Archive for the ‘emergency management’ tag
I’m posting here my Masters in Emergency Management thesis proposal that I’m undertaking based upon my experiences responding to multiple earthquakes in Christchurch and their impact on the built environment. I don’t have a building or engineering background, but rather rescue, emergency management and IT.
I’ve created a new category here when all my thesis posts will be assigned to, in addition to any relevant emergency management and information technology categories.
Here is my proposal, that was accepted unchanged.
Information Management for Post-disaster Building Damage Assessment
Following the 4 September 2010 m7.1 earthquake in Canterbury, a post-disaster building damage assessment programme was implemented based upon the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Guidelines1. It was approximately 4.5 days before the first map of assessed buildings was able to be made available to better understand the extent of building damage, and to assist decision-makers. The February 22, 2011 earthquake presented entirely new information management issues for the built environment due to the shear number of buildings impacted, and the thirst for information from building owners, tenants, and the general public.
Two significantly different approaches were utilised for these events:
- September 2010 used a manually collated spreadsheet to capture RAPID 1 & 2 assessments.
- In February 2011, the assessments were entered directly into Christchurch City Council’s building information system.
Of concern, is that the building information was primarily managed from a local authority perspective, and that the method used for the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence may not be easily redeployed elsewhere as it was specific to Christchurch City Council’s information system. Nor does this allow the development of a national engineering resource that can be deployed, following an earthquake in Wellington for instance, that can operate on a standalone system should the local council experience IT continuity issues.
There are a wide range of stakeholders that have an interest in building information. These stakeholders include building oners, tenants, insurers, engineers and the public. There are key processes that need to be reflected in the design, including setting/changing building status (e.g. green/yellow/red), making the structure and surrounding area safe, and demolition/deconstruction. There is a large amount of media to be managed, including digital photos, notes, assessment forms and reports. Finally, it is essential that all decisions/actions/status changes are clearly tracked.
The goal of this research is not so much to critique the way that post-disaster building damage assessment information was managed following major earthquakes in the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, but rather to produce a general concept of how post-disaster building damage assessment information can be managed – not only in the New Zealand context, but also globally. Naturally this is to take an all-hazards approach and will not be limited solely to building damage from earthquakes, although the ongoing nature of the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence provides a somewhat unique example of an ongoing need for post-disaster information management for many years.
Consideration will be given to client devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, and sources of geotagged images), server, Application Programming Interface (for connectivity between systems), and standards (for data interoperability).
- Literature review of Post-disaster Building Damage Assessment methodologies, including more general Disaster Impact Assessment.
- Review Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission2 reports and interviews to identify examples and problems that may be associated with poor post-disaster information management.
- Discussion of various deployment, platform, and ownership options and the impacts these may have on how the system is used, or able to be shared as a tool for disaster response globally.
- Develop a conceptual design of how an information system may be used to manage post-disaster building damage assessment information including clients, server, API and standards.
- Possibly prototype elements of this design using the free and open source Sahana Eden3 software – emphasis likely to be on the server component.
Just wanted to raise an EM issue that I’m not sure has been mentioned here yet (at least in a little scroll back through recent posts). This is of relevance to emergency management agencies that are using Pages as a means of getting EM messages out to the public. Unlike other social networking services such as Twitter and Google+, Facebook is limiting the default reach of Pages to around 12-16% of your audience. You then have to pay additional money to reach a greater number of your audience. This means that if you have 700 people following your page, a post may only be seen by 100 people, and you’ll only get more views by paying more money.
If you manage an official EM Facebook presence, I’d be very interested in hearing some numbers from recent posts on your page. Look at a post that has been posted around 24-72 hours ago, and see how many people have seen it, and compare this to the total number of people that have ‘Liked’ your page. This number may increase a little now with the newly introduced ‘Pages feed’, however if indeed this level of limiting is happening on Facebook, then as emergency managers, greater emphasis may need to be placed on other social networks to ensure that EM messages are widely distributed, and don’t fall foul of Facebook’s filter bubble1.
Around the 13th of March, I started posting ideas on Facebook of what I’d like to see in the recovery in Christchurch. One of my posts was the following:
New Chch: Oh, and of course a world leading research centre for natural hazards, earthquake engineering and construction, resilient organisations and communities, risk management, business continuity, crisis management, emergency management and all forms of technology to support this. We have a fair amount of this here already, but let’s tightly integrate it into a more integrated cross-platform centre.
Justin Lewis then went on to suggest in my comments that we have a purpose built Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) and Rescue Operations Centre, as well as an Urban Search and Rescue training ground (I’ve been to VA-TF1′s training centre and equipment store in Virginia, US, back in 2002 and it was fantastic). I also added in the comments that the EOC should also be able to operate as an alternative or supporting National Crisis Management Centre – in particularly for when Wellington has their large earthquake. Jon Mitchell, the Regional CDEM Manager has also been promoting similar views.
Of course, the artificial limit of 420 charaters on Facebook points some real constraints on what you can say, so my plan was always to take the time to flesh it out in more detail when time allowed. Well, I’m now taking the time to do so.
Before the earthquakes of September 4, 2010, and February 22, 2011 – Christchurch was already well advanced when it comes to research into natural hazards, engineering, social science and emergency management – and this is one of the reasons why our response to February 22 has been generally highly regarded internationally. We also had a lot of capacity and capability in operational response – for a while we held the lion’s share of NZ Response Teams, as well as being hosts to one of the three Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces (NZ USAR TF2).
To give you a little background, here are some of the ‘centres’ and organisations that have been in place in Christchurch over the years.
- The Emergency Management Training Centre – this was originally the training arm of the Canterbury Regional Council, but has progressed into its own NZQA Private Training Establishment.
- The New Zealand Centre for Advanced Engineering – an engineering and technology think-tank that has done a lot of work around natural hazards, including Engineering Lifelines, Reviews, Natural Hazard Risk Management and Communication, and Public Alerting.
- The Natural Hazards Research Centre based at the University of Canterbury – research programmes related to studies of active tectonics and earthquakes, landscape evolution modelling, land-use planning, urban vulnerability to volcanic eruptions and health risks from eruptions.
- Earthquake Engineering at the University of Canterbury College of Engineering
- Resilient Organisations – represents a synthesis of engineering disciplines and business leadership aimed at transforming NZ organisations into those that both survive major events and thrive in the aftermath.
- NZ Registered USAR Response Teams – we also have 5 of New Zealand’s 18 Registered Response Teams.
- NZ USAR Search Dog Association – of which 9 of the 11 dogs and handlers are located in Christchurch and associated with USAR TF2 (the other two are based in Auckland).
So, Christchurch and Canterbury already have a significant in-region capability across many disciplines – including operational, strategic, policy and research.
We now have the potential to build a world class centre for emergency management and related disciplines that could bring many of these disparate activities together onto a single campus. What a shining light this could be as part of long term recovery from the earthquakes, than to build a nationally and internationally recognised centre.
What would be some of the key capabilities it should have:
- Concentrated – all the facilities should be on a single physical campus to ensure close proximity and collaboration, and integrated under a single administrative structure (if possible).
- EOC – a world class Emergency Operations Centre that supports not only local and regional response, but also can act as an alternate National EOC. This facility would also be a dedicated routine facility for emergency management for Christchurch and Canterbury.
- Internationally-recognised Training Centre – there should be an operationally-focused training centre as part of the facility, that integrates not only the EMTC, but also includes full facilities to undertake not only Urban Search and Rescue, but other specialist search disciplines such as Heights/Ropes and Search Dogs. Again, there are elements of this dotted around Christchurch, such as at the Woolston Fire Station where USAR TF2 is based, but again, this should be completely integrated into this campus, and the training facilities again need to be world class. The facility needs to be capable of supporting training and exercises up to, and including, the extremely challenging 72 hour USAR exercises for Category 2 USAR technicians and engineers.
- Strategy and Policy – thinking about the big pictures issues such as humanities increasing vulnerability to risk, and the strategic and policy decisions required, that have to be managed in terms far longer that three-year political spells.
- Integrated research – currently a lot of the research programmes are not fully integrated and the researchers work out of many different departments. This could be turned on its head and the new programme could ensure that all related disciplines are working in close proximity to not only each other, but also the practitioners.
- New disciplines – such a centre should also look at expanding research and operations into new areas that have not yet been included, and leveraging on Kiwi inginuity and design excellence. Kiwi’s could being a lot to the table in terms of development of technology and IT for risk and emergency management, an area I feel that Kiwi’s are not yet pulling their weight.
- International links – any such centre must not operate in isolation, and there are many relevant forms of partnerships that could be made, including the likes of the Emergency Management Division of the Justice Institute of British Colombia, FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, and platforms such as the United Nations Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and Integrated Research on Disaster Risk.
We’ve been handed some lemons – let’s make some lemonade and turn Christchurch into a world class centre for emergency management and related disciplines!
I received a handout of this from our friend and neighbouring psychologist at work, and thought I’d type it up and make it available online. This comes from the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists – the actual pdf and other resources are available here.
Routines – ‘Familiarity is comforting’
Keep up normal activities
Treasure familiar things
Stay connected – ‘We need each other’
Stay in touch with family and friends
Take moments to give others your full attention
Listen and answer children’s questions simply
Be brave for each other
Ask for and accept help
Save your energy – ’Keep it for important things’
Lower expectations of yourself and others
Take breaks and lighten your workloads
Be tolerant of yourself and others
Lots of things can wait
Children may act younger – that’s ok for a while
Lifestyle – ‘Balance is healthy’
Stay active e.g. go for a walk
Relax – take a break
Try to get enough sleep
Try to eat well
Do something nice for yourself
Safety – ‘Protect yourself in every way’
Limit exposure to earthquake news e.g. TV
You are not helpless – remember the things you do well
Take care of your spiritual and emotional health
It is ok to be emotional
For extra support contact your GP, or phone 0800 777 846, or go to http://www.canterburyearthquake.org.nz/.
Over the years I’ve had a few ideas how we could improve the gathering of intelligence for an emergency, and how this could be linked into both situation reporting and as an action tracking tool for operations and other general management tasks.
Most of this thought has been directed at how to implement it in a Sahana product, but it could conceivably be applied to any product for emergency management, or even broader business/organisation management. Aspects of this solution already exist across both Ushahidi and Sahana – but neither provide the comprehensive solution yet.
This need was also something that I saw during my involvement in Building Safety Evaluation during the Canterbury Earthquake in 2010. It is also potentially a far more robust means of managing the collection of intelligence associated with an emergency.
I’ll talk about this using a modular approach – making the assumption that different groups of users will have different types of access, to ensure the protection of submitted information (see here for a reason why).
Capturing the Information
The first module would be the Intelligence Gathering module. It is where information from other sources is collected from other sources.
In the CrisisCommons context, this might allow an anonymous volunteer to submit cut-and-paste text from a news article on a website or from a situation report. For the purpose of this concept, I’m going to ignore the copyright issue – but do want to flag that this may be an issue with the collection of information from the media where a lot of information is copyright.
For Building Safety Evaluation, this may be the unstructured reports that we received that ‘the wall on this building looks like it is about to fall on a neighbouring building’.
So this module basically allows for the entry and recording of what is mostly unstructured information – it may be from a website, a phone call, SMS, even a scribbled piece of paper that someone passes you in the EOC.
Such a system could be easily configured to allow members of the public, or crowdsourcing volunteers to enter such information without having to register or have an account – thereby keeping the barrier to collecting raw information low.
Adding Structure and Metadata
Having this information in digital form is just the start however, the next step is to get a team of trusted individuals to then review the submitted information and critique it for quality, actionability, and credibility. At they same time they would ideally try and add other metadata to the record.
Does it currently contain a freeform address? Then the reviewer would then associate an address with the record, and this would properly structure the address information. If a geocoder is available then latitude and longitude records would also be entered.
We had some issues in Christchurch whereby some addresses that were reported are not official addresses recognised by the council property system – this usually happens with ‘vanity’ address. Our Kestrel office in Kestrel has a common/vanity address of 35 Riccarton Road, but for council and utility purposes, our building is actually 39 Riccarton Road. I spent a bit of time in September, and again following the Boxing Day aftershock checking some of the incoming addresses that were provided, and then record a Council GIS identifier once we had correctly identified the address. Again, this would be another means of tagging the raw data with something that adds valuable metadata to incoming information.
Does it have a phone number? Associate a structured phone number.
What does the record refer to? Add tags from a controlled taxonomy so that the record can be filtered – e.g. if the record refers to building damage, it may be tagged with ‘building evaluation’. If it is a report of a missing person, it should be tagged with ‘missing person’.
This is perhaps the most time-consuming part, but it is also most required, as it opens up a lot more potential for actually managing and sharing the information.
Wrapping it all in Management Tools and Reporting
Now we can finally get down to the crux of what we’re trying to achieve – take raw unstructured information and provide it in a form that information systems can understand it, present it, and search it in far more valuable ways.
If we assume that all incoming information about building safety is tagged with ‘building evaluation’ then we can provide a web page that allows someone in the building safety evaluation team to review all the incoming reports that are relevant to them.
At this point we go the final step, as we start allowing people in these focused teams to start associating actions and history to the original record. You may have a small team with Build Evaluation reviewing incoming records for ‘building evaluation’ when they see it, because the address (and potentially lat/long and council identifiers), it should be trivial to see if other records have been entered that refer to the same building, or nearby buildings. Without adding this metadata previously, it would be a lot harder to automated some of this information management.
We can then link multiple records that refer to the same building – such as different reports over time, or a neighbouring property that may refer to the building.
The best part though, is when we start adding actions – for example, if an Urban Search and Rescue Team is tasked to a building, then that action (Sending a team to perform an intial rapid building assessment) can be associated to that building and the team, and of course the original record that reported it. This means that if someone enquires if anything is being done, we have the history of who was tasked where and when.
When the team returns, we can mark the action as completed – we have a record that it has been completed. Not only that, but any quick comments from the team could be added as a new record associated with that building. Likewise, any digital photos, or even scanned copies of the rapid building damage assessment forms could be attached.
Scanned forms are of course interesting, as you could scan them initially and add them to the system as images, but also flag those to be reviewed to create metadata so that the form data is now accessible via metadata – such as the building status as determined by the assessment Safe/Green, Restricted/Yellow or No Access/Red. Whilst Optical Character Recognition (OCR) could speed this process, after seeing the handwriting of engineers, I’d suggest that human review and triage of key information on the forms would get more usable information into the system sooner. And yes – the idea is of course a tablet application that digitises the information in the field and uses an Emergency Data eXchange Language (EDXL) extension to submit the information via EDXL-DE back to a server.
Of course, with all this structured metadata now wrapped around the original unstructured reports – this opens up so much potential for reporting and where appropriate sharing this information using standards such as the EDXL for achieving true information interoperability.
This is something that both Ushahidi and Sahana have been working since the response to the Haiti earthquake when we were trying to provide management tools in Sahana Eden to wrap around the crowdsourced information that was being collected by Ushahidi.
Recently discussion on the CrisisCommons email list raised an issue about security pertaining to crowdsourced data – and the ease with which the information can be deleted by an anonymous malicious individual when using tools such as etherpad or Google Docs with open editing rights.
In this case an anonymous user was deleting data as quickly as it was entered in a shared public document. What is a more concerning risk is perhaps the subtle editing of crowdsourced information, where the edits are not obvious enough to be detected – such as the subtle and malicious modification of facts and figures.
For tech volunteers, there is a careful balance to be struck between protecting information (in this particular case its availability and integrity) and not creating significant barriers to entry.
The first obvious solution is that access on the document be restricted to authorised users. This means that only those individuals that are trusted can be expected to contribute to the collection and management of unstructured crowdsourced information.
This is less than ideal as it means that new users that volunteer immediately following an emergency haven’t developed a trust relationship with, for example, the CrisisCommons community, and are unable to immediately contribute.
I believe that with the simple use of a two-tier approach, one can easily protect the quality of the final document(s), whilst still making it easy for new volunteers to contribute.
You effectively create two types of document:
- Public and open documents – which are open to all to edit, and are effectively a rough scratchpad for collecting unstructured information.
- Trusted documents – which are open for only a limited pool of trusted users to edit, but draw from the content provided in the public and open documents.
The trusted editors effectively become the curators of the information, and once content has been copied and edited from the open documents, malicious anonymous users won’t be able to waste other volunteers time through deletion or editing.
There are other process benefits to this approach. For example, you may create a public document particular topics of the emergency – such as infrastructure, health/medical and background information (e.g. weather forecasts, population demographics etc) and these multiple individual documents may map to a single section within the trusted document to produce an edited and trusted version of crowdsourced information.
Still, from an operational perspective, this is a far from ideal approach, and there are certainly more robust approaches available to turn this into a process that can be used for intelligence gathering and situation reporting.
Around lunchtime on Saturday, I got in touch with our colleague Dave Brunsdon – who was currently waiting to deploy from Ohakea in Palmerston North with the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 (TF1).
The next step was to figure out what was happening in terms of the building safety evaluation process in Christchurch post-quake. At that point in time, and probably to this day, there is likely no council in New Zealand that has a plan and process in place to handle assessment on the scale of this event – I’ll get some numbers together in due course, but this was well over one order of magnitude greater than previous experiences in Gisborne and Padang, Indonesia. Remember, previous use of the NZSEE guidelines was limited to just a couple of hundred assessments, the Building Evaluation team had undertaken a few thousand assessments in the same time.
One of my main reasons for sharing this experience is to allow the development of processes and information systems that can support the assessment of potentially tens, or even hundreds of thousands of building assessments. As I write this, EQC has something of the order of 150,000 claims in, and this covers only residential property.
Anyway, after a few phonecalls, we determined that we’d probably need what was left of Saturday to plan the approach for the coming days – especially as some of the people with field experience of the NZSEE guidelines were still arranging their flights down to Christchurch. Christchurch City Council folk were still getting set up in the Art Gallery, so it was probably going to be mid/late afternoon before we all got going. There were a lot of engineers in Christchurch that had previous training in the assessment process, and they were going to be turning out en masse on Sunday, and we had to have a plan in place.
We collected Dr Hyland from the airport just after 3pm, and Clark, Kristin Hoskin and myself made our way to the Gallery where we met up with the Council staff that were leading the Building Evaluation team. We spent the next hour or so getting up to speed with what had already taken place – there were incident reports in for a good 200-300 residences and properties.
At this point, there was of course a complete cordon around the inner city – the entire CBD was closed, bounded by Kilmore, Montreal, St Asaph and Madras. One of the first tasks was to come up with a strategy for Sunday to deal with the CBD first and foremost. We all quickly agreed that the focus of Sunday would be to try and perform level 1 rapid assessments of the whole CBD. Level 1 assessments are a quick exterior assessment looking for obvious safety issues, and these can be undertaken very quickly, relative to the far more detailed level 2 assessments that can easily take an hour or two, and require access and time inside a building.
We split the CBD up into 35 sectors to which we could assign the engineers and assessors – these sectors used the roads and Avon river as boundaries (I’ve got a map in Google Earth I’ll upload at some point).
A fair amount of the rest of the evening was spent claiming space in the gallery, and working on the logistical requirements – getting the forms printed, the placards that everyone is only too familiar with now printed, and everything else that was required for sending 50-100 engineers and assessors into the CBD in the morning. Certainly for the first 4-5 days, the Building Evaluation team was often times the largest team in the Gallery – we certainly managed to claim a lot of space, getting a whole gallery to ourselves.
Of course, all through this we were still suffering through not only aftershocks, but also ongoing media coverage. We had all the big wigs – Parker, Key, & Brownlee – coming and going, and what seemed like continuous interviews. I was told later that I was spotted a couple of times in the background of the TV coverage – I must say, that I think other than Saturday morning and early afternoon, I didn’t see any media coverage for the rest of the week!
One aftershock on Saturday evening was quite amusing though. I was grabbing a coffee at the time, and Bob Parker was being interviewed on TV within the Gallery. Next thing we had a good aftershock come through, looking at the GeoNet records, it was probably the 4.4 or 4.7 soon after 7pm on Saturday evening. Anyway, next I was sheltering under the doorway near the drinks with Bob Parker until the shaking stopped.
Didn’t leave the Gallery till around 11pm that night, once we were comfortable that we had everything in place for a big day tomorrow. We planned on getting back in between 7 and 730am the next morning.
The best finish to the day however, was returning home about midnight, turning the water back on at the gate, turning the mains back on, and having Internet back, as well as hot water still in the tank. I really appreciated having a hot water shower that night – really helped get a short, but good nights sleep for the long days coming up. Also managed to slept through all the aftershocks in the night
So, before I kick into writing about what we did, I need to provide a little background.
A very good friend and business partner of mine, Dave Brunsdon, has been heavily involved in earthquake engineering in New Zealand for a good 20-25 years now. I’ve had the pleasure to be mentored by him, and work alongside him with Kestrel client projects. One of his many hats is that of the Past President of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE).
Over the past few years, Dave has led a combined project between the NZSEE, the Department of Building and Housing, and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management. This has resulted in the creation of the Building Safety Evaluation in a State of Emergency: Guidelines for Territorial Authorities. To provide a brief summary here:
The NZSEE Building Safety Evaluation Guidelines provide guidance for Territorial Authority Building Control Managers to prepare for, implement and manage building structural safety evaluation activities after major earthquakes or other disaster events, and for engineers and others assisting with the process in the field. The document was produced with support from the Department of Building and Housing (DBH) and the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM).
The original version was a 1998 document, that had its roots in the US-based Applied Technology Council’s Postearthquake Damage and Safety Evaluation of Buildings (ATC 20) that were initially developed in 1995. Over the past five years, the NZSEE guidelines have seen a number of improvements and refinements.
On the 20th of December 2007, Gisborne, in the north-east of the North Island of New Zealand experienced a 6.8 ML earthquake that caused 1 fatality, a number of injuries, and damage a lot of structures in Gisborne, including heavily impacting the central business district. I believe this was one of the first events where the updated building safety evaluation guidelines were utilised.
Naturally there was a draft update in August 2008 incorporating learnings from Gisborne, and then a full August 2009 update.
On the 30th of September, 2009, a 7.6 Mw earthquake occurred just offshore from the Indonesian city of Padang. This earthquake caused the deaths of over 1100 people. Within a week, New Zealand had committed to sending a 10 person project team of structural engineers under the banner of the NZSEE. It was at this point I became involved at very short notice (Saturday evening, engineers departing Sunday morning) to purchase and kit out the team with suitable GPS units to be used in the assessment process. I’ll write more about this decision in another post – I recommended, and purchased 6 Garmin Oregon 550 handheld GPS units with an inbuilt 3.2MP geotagging camera.
The NZSEE team spent around 10 days in Padang initially, and during this time assessed around 200-250 structures – mostly government facilities, hospitals, schools and the like. It was during this trip that the information management issue first became apparent to the project team. Dr Clark Hyland developed a spreadsheet to capture the assessment information whilst in Indonesia, and continued development of this solution upon his return.
As a result of Padang, and indeed Chile (another NZSEE team was sent, although the Chile team was more a research team) the NZSEE guidelines were undergoing further revision in New Zealand in the months leading up to the September 4 Darfield Earthquake.
I am aware of at least two other similar building safety evaluation frameworks.
- ATC-20 – the original US framework (first edition 1989, second edition 2005). Please note that this is a paid-for framework – it currently costs USD$24.
- An Italian framework (that I need to find more links and information about)
Since I had heard about the spreadsheet used in Padang, I became interested in implementing the NZSEE framework (and indeed also being able to support ATC-20, and the Italian frameworks and others) in a Sahana product. Whilst over at the Sahana Forum held in Taiwan on 30 July, and the SahanaCamp from Saturday 31 July to Tuesday 3 July, I started playing around with an implementation in Sahana Eden. Unfortunately my programming skills, and other activities meant I was nowhere near having a working implementation ready for use immediately following the 4th of September earthquake.
Note – as per Flickr’s linking requirements, the image goes to Flickr not directly to the NZSEE website. The other links in the text do.
I had the opportunity on Monday (6 December 2010) to attend a great workshop held in Wellington. This started off with a set of three presentations by Mark Reichardt who is the President and CEO of the Open Geospatial Consortium.
Mark presented a number of presentations during the morning, starting with CEOs, followed by one focused on OGC and Disaster Management, as well as finishing with An Overview of OGC Standards and Programs. Hopefully these will be publicly accessible in Google on portal.opengeospatial.org – I’ll put links up when the files are openly available.
I got a great buzz to see Sahana, OpenStreetMap, CrisisCommons and Ushahidi mentioned in slides by Mark, and these event got coverage in the presentation to the invited Government CEOs at the breakfast session. In the open presentation on OGC and Disaster Management in the morning, Sahana got its own slide and was recognised for incorportating various OGC standards including Web Map Service (WMS), Catalogue, KML , Web Feature Service (WFS) and the Coverage Service. It is great to see the significant geospatial efforts that the likes of Mifan, Fran, and David have put in – amongst others and sorry I can’t recall everyones names!
I also talked about my experience around geospatial data and building safety evaluations following the Canterbury earthquake, and there seemed to be some real interest in using that as a possible test bed geospatial project that we may be able to undertake here in NZ. I must get onto blogging more about that.
As always, it was a great opportunity to catch up with some colleagues that I hadn’t seen for a while, and it has been particularly reassuring to see some great minds that were thought lost with the State Services Commission restructure now turning up in Land Information New Zealand. LINZ taking on these people definitely sends a positive signal about open data and standards. In particular I want to note Richard Murcott who is now the Geospatial Standards Leader at LINZ.
Anyway – what were some of the points I took away from the workshop?
- It sounds like Land Information New Zealand is going to become a full OGC member in 2011.
- The OGC GeoSMS standard is going to be coming soon! A discussion document from Freburary 2010 on OGC GeoSMS is available here (link to agreement page, then pdf download). This will be great to have a GeoSMS standard to work to, as we had created our own in Naval Postgraduate School Disaster Relief Experiments previously.
- Mark highlighted that demonstrating standards – through test bed projects and the like – is one of the most important aspects of standards promotion.
- The Taiwanese have been doing quite a bit of work with OGC, and have been doing some very interesting debris flow monitoring projects with OGC Sensor Web. There is supposed to be a good pdf available that outlines the Taiwanese work with Sensor Web.
- Geosynchronisation. OGC has within the last month announced the formation of a GeoSynchronisation Service Standards Working Group. This of course has a lot of potential – not only for taking OpenStreetMap data out into the real world, editing it, and coming back and syncing it later, but also of course for emergency management. I intend to watch this one quite closely.
One of the closing quotes of the emergency management presentation came from the Chairman of the OGC, David Schell.
What the OGC is doing is facilitating a common picture of reality for different organizations which have different views of the reality, the disaster, the catastrophe, that they all have to deal with collectively
The use of OGC standards is probably the only clear path forward towards a Common Operating Picture – well, one that has anything to do with location anyway.
In the afternoon, Richard Murcott of LINZ led a workshop discussing standards and interoperability.
One of the big takeaways for me was the model of Conceptual Interoperability from Simulation Theory. Basically it builds up from nothing – no interoperability, to a state of full interoperability – where fully conceptual models are used to integrate data consistently from multiple sources.
Of course, we are a long way from this in emergency management, a lot of the current interoperability we have is at level 2 which is only a common data format. The OASIS work with EDXL is taking us a step higher (level 3) with increasing semantic interoperability through the use of more clearly defined standards. I think there is a very long way to go using this model though to ensure we have interoperability that considers methods and procedures (level 4), assumptions and constraints (level 5) to a “fully specified but implementation indepentent model” (level 6).
Some other quick takeaway points that I and others came up with:
- There is a spectrum of the reason for interoperability – from selfish to altruistic. A selfish organisation wants to bring any data into its system and processes, whereas a truly altruistic organisation wants only to publish and share information.
- There is a spectrum of the management approach of interoperability – from adhoc/chaotic to extremely structured. Some organisations want full control over how interoperability is managed that require a very structured and formal approach, and even agreements or MOUs. At the other end is complete anarchy and chaos.
- Risk aversion is a significant barrier to interoperability, so clearly taking a risk management approach to interoperability is likely to provide a better means to manage risks, and hence make true interoperability more acceptable to management.
- Restrictive licensing of standards creates barriers to entry. Nothing new there.
- Data sets provide an excellent focal point for collaboration and communities may well form around a released data set. E.g. NZ Open GPS Maps project around released LINZ roads.
One of the final points Richard made in closing was more targeted at New Zealand in general, and certainly a sentiment I think we should take to heart. New Zealand, as a country, needs to behave more like a city of 4 million. Dispersed from Northland to Southland we pack nowhere near as much punch than if we better bring our expertise together from across the country. If we want to be more successful on the world stage, then we need to lose our small town mentalities, and start thinking bigger and broader!
The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center and partners have released their Disaster Risk Reduction Project Portal for Asia and the Pacific which is built upon the Sahana Eden platform. This is designed as a means of sharing who is doing what and where. As well as listing proposed, active and complete projects, it also provides a list of relevant frameworks. At time of writing it lists 414 projects, and 90 frameworks.
Big congratulations to Michael, Fran, and the others involved in delivering this solution.
Something that has concerned me for some time, is that a lot of information systems used for emergency management tend to focus on just one or two phases, rather than providing a comprehensive system. This is important as often the information used in one phase, e.g. risk reduction, can be useful to have available during response and recovery. I’m hopeful that this deployment will be the first of many that extends Sahana into a useful to for both reduction and readiness, and will eventually become an EM system that can be used right across the Four R’s.
Note – image links to Flick photo page due to Flickr terms and conditions. I’ve put an additional link in the description that takes you to the website.