Category: Disaster/Risk Assessment

Megafires

Posted by – March 9, 2014

Forest fires of great intensity, size, and consequence – megafires — are becoming the new normal, according to a paper in the journal of the Ecological Society of America by Stephens et al. The article, flagged by the Washington Post yesterday, attributes the increasing frequency of megafires to climate-change induced drought; housing developments encroaching on forests; and the U.S. policy to suppress fires rather than letting them burn naturally, reducing the brush that fuels future fires. An NPR series from 2012 provides more detail.

The above map, from the U.S. Forest Service’s excellent Wildland Fire Assessment System, shows the current Fire Danger Rating based on current and antecedent weather, fuel types, and both live and dead fuel moisture (the classes are explained here).

-ddw

Best Use of a Drone

Posted by – December 28, 2013

In addition to their use by the military and potentially in emergency response, George Zisiadis and Mustafa Khan bring us the Mistletoe Drone, just in time for your New Year’s Eve party:

If you have $300 or so you can make your own romance drone, complete with video streaming (mistletoe is extra). But keep in mind that privately-operated drones are quasi-legal for the present, since the FAA is not expected to issue licenses for private drone operation until 2015.

-ddw

Crisis Camp for Haiyan Relief

Posted by – November 14, 2013

A group I follow, Understanding Risk, has posted a call for mapping assistance to support the typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan disaster relief efforts. They are recruiting volunteers to use OpenStreetMap to digitize roads, buildings, and other features from satellite imagery made freely available by Microsoft and the US State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit. The resulting maps will be used by the Red Cross, the United Nations and other responding organizations working in the Philippines. To get started, you can:

- Visit the project coordination page for more information;

- Login to the OSM Tasking Manager (OpenStreetMap account required) and click on a task to contribute;

- For questions join the mailing list of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team; and

- If you are in DC, join the @OpenStreetMap at @CrisisCamp this Saturday, November 16.

In previous major disasters, efforts such as these have consistently proven to be valuable in support of disaster relief efforts.

-ddw

Crisis Mapping Conference

Posted by – September 1, 2013

The 5th International Conference of Crisis Mappers will be held 18-22 November 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, and will bring together the most engaged practitioners, scholars, software developers and policymakers at the cutting edge of crisis mapping and humanitarian technology. ICCM 2013 follows successful conferences in 2009, 2010, 2011, & 2012. Register here.

Fire

Posted by – July 6, 2013

The USDA Forest Service’s Active Fire Mapping Program uses satellite data and interagency information to provide detection and characterization of wildland fires across the United States and Canada. The program acquires temporal image data directly from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite for near real-time data coverage for the entire United States and Canada. This imagery is combined with fire intelligence information and GIS technologies to create a suite of geospatial products assessing current fire activity, fire intensity, burned area extent and smoke conditions throughout the U.S. and Canada. You can browse the results at the program’s extraordinary website as GIS datasets and live data services, multi-spectral image subsets, and analytical products/summaries.

And a note of great respect for those acting on this information on the ground, including nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots that died last week defending lives and property near Yarnell, AZ.

-ddw

P.S. See also the Incident Command summary site for the Yarnell fire.

Drones: Next Step for Disaster Assessment?

Posted by – May 27, 2013

Domestic Drone
Drones – a.k.a. unmanned airborne vehicles (UAVs) – are poised for domestic use in disaster assessment. UAVs are portable, affordable aircraft that can launch quickly in dangerous situations and could be used to locate survivors or provide data on the impact of a disaster. Earlier this year, the American Red Cross in Oklahoma tested the use of UAV’s in assessing the extent of disasters but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is very restrictive about who can fly a drone and how they can fly it within the United States. The FAA has committed to promulgating regulations by 2015 to govern the domestic U.S. use of UAVs, but in the meantime, disasters like the recent Oklahoma tornadoes will have to make do with satellite imagery.

Thanks to Steve for the tip!

-ddw

We are all First Responders

Posted by – January 28, 2013

This Saturday’s New York Times included a feature on Preppers: people that assemble emergency supplies in case a major disaster disaster leaves them without food, water and shelter. In it, the author admitted with some embarrassment that he, too, was a Prepper, and set out to learn if preparing for a disaster was crazy or rational. This quest led him to Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, and the answers he got seemed to surprise him. For example, Dr. Redlener repeated many of the things he had heard from Preppers: it was rational to be situationally aware, to have a bag of disaster supplies and a plan to reunite with loved ones. Redlener noted:

“There’s a spectrum. On one end is mindless complacency. On the other is paranoia. The challenge is to find that place in the middle where you understand that bad things can happen, but it doesn’t consume your life.”

I have to confess a being more than a little dismayed when the author noted being surprised to hear Redlener say the authorities might not respond promptly in the event of a disaster – that everyone should be prepared to take care of themselves for several days. That is, in fact, part of the National Plan – that the entire community needs to take part in disaster preparedness and response. I guess the advertising campaign hasn’t paid off

Prepare. Plan. Stay Informed

-ddw

Inaugural Overload

Posted by – January 21, 2013

WaPo Infographic for wireless congestion Inauguration Day preparations have included adding temporary cell towers along the National Mall in an attempt to avoid the wireless traffic congestion witnessed during the 2009 inauguration. Event organizers have also mounted a public information campaign to encourage people to send text messages rather than call and to avoid watching streaming video of the event. As the infographic at left shows, an SMS text message requires much less data to send than, say, a picture or cellphone conversation. Emergency managers often see wireless traffic overwhelm cellular networks during large events, and this year’s inauguration will likely attract 2 million people.

Event organizers also created the 57th Presidential Inauguration App that helps spectators stay informed and find their way to events and facilities.

-ddw

Google.org Maps Superstorm Sandy

Posted by – October 30, 2012


The Google Crisis Response Team at Google.org has created a Superstorm Sandy crisismap for New York City that not only summarizes disaster information it also provides a great example of a volunteer technical community assisting first responders, disaster relief workers, and the public in times of crisis. Google.org – the philanthropic arm of Google – created this multilayer map using the GoogleMaps API to aggregate ATOM data feeds of public alert messages from various agencies, links to public utilities, and shelter databases. More than a static display, the map allows users to select layers, includes links to additional data and metadata, and download kml files to add to their own maps. For example, I borrowed data from their larger scale Superstorm Sandy map to create a map supporting Red Cross operations in Baltimore.

-ddw

Sandy Comes to Town

Posted by – October 28, 2012

Estimated fraction of population experiencing power outages

A map of power outages as predicted by Guikema’s model based on the official National Hurricane Center track and intensity forecast from 18UTC (3 p.m. EDT) on Saturday, Oct. 27.


Johns Hopkins researcher Seth Guikema has used historical storm statistics to estimate that Hurricane Sandy will likely cause 10 million people to lose power, from Virginia Beach to New York City. Guikema’s model uses outage data from 11 hurricanes to estimate the fraction of customers who will lose power, based on expected gust wind speed, expected duration of strong winds greater than 20 meters per second, and population density.

The impacts of this so-called FrankenStorm are also likely to include record-breaking snow in the West Virginia mountains and a 6 to 11ft storm surge in New York Harbor. NOAA estimates that storm damages could be over $1 billion.

Good time to make a last-minute run for batteries and candles!

-ddw