NAPSG Standard Operating Guidance documents
GeoConOps Version 5.0 - Now Available!
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently released version 5.0 of the Geospatial Concept of Operations (GeoCONOPS) in June 2013. The latest version - and supporting Quick Start Guide and Poster are available through the links provided here.
The GeoCONOPS is focused on advancing the geosaptial communities ability to support the public safety community, DHS, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency activities under the 5 mission areas - Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery - and their relevant national planning frameworks. The intended audience of GeoCONOPS includes the public safety community at-large, the 15 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs), and other Federal mission partners. It is currently being incorproate into the National Incident Management System (NIMS) as part of the NIMS review and update process. The GeoCONOPS is inteded to identify and align the geospatial resources that are required to support the national planning frameworks, ESFs, and supporting federal mission partners.
NAPSG encourages the whole community - all local, county, state, and tribal public safety agencies - to use the latest version of GeoCONOPS as a mission blueprint and requirements matrix for technology, products, data, and interoperability standards.
A Census Bureau Data Tool for Assessing Disaster Impacts
OnTheMap for Emergency Management-
A Census Bureau Data Tool for Assessing Disaster Impacts
Americans are increasingly living and working in areas affected by a growing variety of natural disasters. This growing vulnerability, coupled with a rise in the number and severity of weather related disaster events, has caused physical, social, and economic impacts to surge in communities across the U.S. For emergency managers, government officials, and others involved in what are often rapidly changing emergency events, timely access to detailed information about the affected population and workforce is critical for many planning, response, and recovery activities. Such information is important for determining the number and location of people living and working within affected areas. It is also important for identifying impact to various demographic groups and sectors of the economy. Historically, answering such questions has been a challenge due to the lack of a single national source for social and economic data for local areasaffected by a natural hazard or disaster event. More challenging still, has been satisfying the need of many emergency managers to receive this information in ‘real time’ as fast moving disaster events change location and intensity.
In an effort to improve access to population and workforce data for this important purpose, the U.S. Census Bureau, developed an innovative tool called OnTheMap for Emergency Management. This public web-based application provides an intuitive interface for viewing the location and extent of past, current, and forecasted hazard events on a map, and allows users to easily retrieve detailed reports containing selected population, workforce, and housing characteristics for these affected areas. This capability is offered for hurricanes and tropical storms, floods, wildfires, winter storms, and federal disaster declaration areas.
To do this, the application automatically incorporates real-time updates for these ‘hazard’ event areas from authoritative federal sources and displays them in a single easy-to-use map. To provide users flexibility in reporting and visualization of these analyses, each are tabulated and made available at the Census Place, County, Tract, State levels. The tool has been designed to make it easy for users to quickly find and view the information they seek. The interface is organized into two primary sections including (1) a map, where events are added and displayed on a daily basis, and (2) a control panel with tools for locating past events, turning events on and off, and viewing and exporting reports.
Screenshot of OnTheMap for Emergency Management showing natural hazard activity across the U.S. on October 25, 2012 as Hurricane Sandy moved northward approaching the East coast of the U.S.
Screenshot of OnTheMap for Emergency Management tool on October 29, 2012 showing Hurricane Sandy as the storm made landfall along the East coast. Population and Workforce statistics are displayed in the report on the left for the impact area outlined in orange on the map.
By simply clicking on an event in the map, a report tab automatically opens in the control panel presenting the available population and workforce analyses for the affected area. This also adds a thematic overlay to the map for visualizing the geographic location and density of affected residents and workers. The report tab also provides tools for easily exporting the report data to XLS and PDF files and exporting the affected event area shape to KML for use in other mapping applications.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s OnTheMap for Emergency Management application offers a unique service to meet the public need for timely access to detailed statistics describing the local population and workforce affected by natural hazards.
To learn more and try the tool for yourself, visit http://onthemap.ces.census.gov/em.html. The accompanying help page provides resources for users including a user guide with walk through examples, reference documentation about data sources, a glossary of terms, among others.
NFA Curriculum on GIS
Please check out and participate in this new course from National Fire Academy. This curriculum was developed by NAPSG friend and regional leader Capt. Steve Pollackov of FDNY. Great work Steve.
The Incident Map Symbology Story
Friday, May 04, 2012
The Incident Map Symbology Story
Lt. Chris Rogers, Kirkland Fire Department
& NAPSG Regional Leadership Team Chairman
Every day, first responders use location-based technology (i.e. maps) to navigate to emergency calls, analyze risk in their communities, assess resource allocation, and a myriad of other mission-critical applications. Some responders may use their own personal knowledge (a “mental map”). Some use a paper map (hand or computer drawn) that take the form of wall maps or map books in responder vehicles. Yet, a growing number are using high quality computer-based maps utilizing software based on the latest Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Not only do first responders use the latter form of information to navigate to calls, but they use information on the “map” to identify features relating to risks, threats and hazards that may cause harm to responders and the citizens they serve.
These maps can be in the form of
- Emergency or building pre-plans
- Pre-scripted mission plans
- Area map books
- Incident command and control applications
- Situational awareness viewers
- Damage assessment applications
- Crisis management systmes
- Any other maps based on the need and output ability
Incidents vary in scale, time and circumstance. While most incidents are smaller in size, large-scale incidents occur daily that involve local fire, ems, and police departments. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a systematic approach to guide public safety and the whole community to work seamlessly to prevent, protect, mitigate, respond and recover the effects of incidents of any size, type or scale. NIMS includes a common structure for command and contract known as the Incident Command System (ICS). Without going into the history too much, this system got its start over 50 years as a way to manage large scale wild-land fires. Some of the key things to remember:
- The system is scalable from smaller to larger incidents
- It is flexible and adaptable in need
- It can be used for any type of emergency incident
During an incident, maps are often used to visualize mission critical real-time information. As noted above, these maps can range from paper maps where a command aide marks up with pencil to a more professional map maintained by a GIS Specialist.
Regardless of what kind of map is used, there are several things that are consistent:
- There is information that existed before the incident
- Features exist to identify access information, features exist to help mitigating incidents, and features exist that show hazards that need to be handled or avoided – and so on.
- Data is collected actively and dynamically
A primary challenge to with any map is creating a consistent look so that information can be conveyed across different agencies, disciplines and jurisdictions. Such consistently presented information is commonly called a Common Operating Picture.
The Case for a Common Operating Picture
There are many definitions of a Common Operating Picture, and they all are pretty much correct. Definitions can be simple and complex. For this discussion, we’ll focus on just the map. Now there is argument that there isn’t a need to have a common or consistent map during an incident, rather what is important is the data. While good data is paramount, the need to have consistency in map products also is important. But why?
In an Operations Center environment, if there is a room full of firefighters, cops, emergency managers, and political leaders, having a common picture allows all parties to understand what a given symbol means. If someone knowledgeable with that map is unavailable, anyone can just look at the map and understand what it means - and use it as a key tool to aid decision making.
But what happens when a map ends up in the field?
Most maps used by responders are paper maps. Even with the advent of computer-based maps, the most reliable and abundant way to present information is to have a paper map. This is because the cost of abundant accessibility is somewhat prohibitive on a computer-based map -- tablets and computers require a power source. Paper is lighter and more intuitive to use for most users. Now take an example where one agency shares a paper map with another agency. Even though there may be a legend available, when every second counts, it is helpful to have some consistency to reduce the amount of time to make informed decisions.
So why is it so hard to get a standard for map symbols?
Standards. A tough sell
First, it should be acknowledged that there is a success story for public safety map symbology -- the standardization of symbols for wildland fire by the National Wildfire Coordination Group symbology is one such story. There are also standards for some symbols provided by major standard development organizations such as NFPA and ANSI. So why isn’t this symbology widely adopted and used by the public safety community nationwide?
Simply put, the symbols are mostly tailored to the needs of the wildland fire community, fire service, and in some cases the symbols don't work when scaled from strategic to tactical map products. There are common features in the symbology for features that relate to “all-hazard” such as a Command Post, Base, and Staging, but it mainly included features pertinent only to wildland fires. Granted you can modify symbology for your needs, but most people who tried this found severe gaps in their ability to use the symbology for other than their intended purpose.
One effort to make a symbology set that included all threats and hazards was initiated years ago by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The resulting work created four categories of symbols:
The group created over 200 symbols for various feature, and the command and infrastructure symbology included the option to set a “status” of that feature in the rendering and a consistent look and feel. However, after some study and testing some things were realized
- The symbols were very graphical and would be impossible to hand draw on paper. This requirement is important since there is the definite possibility that a map user during an incident will need to hand draw a symbol on a map
- Some of the individual features were vague in application. For example, the Emergency Staging Symbol means different things to different response agencies.
- Even with the breadth of symbols there were still a lot of missing symbols.
So what needed to happen?
Incident Level Symbology Workgroup
In December of 2010, a plan came together to look at the interaction of tactical map symbols for the emergency services for pre-incident (think pre-plans or prescripted mission planning) and incident-level use. Through coordination and leadership from the NAPSG Foundation, the DHS S&T First Responder Group and FEMA's National Integration Center put together a working group of public safety practitioners (representing fire service, EMS, law enforcement, and emergency management) with practical knowledge and field expertise in GIS and its application in operations. The focus of the group was to start with reviewing existing "standard" map symbols for tactical operations, and identify gaps as the basis for creating new common map symbols.
In the initial planning of the workgroup, some issues became fairly apparent:
- Incidents are complex and dynamic and very difficult to map
- Information about an incident can be collected before, during, or after an incident
- Even though most public safety agencies follow a standard (NIMS) in how the operate in an incident, the nuances of an incident are handled differently from one group to the next
With these and other issues in mind, planning for the working group started with the following:
- Assembling a small group of public safety practitioners from different parts of the country
- Preparing members of the working group ahead of time with “homework” so that when they came to an in-person meeting they would have a frame of reference for the discussion
- Researching past work completed - and identifying all existing standard symbols and lessons learned
The goals of the group from the outset included:
- Not re-inventing the wheel - but complimenting efforts already done
- Keeping in-mind that whatever we did had to be flexible and scalable. This is because every incident increases and decreases in size and is handled differently based on the agency in charge and resources available
- Considering all hazards possible for responders
- Considering the smallest incidents that use NIMS. Examples would be a structure fire, SWAT Incident, Search and rescue of one person, etc.
The Working Group
The group was assembled with the help of the NAPSG Foundation, consisting of people with two qualifications: practical hands on experience as an emergency responder and a practical knowledge of mapping/GIS. This group consisted of representation from the FDNY, Baltimore Fire Department, Colorado Springs Fire Department, Surrey (BC) Fire Department, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Seattle Fire Department, Florida State DEM, San Diego State University, Laurel (MD) Police Department, Redmond (OR) Fire Department, and the Kirkland (WA) Fire Department. All members of the group had experience responding to emergency calls and had practical experience using mapping software to produce maps for emergency incidents. The leadership of the group included Lieutenant Chris Rogers as the technical lead and Rebecca Harned as Project Manager.
To get things started, the leads decided to develop a challenge for the workgroup based on a small incident that uses NIMS: a building fire. The tasks that needed to be completed were:
- Create a map that shows the following features
- Hazards on an incident
- Features that can help mitigate an incident
- Mapping of where command functions are located
- Present the map to the group
We conducted two conference calls before an in-person meeting in March 2011, in Seattle.
At the in-person we:
- Presented the maps that were completed the months before
- Discussed each map
- Looked for common features and differences
This was accomplished on day one. The next two days were a discussion of what worked and what didn’t work. What was clear from the discussion was:
- With a room full of public safety personnel, we looked at things differently
- We needed symbology that fits within the framework of individual departments, but is consistent/relevant to other responders
- Information is collected before, during, and after the incident
- Needs to be consistent with use in the National Incident Management System. For example the guidelines need to fit with the chain of command structure, the tasks possible in each branch, and the scalability of possibility that other functions may be created that previously haven’t been considered.
After much discussion, we decided that the following is needed:
- We need to set “guidelines” instead of “standards”
- We need symbols that can be hand drawn
- Symbology can’t require a lot of training to understand
- Symbology must be usable in routine business of a public safety agency
In short, we came up with different categories of symbols, including: pre-incident, hazard, and incident command symbols. Also we defined types of emergency maps. Key attributes of the symbols are:
- The shape of symbols is defined by the category
- What is in the shape of the symbols is dependent on the map output and use
- Can be hand drawn
Tactical vs. Strategic Maps
We discussed briefly the difference between "tactical" and '"strategic" mapping. These are standard NIMS terms. It is important to have separate products, because a map is a decision making tools and tactical/strategic decisions require different processes.
What is viewed on map
A single problem emergency
Building fire, active shooter, kidnapping, single wildfire, search for single victim
A multiple problem emergency
Earthquake, Tsunami, Multiple wildland fires, urban conflagrations, civil disturbances
The DHS Symbology
Tactical Map Sample
Strategic Map Sample
Incident Symbols Example
Symbols or features collected at the scene include:
- Collected at Incident
- Clear Background so that you aren’t filling in symbology
Example of a legend with incident symbology:
- Collected before incident
- NFPA 170
- Colored Background
- May use graphic or simple text
Preplan Symbols Example:
We made a lot of headway in our workgroup. But we have a long way to go. First of all, consensus needs to be built with stakeholders like
We also need to test the work we did with a small scale incident drill. The intent was to find an existing multi-company drill and provide a no more than ½ hour training session on the symbology set. In addition, we would provide maps in both paper and computer format in various scales. Then evaluate the process.
Also one of the recognitions of the workgroup is that maps provided essentially two types of information for responders;
- How to access a feature or incident
- Identify hazards to either mitigate or avoid.
Part of our continued effort was to test ways to identify hazards on a map and evaluate whether we need to use a “risk assessment” approach or a “hazard identification” approach to identification.
FEMA Online Training Program Regarding GIS for Emergency Management
FEMA has recently posted an online training program regarding GIS for Emergency Management. The course can be accessed at the link below. It's an interesting and rather comprehensive 3 hour training program. We encourage practitioners from all disciplines to take this course, as there really is something in it for all perspectives.
Once you've completed the program, the second link below is an exam. NAPSG is not offering credits for this, but taking an exam certainly is worthwhile.
PLEASE NOTE: We have not coordinated with FEMA on posting this program, and we do not know for how long the program will be available online. We encourage you to check this out sooner than later.
USNG for Pre-Incident Planning & Mission Tasking
Author: Rand Napoli, Vice-Chairman, NAPSG Foundation Board of Directors
Using the US National Grid for Pre-Incident Planning and Response Mission Tasking
The United States National Grid
is often thought of as only a point reference system. However, its versatility as an area reference system
makes it a very efficient and effective tool for conducting resource and hazard planning for specific areas prior to an incident as well as mission tasking during and after an incident has occurred.
Recent catastrophic planning projects and other efforts around the country have demonstrated the need for more detailed pre-event planning to determine potential resource needs. In planning for regional, large-scale, or catastrophic incidents whose impacts cover widespread areas, the ability to script potential missions and determine resource needs/allocations pre-event is critical. This required resource planning process examines a host of available data such as population demographics, hazards, and infrastructure in the context of potential consequences, and determines likely resource needs for specific operational areas, independent of political jurisdictional boundaries.
The operational area to be pre-scripted should be readily identifiable by local responders, and as importantly be easily identifiable by mutual aid resources that would be asked to respond from other areas of the impacted state, resources requested from other states through EMAC, and by responding federal resources. The USNG meets this requirement.
The United States National Grid is the geographic grid reference system that has been identified by the National SAR Committee as the primary catastrophic incident search and rescue geo-referencing system that must be used by federal land SAR responders. Other non-federal responders across local and state jurisdictions are in the process of adopting the USNG as well. Importantly, the US military is our largest force multiplier and also uses a grid which is functionally the same as the USNG, known as the Military Grid Reference System. Though the USNG is well known in the SAR community as a point reference system it is now being used for many purposes unrelated to SAR, particularly because of its strength as an area reference system.
The challenge has been to develop uniform procedures and techniques that can be used to pre-script missions for specific operational areas across all levels of response (strategic, regional, & tactical) for use by the leadership of various response disciplines (fire, SAR, Haz-Mat, EM, emergency medical, law enforcement, mass care, etc.) to determine resource needs using sound science.
Specific and scalable operational areas can be identified using the United States National Grid. Operational areas can be classified into three basic categories – tactical, regional & strategic. Tactical areas of operation can typically be designated by one or more 1,000 meter (~.62 mile) grid squares and provides detailed information for direct tactical operations. Regional operational areas can be generally designated by 10,000 meter (~6.2 miles) grid squares and at the more strategic level 100,000 meter (~62 miles) grid squares can be utilized to provide a view more typically used by operatives at the state emergency operations center.
Pre-scripted mission analysis can be accomplished for any level of operational areas as delineated above. Once the grid size and target operational area is selected potential missions and required resources can be identified pre-event by combining the USNG with a suite of available data sets to include, but not limited to, demographic data, infrastructure data, known hazards and property type (residential/commercial/agriculture). Combining the USNG with data sets and modeling tools such as HAZUS, ALOHA, Floodwav , CATS, other modeling programs or GIS analysis results in understanding consequences and needs in an actionable data way for a specific operational area designated by USNG grid squares for all types of natural or man-made events.
When the potential consequences and associated requirements are calculated as described above, subject matter experts can then determine resource needs to mitigate or respond to these impacts. Resource needs can then be compared to available resources, identifying resource shortfalls that may exist.
An additional benefit is that consequences (and the resource needs) of an event can be updated from the original scenario-based planning or pre-event forecast projections in real time by using actual damage reports that are being received as the event progresses and/or by using post event damage assessments.
As an outcome, decision makers at every level will have knowledge of the potential consequences of an event in a geographic area that is easily identifiable, and will also have visibility on needed resources for that event in that specific area. This will provide those decision makers with quantifiable data to plan for resource procurement and allocation pre-event, while the event is unfolding and also post-event using actual damage assessment data.
As a simple example, consider any area of the country - a coastal area on the east or gulf coasts, an area in the New Madrid seismic zone, west coast areas subject to potential earthquake or tsunami activity or an area in tornado alley. When planning for a major event, simply identify a USNG grid square of the sizes mentioned above and begin by laying readily available data sets over that identified area. Parcel data from tax collectors or property appraisers would identify the types and sizes of structures that might be encountered, and identifying high rise or multifamily structures will support mission planning for search and rescue, LE and other activities. Census (and other local) data would identify the demographics to assist planning for various age groups (do we need to ship pampers or adult diapers into the impacted area as an example), or are there a large number of potential survivors who do not speak English as a first language. Data sets from any of the modeling programs mentioned above could identify potential flood or surge areas, which might lead us to plan for the use of high-wheeled vehicles and /or marine response assets.
You get the idea, and I am certain that you could identify many other data sets that would be useful, such as transportation infrastructure, medical facilities, hazards, etc. A very important added bonus to using the USNG for planning and response is that responders do not need to have any previous knowledge of the identified area. Those arriving (or even enroute) can be tasked with a particular grid square(s) and with the data above can plan and execute a mission while being completely unfamiliar with the area assigned.
Experience has shown us that there is a critical need for pre-event planning to determine resource needs for various types of events. Identifying these needed resources allows us to determine potential resource shortfalls. Using a common area reference system to identify these areas allows decision makers, command personnel and responders to focus on the same area during the planning process and then during the response to an actual event. Using a common reference system such as the USNG allows responders from other jurisdictions and/or other states to have knowledge of the demographic, infrastructure and damage assessment data of their assigned response area prior to arriving in the area of operations. This enhances their ability, and the ability of decision makers at all levels to plan and execute an efficient response mission.
Thanks for taking time to read this lengthy post, and we welcome your comments.
NAPSG Board Issues Resolution on the Public Safety Broadband Network
At its Winter 2011 Board meeting, the NAPSG Foundation Board of Directors decided it was important to add its voice in support of the Public Safety Broadband Network -- in particular articulating how such a network could have a dramatic impact on improving access to life-saving geospatial information. The vote occurred one day after NAPSG hosted an event at the Woodrow Wilson Center regarding how technology advances would be impacted by the creation of a Public Safety Broadband Network.
Provided below is a copy of the official resolution.
Legal Perspective - Liability for Crowdsourced Disaster Response Groups
Preface - This blog article was contributed by Edward Robson as a follow-on from the Panel Discussion on "Liability & Reliability of Crowdsourced & Volunteered Information for Disaster Management" held August 30, 2011, co-hosted by the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars's Science & Technology Innovation Program. A summary & recal from this event is provided at - http://www.napsgfoundation.org/blog/news/116-cspan
Volunteer and technical communities organize to create and build tools that collect, search and organize data coming from crisis areas. These crowdsourcing groups have effectively responded to a variety of disasters, including the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes, the Japanese tsunami and the gulf oil spill.
At the same time, these groups raise liability questions that courts have yet to address. Volunteer and technical communicates should take proactive steps to reduce this liability. If not properly managed, tort liability has the potential to destroy the model before it realizes its potential.
The law does not require a person to rescue another, even if the person can do so safely. Uncomfortable with this general rule, courts have narrowed it with several exceptions. A duty to rescue arises when: 1) a person undertakes rescue; 2) where a person’s conduct puts another in danger; and 3) when a special relationship exists between the rescuer and the victim.
Thus, a crowdsourced response group will not be held liable for failing to aid a disaster victim unless it falls into one of these three exceptions. Although no court appears to have addressed the issue, crowdsourced response groups could potentially fit into one or more of the above exceptions where a duty and the corresponding potential for liability exists.
First, a volunteer group that undertakes rescue opens itself to liability. In the context of crowdsourced disaster response, it is unclear what it means to undertake rescue. Courts reason that when someone undertakes rescue, it decreases the chance others will do the same. Thus, the person attempting rescue must act reasonably to ensure the victim is not worse off. One example would be a crowdsourced response group receiving a call for assistance via social-media and telling the victim help is on the way. If the group fails to send help, it or its members may face liability.
Second, a duty to rescue arises when a person puts another in danger. Courts reason that one who creates danger should attempt to mitigate harm. In the context of crowdsourced disaster response, duty and corresponding liability may arise if the group misled people resulting in injury. For example, a crowdsourced group broadcasting information to a disaster site that results in a stampede could create liability. Moreover, a group that provides incorrect or outdated information regarding the location of a victim that results in responder injury may also give rise to liability.
Third, a duty to rescue exists when there is a special relationship between parties. These relationships can include common carrier-passenger, hotel operator-guest, business-customer, parent-child, and teacher-student. More recently, courts have recognized special relationships in a variety of contexts, emphasizing the dependence of one party on the other. In crowdsourced disaster response, a special relationship potentially arises between the crowdsourced group and anyone relying on the information, such as aid workers or victims.
Although crowdsourced disaster response groups are a recent phenomenon, it is not too early to take proactive steps to reduce liability. First, volunteer and technology communities should not undertake rescue by sending volunteers to provide emergency services or directing the delivery of aid. Second, these groups should not communicate with victims but should assume the role of the passive observer, collecting, organizing and making information available. Third, groups should discourage reliance on information they disseminate with the use of disclaimers and other notices indicating that any information should not be relied upon for life safety purposes.
Crowdsourced groups have the potential to be a valuable resource in quickly getting help to where it is needed most. By proactively addressing liability issues, these groups can help ensure that their model will be viable for years to come.
This article is published for informational purposes only and is not a description of the law in any state. It should not be construed as providing legal advice on any particular matter.
Edward S. Robson is the managing member of Robson & Robson LLC, a law firm located outside of Philadelphia. Mr. Robson has represented emergency service organizations in a variety of matters, including First Amendment issues, civil rights, employment, contract negotiations, internal governance, personnel policies, SOP's and equipment purchases.
He has volunteered as an emergency medical technician since 2003 and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of a large suburban fire company. Mr. Robson graduated with honors from both Villanova University and Villanova University School of Law and is a member of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bars.
Edward S. Robson, Esquire
Robson & Robson, LLC
920 Matsonford Road, Suite 103
Conshohocken, PA 19428
Erobson[at] robsonlaw [dot] com
USNG to Enhance Situational Awareness
About the Author - Carla Boyce, PMP - Carla is currently the Manager of the Response Division at IEM where she oversese movement coordination and deployment of surge teams in support of state/federal disaster operations in accordance with ICS, NIMs and other applicable best practices; coordinate and provide subject matter expertise to State/Regional/Federal disaster planning initiatives, as well as other duties. Prior to joining IEM she was the Branch Chief of Preparedness at the Florida Division of Emergency Management. She has also served in the positions of Plans Chief and GIS Administrator for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
In planning for regional, large-scale, or catastrophic incidents, whose impacts likely cover several counties or states, a uniform point & area reference system for defining operational areas will enhance critical situational awareness. To paraphrase from the Army Field Manual, the US Army defines situational awareness as knowledge and understanding of the current situation which promotes timely, relevant and accurate assessment of operations within the impacted areas in order to facilitate decision making. It is an informational perspective and skill that fosters an ability to determine quickly the context and relevance of events that are unfolding. It is easy to see that the importance of a geographic reference system to assist in maintaining situational awareness cannot be overstated when an event stretches across all levels of governmental boundaries, and across responding disciplines with the specific needs of each.
Situational awareness for responders, emergency operations staff, and senior decision & policy makers has always been challenging. A well integrated operational picture is especially difficult in events that result in wide area impacts causing intelligence to come from multiple directions simultaneously. Distilling a steady stream of data into actionable information across various operational areas is essential to affective disaster operations.
Though every large-scale or catastrophic incident after action report dating back to Hurricane Andrew calls for a common reference system; the need for a common and geographic based reference system was made clear again during the exceptionally busy Hurricane Seasons of 2004 & 2005. The State of Florida became intimately familiar with this need during response operations that stretched across all areas of the state over a six (6) week period. Multiple operational areas crossing all levels of government often resulted in confusion as personnel and resources were moved from one side of the state to the other in rapid succession. Additionally, the need became apparent for a geographically based system that could be used by responders to indicate to command staff at various levels when specific missions were underway or completed in a particular area. Traditional municipal or county/parish borders proved unworkable since the impacts of an event do not adhere to governmental boundaries, and as has been demonstrated in every major event since Hurricane Andrew, traditional methods of describing location (street address, landmarks, etc are often destroyed or so dramatically impacted that they’re unrecognizable even to local responders.
The United States National Grid (USNG) is the geographic grid reference system identified by the National SAR Committee as the primary catastrophic incident search and rescue geo-referencing system that must be used by federal land SAR responders. Additionally, the USNG has been designated as the primary reference grid for interfacing between land and air based SAR operations. Other non-federal responders across local and state jurisdictions have been in the process of adopting the Grid as well. It is important to note that US military assets, one of the largest force multipliers in disaster response operations, uses a grid system which is functionally the same as the USNG, known as the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS). Land based DoD responders are therefore able to share location based information and readily interpret areas of operation defined using the Grid immediately upon joining disaster operations. Additionally, situational awareness can be shared across multiple levels of government not to mention between civilian and military command staff.