Homeland Security Study Focusing on GIS Infrastructure for Disasters

By Richard Butgereit  |  September 19, 2018

On NSGIC’s behalf, I recently attended the second workshop of the DHS Disasters Interoperability Concept Development Study being conducted by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).

This workshop follows the announcement that the Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration has $587 million in FY18 supplemental appropriations available for disaster recovery grants.

For the concept development study, OCG is bringing together key stakeholders in the natural hazards disaster communities to assess the current state of data and product exchange technologies used in disaster planning, response, and recovery. The results will aid in developing a series of pilots to advance the state of spatial data infrastructures that support global disaster risk reduction.

I was in good company in the workshop:

  • Executive-level participants there to understand this issue’s most important challenges

  • Operational and technical stakeholders there to gather and share information on the current state for using geospatial data and services during natural disasters

  • Diverse group of vendors and consultants there to identify potential requirements for pilots

  • Other stakeholders in public sector disaster response

A series of panel discussions offered several perspectives covered in the study.


Executive Panel - Disaster Resilience

Moderator - Luis Bermudez, Executive Director OGC Innovation Program, Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)

I was struck by how executives at the highest level truly get the biggest challenges facing disaster interoperability in the US. Panelists agreed that more and more data isn’t the answer. Data, they said, is most useful when translated into information. Effective data sharing through disaster-specific portals for federal agencies like the NASA Earth Science Disasters Program and GeoPlatform Disasters are positive steps. 

Disasters Planning (Flooding, Hurricane, Fires, Earthquakes, Diseases)

Moderator - Luis Bermudez, Executive Director OGC Innovation Program, Open Geospatial Consortium

Disasters Response/Recovery (Flooding, Hurricane, Fires, Earthquakes, Diseases)

Moderator - Chris Vaughn, Geospatial Information Officer, FEMA

I was most struck by Tom Moran speaking on the All Hazards Consortium on the good work they are doing between the private sector and numerous governmental stakeholders, NAPSG’s Teri Martin on continuing efforts supporting search and rescue teams and striving to turn their raw data into actionable situation awareness, and Chris Algiere’s First Net update on the evolving public safety broadband network that is sure to transform connectivity and access for stakeholders in disasters. Tom spoke about the concept of “trusted tweeters,” building communities of identified, vetted private sector stakeholders. I thought about the similar effort with did in Florida with EM Tweeters - when looking spatially at tweets, instead of searching for geotagged tweets, looking to vetted, geolocated emergency management stakeholders. Crowdsourcing, drones, and volunteered geographic information were also topics.

The first question during the discussion was about USNG implementation (and no, I didn’t plant it!). A good discussion ensued, contributed to by NAPSG, FEMA GIO Chris Vaughn, and me. I offered that with all that has been achieved on the mapping and GIS side, it is imperative that our emergency management information systems evolve to support location interoperability at the same level. Entering an address in a form should kick off a geocode that returns latitude and longitude, as well as USNG coordinates and vice-versa. Entering lat/long coordinates in a form, then, would result in USNG coordinates being calculated and a reverse-geocoding performed.

Disaster Capabilities and Services to Support Responses/Recovery

Moderator - Tod Dabolt, Geographic Information Officer, Department of Interior

Day 2 Opening and Remarks

Julie Waters, Ph.D., Director, Enterprise Analytics Division, FEMA  

Julie Waters kicked off the second day with her presentation on recasting of emergency support functions into lifelines. “The issue with situation reports,” she said, “is that reports are organized by who is reporting, not the story we are trying to tell.”  

Disasters Response/Recovery (Flooding, Hurricane, Fires, Earthquakes, Diseases)  

Moderator - George Percivall, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Engineer, Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC)

Brian Solis from the City of Virginia spoke about their StormSense project for real-time monitoring of storm surge, rain, and tides to enhance the capability of communities to prepare for and respond to flooding. Vivien Deparday from the World Bank gave an interesting presentation on several efforts, including Open Data for Resiliency (OpenRDI) that tracks open data for disaster risk management and ThinkHazard! that synthesizes this information and neatly presents hazard risk profiles. Rob Agee with the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s Geospatial Intelligence Center discussed supporting Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, and California wildfires response and delivery, quickly delivering high-quality, high-resolution aerial photos over larger areas to emergency managers and the insurance industry.

Disaster Grant Opportunity

Doug Lynott, Director, Economic Development Integration, U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA)

Doug Lynott spoke about the EDA as an agency focused on innovation and regional collaboration. Within the National Disaster Recovery Framework, the EDA is designated as Recovery Support Function - Economic Recovery and Resiliency. Following the disasters of 2017, the EDA has $587 million for disaster recovery grants. More information is available in these FAQs for the notice of funding opportunity.