho Cucamonga, California; Zhong-Ren Peng is a professor at the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee; and Cy Smith is the Statewide GIS Coordinator in Salem, Oregon.

Spot Image has named Herv� Buchwalter as its new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. He succeeds Jean-Marc Nasr who had lead the company since 2001, and who is moving to a new position within the EADS group. Buchwalter, 45, joined Matra Espace in 1983. He occupied a series of management positions in the field of Earth observation systems, particularly on the French and European SPOT 5, Envisat, and METOP programmes, by which time the company had become EADS Astrium. Prior to joining Spot Image, Mr. Buchwalter was Head of International Business Development within the Earth Observation, Navigation, and Science Business Division of Astrium, a position he held since 1999. A graduate of the Ecole Centrale de Paris, he completed his Executive Masters of Business Administration (MBA) in 2000, from the CPA (Centre de Perfectionnement aux Affaires) Programme offered by HEC, the top business school in France.
     Spot Image, the commercial operator of the SPOT system, supplies geographic information derived from optical and radar satellite imagery to users in the private and public sectors. The company generates 75% of its revenues outside Europe.

RADARSAT International, a company providing data, information products and services from the majority of commercially available radar and optical Earth imaging satellites, has appointed David Green as Sales Manager, North America East. He has more than 15 years of experience in the remote sensing and geomatics industry, with emphasis on such applications as mineral exploration, sea ice forecasting, disaster management, and coastal zone management. He held the position of Americas Region Channel Manager for Space Imaging, worked on value-added applications development for PCI Geomatics, and was engaged in strategic business development for satellite telemetry. He holds a master's degree in Earth Science from the University of Alberta.

The Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) — a consortium of Earth science data centers, scientists, technologists, educators, and applications developers — has elected a new slate of officers. ESIP promotes accessibility, interoperability, and usability for Earth science data and derivative products. ESIP President, Dr. Thomas Yunck of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was elected to a second term. At the annual ESIP meeting held June 27 in San Diego, he recalled that the organization began as a project of the National Research Council ten years ago, then became a part of NASA in 1997. Yunck also highlighted new developments, including the federation's work with ESRI on the Earth Information Exchange portal, through which public, academic, and private information will be available as one resource and which will provide operational data services, decision support tools, educational materials and an advanced science research environment. New ESIP officers will serve through next year's annual summer conference and will be involved in policy development and planning for the federation.


The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) has established The Robert N. Colwell Memorial Fellowship Award. Friends and colleagues of Dr. Colwell (1918-2005) created this award as a memorial to him from donated funds to be administered by the ASPRS Foundation. The award consists of a $2,000 check, a certificate, and a one-year student or associate membership (new or renewed) in ASPRS. The award will be made to a graduate student (Masters or Ph.D. level) currently enrolled or intending to enroll in a college or university in the U.S. or Canada, or a recently graduated (within three years of graduation) post-doctoral researcher, who is pursuing a program of study aimed at a career in remote sensing or other related geospatial information technologies. It is expected that the award will be given for the first time at the ASPRS 2006 Annual Conference in Reno, Nevada next May.
     Over the course of more than a half century, Dr. Colwell developed a reputation as one of the world�s most respected leaders in remote sensing, a field that he stewarded from the interpretation of aerial photographs during World War II, to the advanced acquisition and analyses of many types of geospatial data from satellite platforms. His career included nearly 40 years of teaching and research at the University of California, Berkeley, a distinguished record of military service reaching the rank of Rear Admiral, and prominent roles in private industry and as a consultant for many U.S. and international agencies.

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