Feds organize to keep first responders up-to-date

Interagency group will look at ways to get federal geospatial intelligence to the local level in natural and manmade disasters

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up an interagency group to get geospatial information to local emergency responders during natural and manmade disasters.

'Regardless of what causes the incident, responders need geospatial intelligence to know where the disaster happened and how to get to it,' said Susan Kalweit, who has led the Interagency Geospatial Preparedness Team since its February formation.

Homeland Security Department CIO Steve Cooper has made geospatial technology one of his top three priorities, Kalweit said. Some regions of the country are comparatively data-poor, however, so the group will lay the groundwork for filling in gaps.

Kalweit said FEMA recruited representatives with mapping expertise from the Geological Survey and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. They will assess federal, state and local needs and existing capabilities, leveraging some of the work done for the Geospatial One-Stop portal, one of the 25 e-government initiatives, as well as NIMA's 133 Cities Project.

The assessment will take eight or nine months, but those may not be contiguous months, Kalweit said. Hurricane, wildfire and flooding seasons have started or soon will. Some of the workshops in FEMA's 10 regions will have to be postponed until the natural disasters have abated.

Different regions have different geospatial needs, Kalweit added. For example, visual-band remote sensing would work in hurricane-prone areas, but not in smoky forest fires.

Divvy up tasks

The interagency team will apportion tasks to federal, state and local governments and deal with data-sharing barriers such as proprietary formats, Freedom of Information Act rules and other legal issues.

The National States Geographic Information Council is assisting in outreach efforts.

Kalweit, who has been deputy chief of NIMA's North America and Homeland Security Division, will work at FEMA on detail until next February. Her deputy leaders are Tom Connolly, a Geological Survey cartographer, and Leslie Weiner-Leandro, who heads FEMA's Enterprise Geographic Information Systems team.

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