Category: Red Cross

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.


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.


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!


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 Maps Superstorm Sandy

Posted by – October 30, 2012

The Google Crisis Response Team at 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. – 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.


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!


Make Your Own Hurricane App

Posted by – October 11, 2012

The ready availability of data and model results on the Internet means that, with a little creativity, you can aggregate your own data and analyses into a useful tool. So, let’s say you can’t stand the ads in’s iHurricane HD (free for iOS, Android, Windows Phone) and you can’t afford Kitty Code’s Hurricane. Well, ZDNet’s review of hurricane apps points out that you could emulate iPhoneEZApps’ Hurricane Tracker 3.6.1 ($1.99 for iOS) FOR FREE by simply opening the following URLs in the web browser of any PC, Mac, iOS or Android device:

That is, you can fake a decent hurricane tracking app using your phone/tablet’s browser to open the above links. You could do the same on your Mac or PC, with the added elegance of opening each link as a separate tab in web browser. And you can’t beat the price.


Hurricane Apps

Posted by – October 8, 2012

If you live on the sea coast – or are a disaster junkie – you might be looking for an iPhone/iPad/Android app that tracks hurricanes. There are several highly rated apps available at the iTunes store, but Kitty Code’s Hurricane ($2.99 for iOS; $3.99 for HD/iPad) gets great reviews and the NYTimes’ GadgetWise put the lightweight version, Hurricane Express ($0.99 for iOS), at the top of its list of hurricane tracking apps. Another possibility is EZ Apps’ Hurricane Tracker ($2.99 for iOS), which TIME’s Techland rated as their favorite. Stormpulse has reportedly developed a native iOS client for their acclaimed site but it appears to only be accessible to those who purchased their license.

Hurricane by American Red Cross (free for iOS, Android) is a tracker app that lets you monitor conditions in your area, coaches you in preparing your family and home, and helps you notify others that you are safe. TIME’s review notes that it’s a light on meteorological data, but this app is designed for public safety, not analysis:

The American Red Cross’ Hurricane app works for Android, but your other choices for Android devices are limited to STKI Concepts’ Hurricane Hound ($1.99 for Android), which also received an Honorable Mention in in BestAppEver’s 2011 Best Weather App competition.


Myths about Hurricane Katrina

Posted by – September 3, 2012

To commemorate the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking the U.S. Gulf Coast, the Washington Post examined 5 persistent myths about this hurricane and the destruction it left in New Orleans. This disaster killed 1836, displaced over 1.3 million people, and caused over $81 billion in damage in eastern North America, mostly in New Orleans and Gulf Coast Mississippi. Jed Horne of the Post lists these myths as:

  1. New Orleans’s levees failed because Katrina was just too big. (Truth: The U.S. Army Corps and an American Society of Engineers Expert Review Panel concluded that the system of levees, floodgates, and pumps failed well below its design limits due to poor engineering and construction).
  2. The state response was as bad as the federal one. (Truth: Kathleen Blanco declared a state disaster August 26, three days before landfall, and over the coming days would move 400,000 people out of New Orleans).
  3. The storm gutted the heart and soul of New Orleans, turning it into a majority-white city. (Truth: The 2010 census shows the population of New Orleans declined about one-third, with a post-Katrina influx of hispanics reducing the city’s black majority from 67 percent to about 60 percent now).
  4. New Orleans’s levees are fixed and could withstand another Katrina. (Truth: the Army Corps of Engineers has designed the current levee system to withstand a 100-year storm surge, but Katrina was a much-more severe 400-year storm and not even a direct hit on New Orleans).
  5. New Orleanians learned their lesson and are more likely to evacuate sooner. (Truth: it is very difficult to get people to respond to emergency warnings; in the run-up to Hurricane Issac, some New Orleanians seemed more interested in pre-landfall barbeques than evacuation).

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has an excellent flyover tour of the system protecting New Orleans.


Weather Channel buys Weather Underground

Posted by – August 16, 2012

Weather Underground, a internet weather data and analysis resource, has been sold to The Weather Channel Companies. After 17 years as an independent company, Jeff Masters, the founder of Weather Underground, announced on his blog that The Weather Channel bought Weather Underground, noting that The Weather Channel was committed to keeping the Weather Underground brand and the web site in its current form. While congratulations are in order for Jeff Masters, this is a widely used information source within the disaster response community, and many ask “what will change” and “will they start charging fees”. Let’s hope the answers are “not much” and “no”.

I just hope they don’t change the mobile version of their forecast site – its the only one that displays decently on my BlackBerry.