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National Preparedness Month: LANL uses Depiction

National Preparedness Month is observed each September in the US. It’s a time when Americans take simple steps to prepare for the unknown. Depiction is partaking in this year’s event by featuring Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and how they use Depiction to prepare for such events as wild fire, potential security threats and scenarios on chemical leaks.

This webinar is free to attend! Alan Woodward, EOC Planning Sections Chief at LANL, will highlight several tabletop exercises, scenario simulations and take questions from attendees. This webinar is great for individuals, organizations and companies interested in preparedness planning and consequence assessment. Alan comments that LANL uses Depiction for its “ease of use, flat learning curve, professionalism and fast in-field collaboration capability”.

Attendees will learn how Depiction can be used to create simulations and facilitate ‘in the moment’ cooperation whether for a national laboratory, your neighborhood, fire department, police department, local government organizations or emergency field teams.

Alan Woodward joins us as our guest presenter September 22nd at 10:30am PST. He has worked in the Emergency Operations Division for 10 years as an analyst, emergency planner, and Section chief with over thirteen years experience developing geographic information systems (GIS) and GIS products. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Washington State University (in Physics) and a Master of Science degree from Oklahoma State University (in Plant and Soil Sciences). Currently, he is focused on developing GIS applications for emergency responders that can be used in an EOC or at the site of an emergency.

Also joining in to field questions and provide additional information are Rachel Hixson, Dave McClard and Bill Purtymun.

Rachel Hixson is a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist with a Master of Arts degree in Geography from Arizona State University.  She is helping to develop the GIS capabilities of LANL’s Emergency Operations Center.  She has also been working on reverse plume modeling for a national bio-surveillance program at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for three years.

Dave McClard works in the EO-EM Group as an Emergency Manager. Current responsibilities: Focus on response management, Emergency Operations Center (EOC) operability, planning and preparedness activities, communication operations, aviation operations, and wildland fire operations. Dave began emergency management work in 1986 as a search and rescue (SAR) pilot and search and rescue trainer. His last five years were spent as the State Emergency Services Director and squadron commander for an auxiliary of the United States Air Force.

Bill Purtymun originally became involved in emergency management as a Firefighter III/ EMT Paramedic.   He graduated from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology with a BS in Geology. He has been employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory since 1989, initially as a Site Safety Officer for a non-reactor nuclear facility.  In the mid 1990’s he became a LANL Emergency Manager and Incident Commander for the Emergency Operations Division.  For the past several years he has worked in Hazard and Consequence Assessment at the LANL Emergency Operations Center.  In his spare time he volunteers with the local ski and mountain bike patrol and is a Nationally Registered Paramedic.   He is currently working on his masters in Emergency Management through Arizona State University.

Join us on September 22nd at 10:30am PST to learn more about how your organization can be better prepared, cross collaborate more efficiently and benefit from the Depiction software platform.

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!

Formidable Footprint Featured on Dallas TV

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We’re very proud to be a part of the Formidable Footprint national neighborhood exercises, and this video says a little about why. Watch for a glimpse of Depiction at 0:25!

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

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 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.

Mapping Your Neighborhood video

One of the great ways people can use Depiction during National Preparedness Month is in mapping key people and locations in their neighborhood to prepare for a disaster. Watch the video below, and then register for next Wednesday’s webinar to learn more!

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Depiction and National Preparedness Month 2010

National Preparedness Month is a monthly reminder to all of us that we need to prepare ourselves–our homes, businesses, communities, families and more–for disasters. During September, we’re going to be running at least six different webinars to help people do this.

Though they’ll be using Depiction, they won’t just be product demos–the webinars, some by Depiction staff, some by Depiction users–will show you actual concrete ways that people are using the software to prepare, and how you can do the same. Each of the webinars is targeted at the tasks of some specific groups, but we hope you’ll attend as many as you can.

Full details are available here, but here’s the list:

User-submitted public service depiction available for download

Last weekend, Depiction user Dennis Conklin, AI8P, coordinated 45 amateur radio users running communications for the Tour de Cure fundraiser event south of Cleveland. Dennis then submitted his depiction to us, and we’ve placed it for preview and download on the Depiction Downloads page, as a great example of a how Depiction can be used during such public service events.

Here’s what Dennis had to say about the event in our forum:

This is a very complex biking event which features a 100K ride, a 50K Difficult ride, a 50K Moderate ride, and a 25K ride. The starts are staggered so that most rides are completed near the same time. This means that 4 rides are ongoing simultaneously. There are about 50 stations on the various routes which are manned by Amateur radio operators. We ran 2 separate nets and I used custom icons to code each station for which net it was on. Some parts of some routes overlay, but generally there are several different routes that have to be tracked and the first rider and last rider need to be identified for each. I have worked the Net Control for this event for several years, and I never really felt that I had the level of Situational Awareness that I desired. This year I had everything mapped in depiction and I was much more aware of exactly was going on and what the implications were. I was able to immediately know when stations could be closed. Also, I could mark each station as INACTIVE when it closed, which was a great visual feedback on the status.

Many people came by and were impressed by the zoomable map and the ability to display street names or aerial photography….

A fabulous advantage – terrific Situational Awareness was achieved by using depiction.

Dennis also writes, “I couldn’t even spell GIS before I got your program, so you can certainly make the point that a non-GIS person can do substantial work with your program.” That’s what we like to hear!

And he’s has been busy recently–he’s only had the software for a couple months, but he’s already made a presentation to his local ARES group about the software.

If you’d like to submit your own depiction to be profiled on our Downloads page, just click here!

Depiction in a Mobile Communications Unit

A Depiction user runs a mobile command unit that is part of the Army MARS system. It’s outfitted with multiple radios, five computer stations, a printer, a fax and much more. In his latest update on his MCU website, he writes:

“Installed Depiction on all of the MCU’s desktop PCs to provide a Common Operating Picture of the disaster scene.”

This is exactly the kind of thing we love to see Depiction doing!
Mobile Command Unit