Current Events

Amateur Radio Webinar Series

Last month, we started a new webinar series for Amateur Radio users of Depiction. You can view the inaugural session recording or sign up for the second session (TONIGHT). The series is hosted by Tim O’Shea, KY7Y, a Depiction Preferred Consultant, Assistant Emergency Coordinator and PIO for the Washoe County, NV ARES/RACES and the ARRL Nevada State Government Liaison. We are excited to have Tim present topical and important information for Depictions users involved in Emergency Communications. This week will focus on APRS with Depiction, and the APRS Live Add-on in particular. See you there!

Mapping helps catch bin Laden

This is a great article about how the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the NGA, helped find Osama bin Laden’s hideout. It’s a great overview of the remarkable things the highly trained NGA technicians do with geospatial data, and how they contributed to Sunday’s takedown.

Now, those folks aren’t using Depiction–but then again, you’re probably not tracking down the world’s most sought after terrorist, either. Our goal at Depiction is to provide some of these same kinds of capabilities to everyday users–small business owners, volunteers, emergency managers, planners and others–who have their own “gutsy calls” to make, but don’t have the NGA backing them up.

Depicting Fukushima Video

Tim posted a new video on YouTube, discussing his depiction of the Fukushima Daiichi plant issues.YouTube Preview Image

This is a powerful use of our software, I must say. Please comment or contact us if you have any questions.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant depiction

The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear Power Plant continues. After hearing much talk about the various reactors, the evacuation zones and so on, I got curious as to what, exactly the scale of the event really was. That curiosity, plus a couple hours of work in Depiction, turned into a pretty extensive depiction of the region surrounding the power plant.

To view the file, you’ll need Depiction or the free Depiction Reader.

The depiction includes data and imagery from:

I also used the Depiction Preparedness Add-on and one of our handy icon packs.

I hope this will be valuable to anyone who is trying to get a sense of the situation in Japan–it also happens to very nicely demonstrate Depiction’s powerful capabilities in combining multiple diverse types of data, which is nice, too.

If you have any questions–or suggestions–please post them in the comments!

UPDATE: I’ve uploaded a new version of the depiction–yesterday the US Department of Energy released a map that outlined the results of aerial radiation monitoring in the Fukushima area. I’ve included that map, as well as shapes extrapolated from that information. I’ll put up a post later about how I did that.

Additionally, I added a new batch of earthquakes from the USGS feed. It appears that the links included in the epicenters of quakes older than 7 days no longer work. That is, unfortunately, due to the way that the USGS outputs their data and archives older quakes. You can still find them, if you’re really curious, here–but only for the next couple weeks.

Screenshot of the Fukushima Daiichi depiction

Screenshot of the Fukushima Daiichi depiction

Devastating earthquake in Japan

It seems like a lot of our posts in the last couple months have been about earthquakes–and today’s unfortunately, is one of the strongest ever, a magnitude of 9.1.

As I did for the Christchurch earthquake, I’ve put together a depiction of the earthquake’s shakemap and other pertinent information–two of them actually. Because this earthquake’s epicenter was in the ocean, and because it was larger, its direct affects on the land were more dispersed and widespread than they were in New Zealand.

The first depiction shows the original epicenter off the coast, as well as the closest areas affected, primarily the Miyagi prefecture. Data in this depiction comes from the USGS (the shakemap and epicenters–note that the epicenters were brought in automatically using our Preparedness add-on), from OpenStreetMap via Cloudmade, and from Wikipedia via Geocommons. For details on bringing in earthquake data to Depiction, see the video 90 Seconds to Map an Earthquake from last year.

Download this depiction here (1.07 mb).

The next depiction is of Tokyo, and brings in much of the same data–though because Tokyo is much more highly populated, there’s a lot more of it. In addition, I added shelter information from Google’s ‘My Map’ aggregator though that information is all unvetted as far as I know.

Download the Tokyo depiction here (2.94 mb).

Obviously, most everyone who has a mapping interest right now is churning out similar maps, most of them online (in addition to Google’s above, see ESRI’s here). Obviously I’m not replacing anything they are doing here. But I’m able to take much of the same data they have, and rapidly put it together the way I want to see it. Additionally, I have it all available on my local computer–so if I were in Japan and lost Internet access due to the aftermath of the quake, I would still have all the data available. And, perhaps most importantly, I put all this together with essentially no GIS expertise. I just happen to know how to use Depiction.

This quake is having effects beyond Japan–Hawaii was hit with a tsunami that is still receding. These depictions, with simulations built after an earthquake that didn’t end up causing a tsunami, might be of particular relevance now.

UPDATE: I’ve added shapefiles of damage and flooding zones, provided by the National Geospatial Agency, part of the US military, to the first depiction above. You can also download the shapefiles directly.

In addition, I’ve created a new depiction using topographic maps of Japan from the US Army. It’s the same as the first depiction above, but a larger file size because of the inclusion of large images. Download that one here (8.35 mb).

Depiction of the Week: Christchurch Earthquake

Christchurch, New Zealand was just hit with an earthquake. It was “just” a 6.3 quake, but as you can see from the Depiction of the Week, the epicenter was square in the middle of the city, and just a couple miles below the surface.Christchurch Earthquake

For more on rapidly building these kind of earthquake simulations, see this video, “90 Seconds to Map an Earthquake“.

UPDATE: The depiction has been updated with newer information from the USGS, as well as reports from the Christchurch Earthquake Ushahidi instance.

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.

Earthquake in Indiana

A magnitude 3.8 earthquake shook Indiana just north of Indianapolis this morning, apparently causing little damage. Read this article for more details. The USGS has data posted here, though it apparently hasn’t been reviewed yet. This makes the Formidable Footprint (January) and Great Shakeout (April) exercises coming up seem very well timed.

I downloaded the USGS shapefile and did a quick depiction of the MMI (a relative intensity index). Indianapolis is to the south and Fort Wayne to the Northeast in this image.

Depicting the epicenter and relative feel of the quake

Depicting the epicenter and relative feel of the quake

Drop me a line if you’d like more info on how I depicted this.

Depiction encourages all our staff, readers and users to prepare for the hazards in your area. For more info, visit Ready.gov.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

“We Need It Bigger”

I had the good fortune this week to attend the first EOC (Emergency Operations Center) drill in Anacortes, WA. The GIS manager for the city, Rob Hoxie, has designated Depiction as their EOC mapping solution, and asked me to join him in the EOC.

The planning committee spent the last two months putting this drill together. As I understand it, most of the city staff has ICS training from FEMA, so this drill put that to the test. The Fire Chief acts as the EOC director, as the city does not have an emergency manager. The scenario for the 4-hour drill was a 30-inch snowfall over 3 days, which takes out the power and home phone service for the entire city (pop. 16,000). In preparation a member of the planning committee put together a Microsoft Access database to record events and track resources. Rob also put together 2 depictions of the city: 1 with all the events in it and one “blank”. I copied those files to my computer and used an email account to send events from the full depiction to the empty on via Live Reports, as Rob placed events “manually” as the scenario unfolded. Both processes worked well, and his became more effective when the internet and cell service went out in the scenario (the IT guys killed internet and I disconnected my wireless card). Rob also made use of the “Bring to center” button in the Manage content menu to make the newly placed events flash on the screen.

One of Rob’s hopes for the event was to bring attention to the depiction, which was projected on  a 5′ screen from the ceiling. For the first hour or so, not many people took not, but by hour 3, folks in the front, middle and back of the room were consulting the depiction. Their main comment? “We need it bigger!” With 34 events on the map, many flashing and text shown to describe them, 5′ was not enough space. They’ll be looking into buying a 10′ screen.

A clipping of simulated events

A clipping of the events simulated in the drill

This was a very effective drill, and I was impressed by the dedication, attention and knowledge of the staff. I was also glad that one of the outcomes was a decision to move away from the 5-copy carbonless-paper form to report events to the room, hoping instead to provide each area of expertise with access to the ICS database to view and update events. Depiction could also help, and I will be working closely with Rob and his colleagues in coming months to help this happen.

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