Mapping Tool Helps Coordinate Emergency Resources at G8 Summit

Battlefield Visualization System proves valuable for emergency planning.

by / July 13, 2008 0

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

a database file or Web-based URL.

Pennywitt said GTVC v2.1 is easier to use than a full-blown GIS. The system can track chemical or smoke plumes and help personnel plan evacuation routes. To do this, it tracks critical personnel and supply resources, and shows those assets' status.

Pennywitt designed the GTVC so planners and responders don't need extensive GIS training. The system provides collaborative mission planning, rehearsal, recording and playback. Users from multiple locations can perform real-time operations and exercise planning with GTVC, which also provides a live view of a scene for first responders.

All actions performed with the mapping tool are recorded and time-stamped for future retrieval and playback, which can help emergency planners use lessons learned for exercise planning.

Statewide Rollout?
Since 2005, GEMA has used GTVC v2.1 to map critical infrastructure and track resources; the tool was distributed to GEMA field staff. It's also used by the Georgia Office of Homeland Security, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia State Patrol. GEMA is implementing the GTVC statewide as part of its critical infrastructure.

"Through this interactive application, if a major event causes a major response requiring mutual aid or the state responds, the local jurisdiction can map the location, any problems, and show a response route," Reichert said. "We can be in Atlanta, depict the same screen back to Savannah, and display what their routes will be and plume models."

Emergency Visions provides emergency management solutions for the private and public sectors, and has used the GTVC for "comprehensive situational awareness" as part of its geo-mapping tool.

"[The GTVC] is one of the key components of our comprehensive solution," said Ric Gray, vice president of sales and marketing for Emergency Visions. "During an event, being able to plan for and visualize from a geographic standpoint, and to go in after the event and debrief about it, allows for a much higher level of planning and faster response."

New Tool for Florida
Florida's Division of Emergency Management is implementing a solution that includes the GTVC v2.1 for statewide disaster response that will use the expertise of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the National Emergency Management Network and Emergency Visions to provide comprehensive disaster management.

The ICMA advises governments to draw on a networked emergency management approach, which consists of a technology platform that maintains a comprehensive database of human and physical assets available for emergency response and recovery, and a geo-mapping tool to identify, select, activate, track and manage these assets.

GTVC v2.1 is essential for Florida to manage the eight to 40 disaster events that occur each day, said Charles Hagan, chief of the Florida Division of Emergency Management's unified logistics section. During a typical hurricane, a vast network of emergency assets are deployed: upward of 1,200 trucks, about 50 helicopters, three aircraft, 800 generators and 2,000 first responders.

"We wanted something that was easy for a field user that doesn't require a master's software degree, with layers of resources put over a simple map, on a platform that's user-friendly, so a first responder can use it," Hagan said. "[The GTVC] works very well - it's uncomplicated, and you can teach somebody in two hours."

Pennywitt's software development team improved the GTVC to give Florida new capabilities, including real-time resource tracking. But researchers also included the GTVC's ability to track mobile assets with GPS in order to:
· manage warehouse resources;
· display real-time resource availability;
· aggregate multiple resources in the same location with a single icon;
· show location coordinates in multiple formats, such as latitude/longitude and a military grid reference system; and
· update a resource's status by clicking on its map icon instead of using the database interface.

Emergency Visions also added ability to label resources with transponders, so when trucks leave a factory or warehouse, supply locations can be easily tracked.

"From the standpoint of complete consequence management, the first thing you do in planning is understand your resources, whether they be human or physical - inventorying and managing is the first step," said Gray. "The second step is checking out vulnerabilities while the emergency is occurring. That's the role of the GTVC."

Chandler Harris Contributing Writer