Archive for June, 2009
My friend Ajay has prompted me to create this post, and I’ll try to add to it over time as more cameras with inbuilt GPS. Why is inbuilt GPS important? Well it takes all the hassle out of geotagging photos. As you may have read in some of my previous posts, geotagged images are really useful for Emergency Management.
Whilst there are plenty of solutions available, I’m not going to provide the post-processing options here. I only want to record those that embed the co-ordinates at the time of taking the photo. No products that require post-processing are included.
Digital SLRs inbuilt GPS
- None yet, but maybe this year, there are rumours the Canon 60D may have inbuilt GPS.
Digital SLRs with Accessory
- Nikon D5000, D90, D300, D700, D3,D3X – requires Nikon GP-1 accessory or a di-GPS
- Canon EOS 40D, EOS 50D, EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 1D Mark III, EOS 1Ds Mark III – requires Canon Wireless File Transmitter accessory (model is dependent on camera body). More info on Canon GPS, and manual page. It additionally requires a third party GPS as well that can provide position using the NMEA protocol.
Point and Shoots
- Nikon Coolpix P6000
- Ricoh 500SE
- Leica V-Lux 20 – as well as having inbuilt GPS, it also appears to have an inbuilt database of 500k points-of-interest that can be used to show nearby sightseeing opportunities (added: 2010-04-22)
- Sony DSC-HX5V Digital Camera
GPS Receivers with Camera
Mobile Phones with GPS
- Apple iPhone 3G, 3G S
- Nokia – a number of models that I’ll list in due course
Survey Quality solutions
Frankly, Nikon appear to have to produce a far smaller and lighter GPS solution for their cameras. Canon requires not only a bulky grip, but still requires a GPS to be added as well. The Nikon GP-1 or di-GPS look to be far more appropriate for field work for emergency management. Additionally, the Nikon solution can be used in conjunction with a battery grip, which allows additional batteries into camera (two, instead of the usual one). The Canon grip increases the bulk of the camera, but the camera itself cannot use a battery grip to extend the battery life in the field. Of course additional batteries can still be carried and swapped – although to replace the camera battery, the WFT must be removed. Finally, the WFT3/4 also require their own battery to operate.
As a Canon user, I am most disappointed with their solution to geotagging-at-shutter-click, and the Nikon approach appears far superier as it adds very little bulk to the camera, and doesn’t get in the way of using a battery grip to double the life of the camera without changing batteries.
Decisions on procurement can determine how government delivers its functions and services. The government’s procurement reform agenda will drive cost savings, releasing fiscal savings to be used in other priority areas.
Substantial cost savings will be delivered with the establishment of Centres of Expertise within lead agencies to negotiate all-of-government contracts in common-spend areas.
One area that needs significant improvement is the documentation associated with tendering. Many Government tenders require a fair amount of associated information, such as demonstration of previous projects, and profiles of individuals. This has to be replicated in some form for each and every tender. It would be very useful if part of this reform process involved the creation of a website where businesses were able to load both business and personnel profiles and instead of having to include these with each and every tender. In fact, if they were quite smart about lowering business red tape associated with Government tenders, Government would actually create a website through which the whole tender process is managed.
It should allow:
- Businesses to register their profiles, capabilities, personnel and past project experience
- Agencies should be able to post comment on past projects
- Agencies should be able to create a template for a tender that all businesses use as the basis for building up their submission
- Businesses then create their draft and make the submission electronically – no more posting/couriering of three paper copies!
- Agencies would review each tender and privately comment on and rate through the same website
I received an interesting attack on my professional credibility recently. I want to recount and discuss this here in broad terms, because it is part of a bigger issue that emergency managers sometimes have to deal with. In short, my ability to provide advice was questioned because I have never been involved in operational response for a disaster.
This of course, didn’t really bother me. As an emergency manager, I know that this is a good thing, after all, why would we want to have more disasters just so that people can gain more experience. Often times, experience with disasters comes down to who is unlucky enough to be there, or to be close enough to help out.
Historically, many emergency managers have come from a variety of different paths into their existing roles. A large number have come from operational roles in emergency services (police, fire, ambulance) or the military. More have come from other related roles such as natural hazards analysis at councils, or researchers into natural hazards. A number of us also come up through the volunteer ranks – we start as rescue volunteers, take a more serious interest, and turn it into a profession.
The thing is, none of these roles come with a guarantee of having previous experience in managing a disaster. The military and emergency services certainly have a fair amount of operational experience and training. Rescue volunteers have a fair amount of training. Hazards analysts and risk managers have the educational background.
This is where the Certified Emergency Manager program from the International Association of Emergency Managers comes into play. It is designed to try and create a common certification process designed around creating a common set of requirements. These requirements are designed to try and support all the different careers paths that bring people into emergency management. These requirements include:
- Training – in both emergency management and general management
- Management Essay – to demonstrate knowledge, skills and abilities
- Multi-choice Examination
- Experience – across all phases of emergency management
- Contributions to the Profession
To achieve the CEM, one has to put together a sizeable package to document these requirements, and these are then reviewed by your peers to determine if you should be certified.
Whilst I’m fairly comfortable with what I have done in emergency management over the past 12 years, I haven’t got much to be able to hold up and say, I’m experienced. As a consultant, it is potentially even more difficult as we tend not to work within an operational agency – you typically need to work within the public sector, or an NGO to get those opportunities.
This recent personal attack has been enough to spur me into action to start building my application pack and applying for my CEM. Then at least I’ll be able to demonstrate that I’ve manage to document my experience to my peers, and they agree that my experience meets the requirements laid down in the CEM Program.
I see the hoary old problem of Civil Defence and volunteerism has raised its head again.
There was discussion at the meeting about the very nature of civil defence - and the fact that a lot of people find it a dry, rather boring, topic. It was agreed that the City Council should make more effort to make civil defence more sexy.
While some might find that amusing, or feel we are trivialising civil defence by saying such a thing, there’s a deadly-serious intent behind trying to make civil defence more sexy - to get far more people involved as volunteers and far more families aware of the need to be prepared for a major earthquake or some other large-scale emergency.
I did my first Civil Defence volunteer training sometime mid-1997. Initially I figured it would be a good way to learn some potentially useful life skills – namely about getting up to speed with what happens before, during, and after an emergency or disaster. I started off in rescue – so picked up some good basic training in first aid and light rescue. I was a member of a number of volunteer teams.
It was from here that I became more interested in some of the challenges that a disaster environment presents and decided to do some study in this area and make it a profession.
Anyway, the point I want to make is that retention of volunteers in CD is a challenging problem, and it probably won’t be solved just by trying to ‘make CD sexy’.
One of the biggest problems our volunteer teams faced was actually being utilised. Whilst there was plenty of training available, and we’d have two or three exercises a year – we rarely got the chance to use our skills in anger. Of course, if you think about this, it is a good thing that Civil Defence volunteers are not used that often!
But from a personal and team perspective, it is extremely difficult to maintain interest in volunteering without having some actual experience. Whilst CD volunteers often have a load of enthusiasm and interest, over time, as we are not used, that wanes, and people eventually drop out of CD due to a lack of use.
Unfortunately, making something ‘sexy’ won’t help retention, it will only make attracting new volunteers easier. Any effort to build a sustainable CD volunteer network needs to build on long-term retention, and making sure that volunteers get experiences that makes them stay.
Unfortunately, most experiences that are likely to retain volunteers are either expensive (one of my more memorable training experiences was with the military Iroquois practising rescue hoisting and flying around Wigram) or infrequent (responding to actual events as they happen so infrequently, and even when they do happen, volunteers can often be overlooked).
Given that we can’t control when actual events occur, and plan it into training schedules, these are not really a viable option. In the current economic climate, expensive options are certainly out.
In my mind, this leaves a couple of likely options.
- Life skills. One approach may be to design CD training so that where possible skills can be applied not only in CD, but also in normal life. This was one of the reasons I started in CD as I thought first aid and rescue were good general life skills to have.
- Finding more creative means of getting interesting opportunities to maintain volunteers interest in Civil Defence.
Civil Defence won’t maintain volunteers unless opportunities are created for them to continually grow, and gain new experiences. Unfortunately, that comes at a price to ratepayers, and the tricky part will be balancing in at a time when CD budgets seem to be getting trimmed. No small challenge indeed!
This is the original text I submitted to The Box feature on Disaster Tech on Tuesday the 2nd of June, 2009. It is archived here for my records. It also includes some additional content that didn’t make it to the print edition.
On December 26, 2004, the Boxing Day tsunami killed over 35 thousand people and displaced over half a million people in Sri Lanka alone. A massive humanitarian crisis played out in numerous other countries also affected by the magnitude 9+ Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and resulting tsunami. Within days it became apparent that an information system was needed to manage the massive amounts of information being generated about who was doing what, and where – at one point there were approximately 1,100 registered NGO’s operating in Sri Lanka.
It was decided by a group of Sri Lankan IT professionals that a system needed to be built to better manage the information as they couldn’t find any existing free solutions that could be quickly deployed. Free, was critical, as they couldn’t afford any commercial solutions.
Sahana was implemented within a week by around four hundred IT volunteers, and it was named after the Sinhalese word for relief. Initially it provided tools for tracking missing persons, organisations involved in response, locations and details of camps set up in response to the tsunami, and a means of accepting requests for resources such as food, water and medicine.
Following the tsunami, the Swedish International Development Agency provided funding to take the lessons learnt from writing and deploying software during a disaster, and to rebuild Sahana from the ground up, and release it as free and open source software to the world. After all, Sri Lanka had needed an open and available system to manage disaster information, surely other countries should benefit from their experience?
Since 2005, Sahana has been officially deployed to earthquakes in Pakistan, Indonesia, China and Peru; a mudslide in the Philippines; and has been deployed in New York City as a preparedness measure to help manage storm evacuations.
Being free and open source software has been critical to Sahana’s success. The more accessible a system is, the more likely it is to be adopted, used and improved. Even in developed countries, many disaster agencies are poorly funded and often cannot justify significant expenditure on systems – commercial systems are too expensive. With pressure being applied to many public budgets, the significance of this is even greater now. Perhaps the greatest benefit of applying open source approaches is that it encourages a collaborative and communal approach to improving the system. As more countries with experience in disaster management contribute to its development, this will also act as a form of expertise transfer to countries that may not have as much experience with disasters.
Following Hurricane Katrina, there were nearly 50 websites created to track missing and displaced persons – all using different systems, all collecting duplicate information, and few of them sharing. Many of the potential benefits of the technology were lost due to a lack of co-ordination and massive replication of data. Access to tools such as Sahana will be more efficient as they can be deployed faster than solutions developed after an event occurs.
Normally, management involves a ‘leisurely’ process to collect as much information as possible, to then decide what actions should be taken. This is completely the opposite immediately following a disaster whereby decisions have to be made, sometimes with little or no information and no time to gather it.
A key benefit that IT can provide is in linking silos of information held by different organisations – everyone has a better shared picture of what has happened, what is occurring now, and what is planned.
Software, however, is just one aspect. There is a need for open data (such as maps and statistics) and standards to ensure that the multitude of systems can connect to each other and share information.
The most important aspect is having the relationships between organisations set up in advance of a disaster. This results in organisations having the confidence to connect their systems and share information. Without shared information the rest of the system will lose many potential benefits that IT can bring to disaster management.
Often, little or no information is available to support decision-making – emergency managers are forced to make complex decisions without having the luxury of all the required information.
A disaster can produce a massive number of tasks requiring hundreds of organisations and thousands of people to co-ordinate activity – meaning that there will always be some prioritisation needed. What should be done first? What can wait until later? How should an impacted community prioritise response and recovery with limited resources?
The benefits are not just limited to agencies and NGO’s. The next evolutionary step will be to adopt an approach called ‘crowd sourcing’ whereby members of the community are provided with tools to interact with each other and emergency managers.
This may be achieved with applications that run on mobile phones linking people and even submitting information from the field directly to Sahana servers. Imagine the situation where a passerby can take a georeferenced photo of some disaster damage, and if communications networks are working, send that directly to the system emergency managers are using to manage the event. There are a numberof efforts underway looking at how social networks and websites such as Facebook and Twitter can be utilised during a disaster.
Disaster IT is really a force multiplier. It won’t usually save lives, but it will allow a better shared understanding of the problems, and will lead to more effective and co-ordinated response. It allows those responding to an event, whether an organisation or individual, to quickly access information and better inform decision-making. This can lead to less suffering and a quicker recovery for affected communities.
Design for Disaster
Computer systems can often be fragile by their design – they are especially reliant upon power and communications. If any of these are lost during a disaster, the value of a system can quickly be lost if it has not been designed to operate in adverse environments. Here are some design decisions that are very important for disaster applications:
- Low bandwidth – we’ve all become accustomed to sucking bandwidth through massive broadband pipes, but during a disaster network connectivity for emergency managers may be limited to dialup speeds over satellite or digital radio connections. Disaster software needs to be designed for very efficient transfer of information, and should never assume vast quantities of bandwidth are available. At at extreme, some information may even be transferred by SMS or USB memory stick.
- Intermittent connectivity – during a disaster communications will likely fail multiple times before they are finally restored. This means that most ‘software as a service’ or web applications on the Internet will be of little use to emergency managers. Disaster software needs to be stored and run locally, and be able to work without a connection to the Internet.
- Synchronisation – one of the best techniques for designing around low bandwidth and intermittent connectivity, is to design a system to be able to synchronise information between two systems when communications are available. When communications later fail, both systems will have a copy of the same data, and can access it locally until communications are restored.
- Low power – power can, and will fail during a disaster, so disaster software needs to be designed to run on low power devices. Laptops and notebooks are good targets as they are self-contained, have built-in batteries, and can be charged from solar cells or generators. Large, power hungry servers can be difficult to move and support in a disaster environment.
How I became involved
One might ask how a Kiwi became involved in Sahana. Ever since training as a Civil Defence volunteer in the late 90′s, I had an interest in how information technology could be used to improve disaster management. The tsunami in 2004 acted as the catalyst for Sri Lankan computer programmers to produce Sahana. I have been volunteering with the project since 2005. In September 2005, he helped facilitate a workshop in Colombo that formed the basis for the current version of Sahana. In March this year he attended a Sahana conference and Board meeting in Sri Lanka. At the Board meeting the existing ‘owner’ of Sahana – the Lanka Software Foundation – agreed to hand the project over to the open source community. Gavin is a member of the transition Board that is in the process of forming an international non-profit foundation that can accept financial donations, and act as the ‘custodian’ of Sahana.
How you can help
There are numerous ways Sahana is looking for help. Once registered, we will be able to accept financial donations that will be used to fund development. In the meantime, we are looking for open source programmers with web development skills (including mapping). If you’re not a programmer, we are always looking for translators that can convert the english text and documentation into many different languages. Perhaps most importantly, we are looking for experienced emergency managers to help provide design advice to the Sahana community and guide the developers.
This is a brief product announcement I provided to The Box, it was published on Tuesday the 2nd of June, 2009. It is archived here for my records.
Garmin announced their latest high-end hand-held outdoors GPS unit recently, and the headline feature is the inclusion of a 3.2MP camera with built in geotagging. This means that any photos taken with the unit will be instantly plot-able on maps, and will be a convenient tool for people enjoying the great outdoors and travelling. Other nice upgrades to the flagship Oregon line include support for a 3d electronic compass for accurate bearings when standing still; increased storage for waypoints, tracks, routes; capacity for a massive 5000 paperless geocaches; and fast USB 2.0 transfer when connecting to a computer at last.