July 13, 2008 By Chandler Harris
When the U.S. president and other world leaders met in Sea Island, Ga., for the June 2004 Group of Eight (G8) summit, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) knew it'd be a logistical challenge. Besides the dignitaries' arrival, the region would be busy with federal, state and local law enforcement officials.
GEMA turned to Georgia Tech Research Institute's (GTRI) Battlefield Visualization system - a mapping tool developed under direction of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory - to help organize law enforcement and emergency responders involved in the summit. A 10-member GTRI research team modified the mapping tool for emergency management personnel and first responders, letting them coordinate their resources and responses in real time.
In nine months, Georgia Tech developed the Geographic Tool for Visualization and Collaboration (GTVC), which provided features unavailable in the standard Battlefield Visualization system, including higher-resolution maps and encryption for communications.
Put to Good Use
For the summit, the GTVC was installed in four command centers in Savannah and Saint Island, where officials from collaborating agencies mapped staging areas - locations for planned and real-time protests, parade routes and helicopter landings. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, GEMA, Georgia State Patrol, the FBI, National Guard and the U.S. Secret Service were the partnering agencies.
During G8, law enforcement teams used the mapping tool to monitor activities, while ensuring key law enforcement resources were available in the right places at the right times. Officials shared information simultaneously, keeping everyone informed and coordinated. The GTVC's multilayer mapping capability, map layers can be peeled away to coordinate different functions, allowed responders to easily organize response and keep confidential data secure.
"When there was movement of a dignitary, we could see the route and compare that with locations of demonstrators," said Ralph Reichert, director of GEMA's Terrorism Emergency Response and Preparedness Division. "Everyone could see geographically what was going on and whether to react and respond. You can definitely plan response according to what resources you have at what location."
No major law enforcement crises occurred during G8, but many lessons were learned. After using the GTVC for the first time in the field, GEMA wanted to make network connectivity easier; improve information reporting to include icons, text and other details; display real-time, GPS-based tracking of vehicles and personnel; and add more powerful geographic search capabilities, such as showing all hospitals within 50 miles.
GTVC developer Kirk Pennywitt, senior research engineer at GTRI's Information Technology and Telecommunications Laboratory, used those lessons to develop GTVC version 2.1 (v2.1). The new version has more than 130 new features and has garnered attention from agencies, such as the Florida Division of Emergency Management; emergency response agencies in Dakota County, Minn.; and Emergency Visions, a Georgia-based company that provides emergency management solutions that use the mapping tool.
Flexible, Easy to Use
GTVC v2.1 is a Java-based, client-server mapping application that helps officials respond to incidents, and plan and coordinate events in real time. It combines a flexible mapping engine with an interface for adding symbols, graphics and text annotations to maps, imagery and drawings. The mapping interface tracks the location and availability of hospitals, fire stations, schools, nursing homes, sandbags, dump trucks, water, personnel and supplies in an affected region. GTVC's network architecture can be used simultaneously by a large number of users viewing it.
The mapping information reveals moving objects based on GPS feeds that are instantly tracked, so organizers can define an incident at a location and continually enter status updates. Several geographic formats are built into the measuring tools: latitude, longitude, nautical measurements, metric units and Universal Transverse Mercator - a grid-based method of specifying locations on the Earth's surface that differs from the traditional latitude/longitude method. Any object on the map can link to
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