Archive for January, 2011

Depiction 101: Interaction Rules Video Podcast

Interaction rules power the simulation environment Depiction provides. With these customizable cause-and-affect rules, users can create a wide variety of potential scenarios and have a very good idea of effects on their community. Watch this recorded session to learn the basics of using this unique feature of Depiction.

My outline is available for viewing and printing in our knowledgebase as well.

Depiction 101: Simulation Elements Video

Simulation elements set Depiction apart from most other mapping applications. With these customizable elements, users can explore a wide variety of potential scenarios and have a very good idea of effects on their community. Watch this video to learn the basics of using these unique pieces of Depiction.

Depiction 101 Video Podcast: Live Reports

Here’s the latest Depiction 101 on using Live Reports. We’re working to get this posted as a podcast: please let us know what you think.

Flooding in Queensland, Australia, depicted

Brisbane Flooding & Supermarkets

Brisband Flooding and Supermarkets, by Silvia Estrada Flores, using ASTER-GDEM elevation data, OpenStreetMap imagery, Depiction, and information from many sources.

Silvia Estrada-Flores is a Depiction user and an expert in the food industry supply chain who lives in Australia. Naturally, she has been very concerned about the major flooding occurring in the state of Queensland–and, specifically, about the way the flooding is affecting grocery stores in the area.

Silvia used Depiction to first run rough simulations of the flooding and potential flooding in and around Brisbane, Queensland, using ASTER-GDEM elevation data (because she was unable to get access to the higher quality data generated by the government), and then to depict the situation facing the grocery stores in the area. She also used Depiction’s geoaligning capability to show the official flooding predictions in relation to grocery stores.

Silvia writes, “Today, I can just reassure consumers in Brisbane that there will be stores open around you. I am hoping that this map shows the areas where consumers can purchase supplies in these confusing times.” She will be writing more in the near future on the challenges of maintaining the supply chain in this situation, so pay attention to her blog, Chain of Events, if this information is important to you.

Even if you are not specifically concerned with the response of the food industry supply chain to disasters (though if you eat any food yourself, you may want to think on it at least a little!), I think Silva’s work illustrates a couple broader points. First, this is exactly the kind of thing Depiction was built for–giving powerful tools to subject-matter experts like Silvia, who may not have any experience with or access to GIS technology, but who have a need to depict the world around them in rapidly changing situations. Very few people have both the skills and resources to use high-end GIS and modelling software and the expert-level knowledge and experience in something like food industry supply chain management. And yet that field, and many others like it, have a real and abiding need for location-based knowledge, situational awareness, and the ability to ask “what if” about their community. We are very proud that Silvia was able to use Depiction to gain insights into the situation in Brisbane, and that Depiction users across the world are doing similar things within their own fields of expertise, without having to be mapping technology experts.

Second, the situation reminds us of the need for collaboration across boundaries. In her first blog post, Sylvia mentions her frustration with the unavailability of good quality elevation data:

It was difficult to find freely available information on elevation data. This can create difficulties for those planners dealing with emergency preparations that are not necessarily acting on behalf of the Government. I am aware of the National Elevation Data Framework portal, but I could not find elevation data for Queensland that is readily accessible. The process for downloading information (even in those cases where data happens to be free) is slow, due to the requirements of data licensing and so on. Not really useful when you are in a hurry to see flood damages and impact…

Here in the States, we are fortunate to have the USGS, which provides a relatively user-friendly method of obtaining good quality elevation data at multiple resolution levels through the Seamless Data Warehouse. This has allowed us to make US elevation data available as a Quickstart data set in Depiction. However, that is not the case in most parts of the world, and even here in the USA, many other crucial datasets are out of reach, depending on the locality. As Silvia notes, this presents major problems for people who are attempting to prepare for or respond to a disaster, among other things. Governments who are looking for an easy way to bolster the assistance that can be provided by the private sector during a disaster might think about making their GIS data easily accessible by the public.

Depiction: “Poor Man’s GIS” and much more

Eric Holdeman, at Emergency Management Magazine’s Disaster Zone blog, writes about his time at the Puget Sound Depiction Users Group meeting last week:

If you have followed this blog at all you know I love the idea of maps and what they can do for you before, during and after a disaster.  They create the picture of what exists and what might be in the future.

While GIS mapping has come a long way you still need GIS techs to help you in building your data sets and creating the layers of information that are useful to you…

I took one evening and went to a users group for novices like myself where we poked around on the system for two hours.  I’m still not much of a techie, but I think if did invest some time in the software I could come up with some useful tools.  They have some data sets included and you can import others from your local jurisdiction (think shape files).

There are probably other mapping systems out that can help you do what depiction does.  If GIS is not available or too expensive/complicated, find something else that works for you. You may become the next Magellan cartographer!

I would, of course, demure on the idea that there are things out there that do exactly what Depiction does–though depending on your needs, of course, there may be other options that do enough of what Depiction does to get the job done. But Depiction’s combination of mapping, simulation and collaboration tools is unique–which is why Eric is exactly right overall. Depiction helps folks who may not be “much of a techie” to do things like building hazard maps, creating emergency plans and contingency plans for those emergency plans, getting and sharing situational awareness, collaboration, doing tabletop exercises and much more.

And that leads me to a second point–Depiction can certainly serve as a “Poor Man’s GIS,” and in this time of budget cuts, that’s a very good thing. It also opens GIS up to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access. See this article for an example of Hampshire, a very small town that now has capabilities that were far out of their reach before (since the article was written, they have indeed gotten themselves Depiction).

But Depiction is more than that–I like to think of it as the Swiss Army Knife (or, if you prefer, the Leatherman) of mapping tools. If you could only afford one tool, that’s the one you would get. If you can afford and use more powerful and specialized tools, then your Swiss Army Knife isn’t going to stop you from doing that. On the other hand, you’re still going to want that knife on hand. You couldn’t swap out a car engine with just a Swiss Army Knife, for example–but you’re certainly going to want one nearby!

Depiction, with it’s flexibility, ease of use and small footprint, is like that. It’s a tool both for the non-techie volunteer and the tech savvy professional, and most folks in between. Take a look at our emergency manager webinar from September for examples of how different folks, with similar responsibilities, but different technical capabilities and situations, all use Depiction.

Thanks to Eric for the excuse to write about this, and for coming up last week!