Archive for October, 2010

Depiction of the Week: Fourmile Fire

This week’s “Depiction of the Week” was not built by me. This was put together by Depiction Preferred Consultant and emergency volunteer Russell Deffner. In the guest post below, Russell details the story of how he put the depiction together. For more on this, and how the depiction was used, he’ll be presenting “Depicting the Fourmile Fire” on next Thursday, November 4.


On September 6, 2010, around 10 AM, a fire was reported in the 7100 block of Fourmile Canyon Drive, west of Boulder, Colorado. By about noon that Monday–Labor Day–it was clear this fire was dangerous. We get quite a bit of wildfire in Colorado, but when the local news starts breaking into normal television programming, you know that it isn’t the typical isolated fire in the wilderness; it’s either big, near homes, or both. For many reasons, I wanted a better visual of the incident than I could get by just watching the news. As a Depiction Preferred Consultant, a freelance journalist, a volunteer wildland firefighter, and the volunteer GIS specialist for the American Red Cross Mile High Chapter, I began depicting the incident as it unfolded.

The first size up to be reported on the news was at about 2 PM and it was estimated to be 200 acres. From my experience as a wildland firefighter I knew two things: first, that’s a good size for only 4 hours of burn time, and second, from the video taken by the news helicopter, it was clearly much bigger than that. About two hours later my suspicion was confirmed when the news reported the size estimate at 2200 acres.

In this depiction you can view my use of the plume element to roughly estimate the fire perimeter around this time. There are three estimates conveniently packaged in a Revealer. I soon learned that the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management was releasing information fairly rapidly on their website (which turned out to be quicker and more accurate than the local news channels) and that is where the majority of the data in this depiction came from.

Although originally I had not built this depiction with any particular use in mind, it turned out to be extremely beneficial to various groups within the Red Cross as a common operating picture. As this fire continued, many people were tragically displaced from the area (grey shaded area) and needed shelter; at one point an area inside the Boulder city limits was put on notice (the red shaded area) because a high wind warning created the potential for the fire to spread into the city. Though they have been removed from this depiction (to respect privacy), I was able to quickly add, by importing a spreadsheet, all the Red Cross shelters in and around Boulder in preparation, because the potential evacuation zone would have created roughly 30,000 additional evacuees. Luckily the fireline held and the evacuation inside city limits never happened.

Unfortunately the Fourmile fire, as it was named, eventually became the most destructive fire in Colorado history in in terms of the number structures, mostly homes, that it consumed. Inside another revealer you will find 169 red dots and 25 blue dots: it’s rather upsetting to see all the red dots, as they are the structures that were destroyed, the blue being those damaged. This information was useful to the disaster assessment folks at the Red Cross in planning the long process of helping the affected people and the communities recover.

This depiction varies slightly from the original. I have added some additional information that slipped by me in the heat of the moment, such as the airport from which the air support was operating, as well as some various community resources: the justice center, library, Humane Society, etc. that played a role in the incident. I have also removed some information (mainly addresses and shelters) to protect privacy. Lastly GeoEye, a satellite imagery company released a free high resolution satellite image of the Gold Hill area after the fire, of which a part has been added, in yet another revealer, so you can compare the scene before and after the devastation.

My heart goes out to anyone affected by wildfire and I mean no disrespect by depicting this tragic scenario. It is my belief that by sharing this depiction others will be better prepared to create a common operating picture that assists in all phases of a disaster – mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. I am honored that this depiction has assisted in this incident and has generated such response. I am also amazed that, nearly two months later, the shelf-life has yet to run out. People involved in the recovery process are still showing interest in using it. That is why I offer it for anyone to view, use, expand upon and learn from; happy depicting!

Fourmile Fire Depiction

Depiction of the Week: Fourmile Fire

Depiction at NCEMC

NC Fall Conference booth is ready to go!  on Twitpic
The newest Depiction Preferred Consultants, C3 Solutions are at the North Carolina Emergency Managers Association Fall conference this week–that’s their booth above, and that’s Depiction on the left-hand screen.

C3 Applications are the developers of ICSolution, an online/offline incident management software package that uses Depiction as its mapping component. Tomorrow, they’ll be presenting ICSolution and Depiction: an Online/Offline Solution for Mapping and Incident Management live from the conference.

#Roseville #Galleria fire/bomb scare depiction

It sounds like things are starting to calm down as the bomb squad clears the building, but here’s a quick depiction of the situation at the Roseville Galleria, with news photos, aerial imagery, the mall floorplan, OpenStreetMap and a bit more. You can view this depiction using the Depiction Reader.

Exercises Gaining Popularity

The Disaster Resource Guide Continuity e-Guide #355 released yesterday includes “Exercises Crucial for Effective Disaster Planning”. This is right in line with our thinking and our sponsorship of the Formidable Footprint Exercises. It’s great to see that this is an international trend! For more on Depiction and exercises, check out these upcoming and recent webinars:

Please let us know if we can help you plan or coordinate a local exercise (or if you plan to use Depiction in one).

Happy Depicting!

Depiction for Small Business

The new Small Business page at the Depiction website has several resources to help small business owners use Depiction, whether for business preparedness, market analysis, or any of the other other location-based decisions that they make every day. Take a look at this new 90-second video describing just one of the possibilities.

YouTube Preview Image

Depiction of the Week: Mount Rainier Hike

In early September, I had the opportunity to go on a lovely, if strenuous, hike to the Golden Lakes area in Mount Rainier National Park southeast of Seattle. Along the way I took a few photographs, including a few very nice looking (if I do say so myself) panoramic images. When I got back, I wanted to compare what we had done with the imagery and maps that Depiction brings in via Quickstart.

Using the new Depiction Reader, you can take a look at the result in this week’s “Depiction of the Week,” which includes the USGS topgraphic map and elevation data, NAIP aerial imagery, the aforementioned photographs, and a GPX track we took of the hike. The most interesting thing I found in the depiction was the significant disparity between the trails marked on the USGS map (which I had taken with me) and the reality of what we hiked as shown by GPS. This explained quite a few of the “why am I not at the top/bottom yet?” questions I asked while slogging up/down the many (many) switchbacks along the trail. Next year, I’ll be bringing a printed version of this depiction along!

This depiction is a great example of how you can use Depiction to merge multiple, very different data sources into a single scenario that others can easily explore. This depiction is a hike, but this could just as easily be a post-disaster damage assessment, an event plan, or a regional tour.

Mount Rainier Hike Depiction

Depiction of the Week: Mount Rainier Hike

Each week we’ll feature a depiction that you can open with either the Reader or the full version of Depiction. Are you a Depiction user with a Depiction you’d like to see featured? Click here to submit it.

Thoughts on Crisis Mapping

Schuyler Erle, at his blog iconocla.st has a great post up with thoughts related to the International Conference on Crisis Mapping last week. We were, alas, unable to attend, but some of Shuyler’s thoughts mesh directly with what we are trying to do at Depiction, and I wanted to highlight and reflect on a couple of them.

Regarding the question of how to replicate the “miracle” of crisis mapping in Haiti during future disasters, he writes,

When relief agencies start depending on the work of the crowd, how do we ensure that the crowd shows up?

These aren’t questions with simple answers. For example, volunteer interest hinges, largely, on media attention. The tragic flooding in Pakistan this summer has adversely impacted ten times as many people as the quake in Haiti, but media attention has been far less strident, with the result that many fewer OSM volunteers have stepped up to contribute. Access to the commercial satellite imagery, which makes collaborative remote editing of OSM possible, has also been much harder to obtain, for similar reasons.

Moreover, every non-profit org, formal or ad-hoc, has to contend with volunteer fatigue. The more acute and immediate a disaster is, the easier it is to focus attention on it, which, again, has made crowdmapping Haiti far easier than Pakistan. The longer a situation wears on, the less urgency a volunteer will feel to act, and the more likely it will become that any given volunteer has other, more pressing things to do.

By the same token, casual volunteers can only be called into service so many times before they start to tune out the requests. Consequently, the “Crisis Mapping” community needs to steward its volunteer strength carefully. What criteria do we use to determine that a disaster is acute enough to warrant mounting a response?

The best way to be sure the crowd shows up regularly, and even for smaller disasters that may not currently warrant a crisis mapping response, is to make the crowd bigger. Right now, the only people who are directly involved with crisis mapping tend to be those who have access to and training for the large, complicated, expensive geospatial systems that dominate the GIS industry. Those systems are a good thing, and the experts, like Shuyler, who use them for humanitarian response are fantastic. But if your pool of volunteers consists of only these people, then there is going to be a pretty hard limit on resources.

But if you have tools that are inexpensive and easy enough to use that they extend mapping and simulation capability to everyday people, then suddenly that pool of volunteers can explode. That’s something we hope Depiction can be a part of in international crisis relief–it’s already doing that across the US, where amateur radio users, Red Cross volunteers and animal rescue teams are using it to perform basic, but vital, crisis mapping functions all the time, and few of them have any formal GIS training at all.

Shuyler goes on to describe the difficulties of Internet access, even via satellite, in a disaster area:

Point blank… any IT solution intended for use by relief workers in a disaster zone needs to work independently of the Internet. I say this, without pointing fingers, because I keep seeing humanitarian aid tools being proposed and developed by well-intended individuals and organizations — some of them *quite* large — that depend on ample network access to be of any use. Seriously, guys. Knock it off.

That same technical ingenuity needs to be put into working out how information technology can be used to coordinate humanitarian aid volunteers, both in *and* out of country, on a minimum of bandwidth, as low tech as possible.

This is another thing we feel strongly about, and it’s why Depiction is a regular old desktop application, rather than software-as-a-service or some sort of enterprise system. While it makes use of the great resources that are available online like OpenStreetMap and web services and so forth, when data is saved locally, it stays local. It functions perfectly well without the Internet–data can be manipulated, saved, imported, exported and exchanged via flash drive, local networks or carrier pigeon.

Working on low tech is also key–for years, until it recently gave up the ghost, our CEO has been running Depiction on an ancient XP laptop. As noted before, I’ve used it on just a netbook.

And, of course, if you start talking to our amateur radio users, they have lots to say on the subject of doing things when the Internet is unavailable, and many of them are using Depiction offline with tools like APRS Live, Winlink and D-STAR.

If you’d like to learn more about the capabilities of Depiction for crisis mapping, feel free to watch the webcast we did for the Crisis Mapping Network last winter, or to just download the Depiction Reader with a sample depiction or two to see what it’s all about.

Depiction of the Week: Honolulu Tsunami Simulation

With the advent of the Depiction Reader, we’re starting a new feature called “Depiction of the Week”. Each week we’ll feature a depiction that you can open with either the Reader or the full version of Depiction. Are you a Depiction user with a Depiction you’d like to see featured? Click here to submit it.

This week’s depiction is this Honolulu Tsunami simulation. This depiction was originally built back on February 27, 2010. That was the day when an 8.8 magnitude quake hit just off the coast of Chile, and a tsunami warning was issued for the entire Pacific. Hawaii underwent its first tsunami evacuation since 1994, and waves of 8 to 9 feet were predicted.

Fortunately, the waves ended up being far smaller than predicted, but there were tense hours when that was unclear. During those hours, I happened to be far away from the office and my usual computers. As it happened, I was at a wedding, with nothing but my wife’s netbook. Still, I wanted to use Depiction to quickly show what the potential impact of waves of different heights could be.

Fortunately, I was able to snag some time and some wifi, and created this post with links depictions of Hilo Bay, Honolulu, and, at the request of a commenter, Kahului Bay on Maui, each with simulations of 6, 9 and 12 foot inundations.

The depiction presented here is the one created for Honolulu, with a few more elements added–specifically schools, hospitals and evacuation zones, all retrieved from the very thorough Hawaii Statewide GIS program.

A few caveats: the Depiction flood model is a very simple one, built to give a rapid potential impact (even when just using a netbook!) by showing what an increase in water level from a certain point would look like, based on the elevation data contained in the Depiction. The elevation data I used was that provided through Depiction’s Quickstart feature, and is 30-meter DEM data from the USGS (this means that the elevation was measured every 30 meters). Using higher resolution elevation data–where the elevation was measured every 10 meters, for example–would likely give different, more accurate results, though it would also increase the file size.

Honolulu Tsunami Simulation

Depiction of the Week: Honolulu Tsunami Simulation

Depiction sponsors community exercise series

Depiction is excited to be helping out with a series of online community exercises, to help groups like Citizen Corps groups, neighborhood associations and others prepare themselves for disaster. The first of these “Formidable Footprint” exercises will be on October 30, and focus on a hurricane scenario. More details from Ric Skinner, a Depiction Preferred Consultant who helped connect us with the event:

Disaster Resistant Communities Group (DRCG) will develop, facilitate and evaluate a series of disaster exercises for neighborhoods entitled “Formidable Footprint – A Neighborhood Tabletop Exercise”. The “Formidable Footprint” series of exercises will serve as an opportunity for community and neighborhood organizations, including Citizen Corps, Community Emergency Response Teams, Map Your Neighborhood Teams, and Neighborhood Associations to assess the ability of neighborhood residents to work together to prepare for, respond to and recover from a variety of natural disasters which can affect the lives of neighborhood residents.

According to Skinner, DRCG recognizes that GIS is an important tool for Situational Awareness and a Common Operational Picture. “Formidable Footprint” scenarios – hurricane, earthquake, flood, wildfire, tornado, influenza pandemic — will incorporate Depiction mapping, simulation and collaboration software (Depiction, Inc.; http://www.depiction.com) to provide players with exercise-relevant maps with which they can interact, making the exercise more real and meaningful.

We are looking forward to these events, and think they hold a great deal of promise to help prepare communities around the country.

Get the new Depiction Free Reader

We’ve had many user requests for this, and so we’re happy to finally make it available–the Depiction Free Reader beta enables anyone to now view the maps, plans, simulations and scenarios built in Depiction.

If you don’t have Depiction right now, this is a great way to explore things like the Fourmile Canyon fire, the Honolulu tsunami simulations, or the historical Yellowstone depictions available on the Depiction Free Reader page. There are other samples available from our downloads page. If you are considering purchasing Depiction, but want to see it in action first, the Reader is also a great way to get a feel for the program before getting the full version.

If you have Depiction, this means you can share your depictions (.dpn files) with anyone. Are you an emergency manager or volunteer coordinator who needs to distribute maps of affected areas during a disaster? Are you a business owner who wants to distribute your disaster plan to your employees? Are you an educator who’s looking for a new way to demonstrate geographic concepts to your students? Or maybe you just want to tell a story about your most recent camping trip, hike or vacation–whatever you want to display with Depiction, you can now share with whoever needs them.