Photo: Gov. Riley 

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley last week unveiled Virtual Alabama, a comprehensive database of satellite imagery and aerial photography designed to assemble, display, evaluate and share critical data for emergency responders. Riley was joined by Google Earth Chief Technology Officer Michael T. Jones and Alabama Homeland Security Director Jim Walker to demonstrate the uses and capabilities of the new tool for state officials.

At Riley's direction, the Alabama Department of Homeland Security and Google Earth have been working to create a visualization tool that provides a common operational picture across the state that first responders, county planners and other officials can use to get detailed geographic views overlaid with pertinent information.

Equipped with the Google Earth platform, the state's Department of Homeland Security can model hazardous explosions with plume threat measurements and build three-dimensional models of schools, bridges and other critical structures. Virtual Alabama can overlay those models and satellite/aerial imagery with the locations of fire hydrants, gas pipelines, hazardous chemical data, and other important information that can help emergency personnel.

With such data, Homeland Security officials can plan more effective disaster response scenarios and prepare emergency teams to be better equipped to respond to crises. For example, this information can be shared with local firefighters before they enter a burning building.