GIS Monitor Oct 11, 2001


- FCC Approves New Wireless Location Plans
- US Agencies Pull Spatial Data in Response to Attacks

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This past week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave five wireless companies extensions to the October 1 deadline for locating cell phone 911 calls. Nextel, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T; Wireless and Cingular submitted a new plan for how they will meet requirements by 2005. VoiceStream’s extension was approved last year.

FCC chairman Michael Powell was "disappointed and unsatisfied with the progress we have made" and noted the new urgency after the recent attacks. The carriers blamed hardware manufacturer’s delays among other problems. One FCC commissioner did go so far as to vote against approving plans from Nextel and Verizon, citing continued uncertainties from manufacturers.

The FCC plans to keep close tabs on the carriers and will require quarterly progress reports.

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Here in the US we are perhaps spoiled by how much GIS and spatial data is available on the Web. Now, in the wake of recent attacks and potential retaliation, several sites are removing data that might aid terrorists.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has removed chemical plant "risk management plan" data from its site. This is the detailed information the public usually can see about potential risks and response plans for emergencies for plants across the country. The Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety has restricted access to its National Pipeline Mapping System, a pipeline database including information on where leaks could harm drinking water. Pentagon and civilian sites that track the locations of aircraft carriers have stopped doing so.

Watchdog groups suggest these actions are overreactions and may put communities at further risk. There are also concerns that restricting such information may be in conflict with the federal Clean Air Act, though there is no requirement that such information be available on the Internet. EPA's assistant director for media relations explained that the information was removed for review for security reasons. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stated that they’ve removed no materials.

These are complex times and there are certainly valid arguments on both sides. My sense is that removing such information certainly makes it more difficult to find, but ultimately, if anyone wants to do anything badly enough, they will find the information required. As one participant in the argument put it, such information is available by looking in phone books and other sources.


“In the last issue I think your statement ‘...the government has spoken about trying to block information (GPS signals) over certain geographies. But Afghanistan is tough terrain and foreign forces may well need it more than those who know the country well’ is potentially misleading because should the US employ a regional degradation (scrambling) it only limits the use of GPS by non-US / Allied forces (it doesn't affect the ability of the US military to use GPS).   “It's also interesting to note that this ‘selective deniability’ is regional in nature, and would not affect GPS users on a worldwide basis. I don't believe that specifics are available to the public, but in one example it was written that signal degradation targeted for the former-Yugoslavia would not cause problems for GPS users in Germany or Greece. Selective deniability is a high-level command decision and expected to be a very infrequent occurrence.”

Nick Hubing INTEC Americas

[Ed. Note: Quite correct. Thanks for the clarification.]

POINTS OF INTEREST   - Four firms have offered GPS tracking devices to the New York Fire Department. They’ve been turned down since they do not provide accurate enough locations, for example, which floor the firefighter is on. Without better detail such information could actually endanger rescuers.

- The SERUG (Southeast Regional Users Group) conference will be held at the Perdido Beach Resort in Perdido Beach, Alabama. The conference dates are set for October 28th - November 2nd. The group currently has vendor space available.

- This “new use” for GPS data was submitted by Allan Doyle. Jeremy Wood has started a site to capture and share GPS drawings – drawings made by capturing paths on a GPS. It’s sort of an Etch A Sketch-like process – but on the Earth. Drawings include words, animals and some geometric figures made from travels on land, air and water.

- URISA continues to encourage participation in its upcoming conference, but understands if some GISers prefer to stay away. They have tightened security and added a session titled: "GIS in New York City: Response to the World Trade Center Attack."

- After some months of collecting email addresses for a weekly GIS newsletter, GEOTec Media (publishers of GeoWorld and GeoEurope) sent out its first GEOReport this week. Subscribers to the free publication receive an HMTL formatted email which contains a brief summary of original articles and links to the website. There are also links to features from GeoEurope and GeoWorld and the past week’s press releases organized by geography. I applaud more timely editorial content covering GIS topics and offer a suggestion: consider providing a sample issue on the website to give potential subscribers an idea of what they will receive.

- In other newsletter news, the first MP2K Update went out this week. This free, plain text email highlights new articles at the MapPoint online magazine, one of the best resources for Microsoft’s product.


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