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!


A Graphical Analysis of the Problem with the Internet

Posted by – February 18, 2013

My job requires me to do quite a lot of research online and I am by nature curious, leaving me vulnerable to pointlessly surfing the Internet. I don’t know if this is because our brains are wired to take pleasure in seeking/discovering or simple procrastination, but some days it feels like this (from xkcd):

The problem with Wikipedia

Of course, there really is a lot of information on the Internet, and Trace Media created an interactive map showing how just one part of it, Wikipedia, has grown over time (click on ‘search’, then wait – it loads slowly for the more ubiquitous languages):

Map of wikipedia

I guess that’s why my browser homepage is Get Back To Work.


AAAS S&T Fellowship’s 40th

Posted by – February 3, 2013

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellowships program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and AAAS is marking the event with this video documentary. As a past AAAS Fellow at the State Department, I would say it provides an excellent overview of this little-known program that brings scientific expertise to Washington and opens up the careers of hundreds of scientists every year.


Respect the Roundness

Posted by – January 30, 2013

NOAA and several commercial vendors have developed spherical displays of geoscience and mathematics that are both beautiful and thought provoking, allowing us to see phenomena like ocean currents, trade, climate, and geology evolving over time without the distortions of a 2-D projection. Examples in the video include (starting at 6:25) an animation of pollutants crossing the North Pole and (starting at 7:45) a depiction of continental drift from Pangea to present day. If you want to explore the datasets on your home computer, NOAA provides KML files for display using GoogleEarth.

Cheers to Dori 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


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.


This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For

Posted by – January 13, 2013

Death Star Citing its cost, vulnerability to attack by single-seat fighters, and the Administration’s aversion to blowing up planets, the White House has rejected building a Death Star. Responding to a petition on the White House Web site, OMB science and technology adviser Paul Shawcross explained that the estimated cost was too high in a time of tight budgets. I dunno…call it nostalgia for the Reagan era if you like, but $850,000,000,000,000,000 for the “ultimate power in the universe” seems like a good deal to me.


P.S. 201301221.1330 Maybe we don’t need to build it anyway, since it appears to be orbiting Saturn already (Mimas has a crater that makes it a dead ringer for the Death Star).

Neolithic Water Wells

Posted by – December 30, 2012

Neolithic water wellsGerman archeologists have unearthed 7,000-year-old water wells in eastern Germany, revealing a treasure trove of information regarding early farming societies. The wells would have been hand-dug down to the watertable, then cased (lined) with interlocked timbers to keep the shafts from collapsing. The archeologists’ article in the journal PLuS ONE concludes that the craftsmanship used to construct the wells indicates “…the first farmers were also the first carpenters, contradicting the common belief that the invention of metal woodworking tools more than a thousand years later was imperative for complex timber constructions.” Not as deep as Woodingdean or as big as The Big Well, but pretty impressive for 7,000 years ago.

Thanks to the National Groundwater Association and for the tip!