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GIS Support for Man made Disasters

Was it ever fully anticipated that the planes themselves would become the bombs, guided missiles in the hands of the terrorists ?

For last few years one of the primary focusses of aviation security has been to prevent terrorists from smuggling bombs onto the planes. But what was never fully anticipated was that the planes themselves would become the bombs — guided missiles in the hands of the terrorists. After this incidence, USA will certainly raise the level of security on domestic flights and in access to sky-scrappers, despite their vulnerability, will remain an essential part of the infrastructure for modern existence. Whatever precautions are taken, some terrorists will always get through. The risks can be reduced but that cannot be eliminated.

Every day, Americans use satellite-based technology, just by turning on the television to check the day’s weather forecast. With the hundreds of satellites orbiting Earth, the terrorists responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon could have used data from American satellites in planning their moves. Not necessarily from defence or intelligence satellites, but through public information available to anyone who requires it and might have money. The following materials are available for public information: satellite images capable of reading a license plate, satellites that produce three-dimensional maps, simple cellular phone satellite communication, global location devices that can find a site anywhere on the earth within a few feet, detailed weather information, cable television that provides worldwide intelligence such as CNN reports.

It is not so easy to implement GIS techniques for overcoming the crisis created by the man-made disaster in New York. But it is still a matter of hope that some leading GIS companies and GIS practitioners have taken initiatives to find some appropriate way-outs to overcome the post-disaster crisis. Many people in this industry have donated time, equipment and other resources to help in this disaster. Many of them had the foresight to build their GIS capabilities before disaster struck. Numerous companies in geospatial technologies and many other businesses have spent past few weeks after the WTC tragedy making sense of and reacting to the tragic events of September 11 this year. Space Imaging, SPOT Image, I-cubed and GlobeXplorer are providing imageries on a regular basis. Besides, many GIS companies have stretched their hands to help the nation to overcome the crisis with latest GIS solutions.

The New York City (NYC) Office of Emergency Management has set up its HQ after the collapse of 7 World Trade Centre that serves as Emergency Mapping and Data Centre with about 15-20 GIS professionals and others with related skills in a frantic effort around the clock. The serendipity of people who have been thrown together is giving us a social base to proceed with long-term collaborations in the future for rebuilding and expanding GIS capability in NYC. New York City has a wide variety of agencies, all using GIS. Still, gathering the data, verifying its timeliness, finding its metadata and exploring legal issues of distribution all took time.

MapInfo posted a message on its website on September 12, offering assistance with mapping and software as well as web hosting of maps. In its message, it has been mentioned that the company provides software and data that allow to map individuals, assets and geographics through creating and posting internet and/or physical maps of affected locations, tracking assets such as tracks, debris, equipments and emergency services, developing maps of relief locations including blood banks, hospitals, kitchens and shelters.

Intergraph has provided Mapping and GIS Solutions. Due to the attack, subway tunnels were destroyed, roads were closed and transit routes were disrupted in the city. New York City Transit Employees of Intergraph’s Mapping and GIS Solutions division are helping the Transit Department to integrate data from several city departments into a single map. New Jersey Transit is now using Intergraph GIS software to develop new maps for rail and bus transportation into and out of NYC. Consolidated Edison of New York uses a facility management system driven by Intergraph’s FRAMME software to maintain the definitive map for the electric, gas, and steam service in Manhattan and most of the surrounding boroughs. Intergraph Public Safety systems are installed at the Navy’s centralised public safety, security, and operations centre. This centre is designed to be the decision centre for managing large-scale events. At the heart of the public safety system is Intergraph’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system which incorporates GIS. Also, Intergraph integrated a fiber optic intrusion detection system into the CAD system at the Centre.

ESRI Redlands published a special toll-free number for those directly supporting the disaster effort. With the release of ERDAS IMAGINE 8.5 and its add-on modules, it will offer customers an end-to-end all-digital image processing solution, featuring remote sensing, photogrammetry, radargrammetry, sensor modeling, orthorectification, DTM extraction, 2D and 3D feature extraction and ability to fly through geospatial. The National Urban Search and Rescue Response System, established by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was given the assignment of supplying task force leaders the data regarding potential hazards. FEMA has already created a New York GIS archive on their own website, where users find maps and images created by the FEMA project team. Coordinators of the rescue efforts have agreed that GIS has been vital in putting together a plan. It is essential because of the ease of use and effectiveness in the development of an organised and available archive.