GISCAFE SPECIAL REPORT/ESRI UC - Day Two "Taking Steps into the Unknown"

by Susan Smith

What you see Monday carries over into Tuesday and moves you through the rest of the week at the ESRI User Conference. Monday night at ESRI was an opportunity to visit the Map Gallery, which is a display of the final work of GIS professionals from around the world, a series of visual case studies.

Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, who was one of the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, spoke about his experience climbing the peak last year on the 50th anniversary of that historic climb. In 1953, no one knew at the time whether Everest was climbable, or even whether it was physically possible to survive at the altitude of 29,000 feet.

Hillary signed posters at the Map Gallery. He is ever mindful of the fact that his father and Tensing Norgay climbed Everest as a team. They cut steps into the unknown, said Hillary, where "now you have ropes to hold onto all the way."

The Map Gallery, and exhibits on the show floor, demonstrate that the process of creating, of climbing, is of great value. The challenge of creating something new and valuable to the GIS community is always present.

At the Map Gallery is a display of the Columbia Space Shuttle Search and Recovery Effort, complete with digital images comprised by first responders from Forest Resources Institute (FRI), a research facility of the Arthur Temple College of Forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. The Geospatial Service Center for East Texas, FRI is also a data repository and processing hub for Texas geospatial data.

Why was this facility prepared to respond to the Columbia disaster so promptly while other agencies were not? On Tuesday, I followed this story down to the Space Imaging booth for some answers.

Just prior to the disaster, FRI had completed the Nacogdoches County Hazard Mitigation Plan. For the past 30 years, geospatial scientist for FRI, Jeff Williams, has been using remote sensing for determining the geographical extent of forest cover types, age and fragmentation of the East Texas forests where the Columbia crashed.

FRI had responded to the Search and Recovery effort on February 1, within the first few hours after the tragedy--by providing a suite of remotely sensed images to visualize and map the current conditions of the impacted areas. Around noon on February 1, IKONOS imagery from Space Imaging was captured, with over 12,000 square kilometers of coverage of the estimated debris area. This imagery was provided to FRI by NASA on 50 CDs, revealing a pattern of bright reflective materials visible in the tree canopies and on the ground, along the path that FRI had predicted the debris would take.

With this information, the FRI was able to inspect Base Search Vector (BSV) and calculate debris fields, and get crews into the dense forest environment. Many of these crews had never before stepped foot into this type of forest, replete with briar thickets, swamps and other treachery. During the first 14 days after the crash, Jeff Williams spent over 250 hours on mapping and analysis, providing this support in addition to custom mapping for agencies such as the FBI, federal, state and local search and recovery teams. "Geospatial professionals came from all over the state of Texas to help," said Williams. "They were sent down the debris path to help there."

The federal government took over the data and mapping activities after February 14. Search efforts continued for another three months after that date. 82,500 pieces of debris were recovered from 48,517 sites in a 2,888 square mile search area. 76 percent of all hazardous materials were recovered.

Williams was in the Space Imaging booth giving a presentation on his involvement in the shuttle recovery effort. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Gordon Wells, Program Manager for the Center for Space Research at University of Texas at Austin, whom I had written about in February. ( see GPS & GIS Aid in the Search and Recovery of Columbia Space Shuttle Debris GISWeekly, February 17, 2003.)

More on the exhibit floor: DigitalGlobe this week announced the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is using QuickBird imagery for the support of emergency response services and economic development. Alaska is very poorly mapped. It's a large state with sparse population, and it has very few maps, according to Herb Satterlee of DigitalGlobe. The QuickBird images will be used to fulfill two contracts: one for the Fairbanks-North Pole area, which is funded by the National Fire Plan. The other serves the Tanana Valley region, funded by NASA in an award to the State in 2001.

Another piece of news from DigitalGlobe is the announcement of a civil government solution -- a 2-foot, 1"-400' scale color digital orthorectified imagery product, plus a subscription and civil government licensing program. According to Satterlee, cities want cloud-free data, but they don't care if it's older. This is different from the federal government's requirements--current data with or without clouds.

The revised licensing agreement allows for one department to buy the imagery product, and for everyone in that department to use it free of additional cost. The cost will be in updating the imagery.

Matrox Graphics is an interesting company that has been providing technology for multiple panel monitors for GIS and other industries with intense graphic and visual requirements. Their latest product is available by special order only, but allows users to view five times the information (3840x2400) on a screen that an average LCD flat panel 1280x1024 can offer. The Matrox Parhelia HR 128 can display 9 mega pixels at full refresh rate from a single AGP slot. It is designed for military intelligence users or others with similar viewing challenges.

Syncline, the company that produces MapCiti, announced its Homeland Security Viewer for local government officials who want to improve information sharing across the departments while at the same time, informing the general public during an emergency situation. The good part about this product is its simplicity. Like other MapCiti products that address particular e-government market areas such as asset management, bus routes, zoning and land use, emergency response, the Homeland Security Viewer allows customers who have the data to create maps and publish them to MapCiti specific applications without requiring them to know GIS technology.

Three companies visited on Tuesday that provided solutions offering links between disparate data types and geospatial information, included SAS, a business intelligence vendor and ESRI together announced the release of the SAS Bridge for ESRI, designed to allow faster information flow between ESRI ArcGIS technology and SAS solutions. The U.S. Census Bureau has been a tester of this Bridge and plans to use it for geographic analytical projects.

Linking textual, spatial and numeric data through a single interface, the SAS Bridge for ESRI 1.0 allows users to manipulate or view SAS metadata within the ArcGIS environment, and allows users to run SAS programs within the ArcGIS environment. Competitive and consumer data can be incorporated with spatial data in situations where the combination of this data can make a powerful impact on analysis.

Hummingbird is another one of those companies that obviously has ESRI's blessing, in that it deals with linking disparate document data with GIS data. Hummingbird Enterprise for ESRI is a document management link that can integrate multiple documents to geographic features or single documents or versions of documents to one or more geographic features. All kinds of data can be linked to maps -- emails, correspondence, images, video.

Tadpole-Cartesia announced a strategic relationship with Azteca Systems to create what they call "centers-for-field intelligence" aimed at the ESRI based public works and utility industries. Tadpole-Cartesia's software Go! automates and secures delivery of geodatabase from enterprise GIS to the field. This product, aligned with Cityworks Enterprise Asset Management software from Azteca, is designed to provide a solution in the field to track work orders and provide automatically updated maps stored on field devices.

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