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GCN : November and December 2014
Twenty years ago, geospatial information sys- tems (GIS) became popular in federal agencies and departments as tools for generating infor- mation-rich maps displaying data ranging from demographics to flood zones. Even better, maps and their underlying data could be que- ried, with the resulting graphics displayed immediately on the map. Put two geospatially located data sets into a GIS program and you could learn things not apparent in either data set: Where are hazardous wastes located in a region? What areas are prone to flooding? Put the two queries to- gether and you know which waste materials need to move wastes to higher ground. In recent years, the amount of geospatial data has grown exponentially. And it's not just satellite data. GPS is now standard gear on most vehicles and, of course, in smart- phones. Along with this explosion data, has come development of better big data analytic tools and the deployment of faster wireless networking technologies that can push ever more data to the field. It's a perfect storm of geospatial, analytics and mobile technology that federal agencies and departments --- from the Forest Service to the Army --- are now harnessing to move powerful new applications to personnel involved in tactical operations fighting fires in Colorado or running co- vert operations in Afghanistan. The following projects demonstrate the power of GIS when it is used to fuse big data and the wide array of uses to which its power can be applied. ENTERPRISE GEOSPATIAL PORTAL When Sean Triplett worked for the Alaska Fire Service, a lot of his time was spent gathering data -- about terrain, weath- er conditions, fires and equipment -- from different sources and distilling it into useful information for those fighting fires. "I was the geospatial person," said Triplett. "At that time, web-mapping technologies were relatively new, but I knew there was a way we could pull all this information together and get it into a web portal. We were successful with that in Alaska, but it was just for Alaska and our partners up there." When he joined the federal Forest Service in October 2008, Triplett had the chance to create a portal on a much grander scale. While the Forest Service had access to a wide array of data sets from federal agencies, the data was scattered, and there was no effective way to integrate it for analysis. "There was really no way for anybody to take that data, improve upon it and then bring it into a desktop GIS," said Triplett. So starting in 2009, Triplett and a colleague at the Nation- al Interagency Fire Center began developing the Fire Enter- prise Geospatial Portal (EGP). Even though the full release of Fire EGP is not scheduled until 2016, it already integrates 40 data sets provided by more than a dozen federal agen- cies, including U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and NASA. The portal was designed using Esri geospatial software and Google Earth, with Microsoft SQL Server as its back-end database. Most of the Fire EGP data sets are resident in the origi- nating agency and stream to the portal on demand. This, Triplett said, reduces the need to manage data updates from other agencies across the portal. Triplett said he decided to build the client side using Ja- vascript and HTML5 exclusively to keep costs down and pre- clude the need to provide application updates for multiple platforms. Instead, the portal is accessed using any browser. The portal currently offers three primary ways for federal agencies, as well as state and local partners, to access the data. The Fire Globe offers 2D and 3D views of the United States. Users can view actual wildland fire perimeters, as well as layers showing temperature, wind direction and speed, precipitation and fuel moisture measurements. Us- ers can also access forecasts, predictions of fire movements, currently assigned resources and the availability of other resources. Fire EGP's SituationAnalyst (SA) and the Geospatial Dash- board and Analysis Tool (GDAT) each offer an array of ana- lytic tools for working with the integrated data sets. SA is focused on providing a common operational picture, along with geospatial and imagery analysis. GDAT offers business analytics tools. The portal also makes an Incident Control Console avail- able to authorized users that provides additional analytic views of wildland fire-related data and statistics. "When we had the floods in Colorado last year, we deployed an inci- dent management team and fire crews," Triplett said. "We worked with FEMA, the Colorado Department of Transpor- tation and other folks, and we pulled in their data to see where the flooded and impacted areas were in relation to where our fire crews and incident management teams were working." Although Fire EGP is not available to the public, "it is ac- cessible by federal agencies, and we have partnerships with several states and counties," Triplett said. "It has been used in decision-support processes at what we call 'geographic BY PATRICK MARSHALL Agencies push geospatial data to the rank and file GCN NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2014 • GCN.COM 21