D.C. looks to GIS for crisis help

In a step to improve emergency planning within its boundaries and with its surrounding neighbors, Washington, D.C., has hired a contractor to study what geographic information systems data is available and how it can be appropriately used by agencies in response to crises.

In the next three months, PlanGraphics Inc., a Frankfort, Ky.-based GIS company, will look at what information systems are generally available to support the city's Emergency Management Agency (dcema.dc.gov/main.shtm), differentiate between spatial and relational information, and examine how such information can be coordinated and used among agencies, said John Antenucci, the company's president and chief executive officer.

"The buzzwords are planning, response and recovery to an emergency," he said, in explaining why such an emergency GIS implementation plan is needed. PlanGraphics, which was awarded a 15-week contract worth $145,000, is also working with the city's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (octo.dc.gov/main.shtm).

The company, which specializes in implementing GIS for state and local governments, also will provide a new photo image base map of the city, including underground utility networks, zoning and property boundaries and other such information.

"You would look at it as a photograph if all the distortions were removed," Antenucci said, adding that the city can view such maps two- or three-dimensionally. That particular assignment, he said, will be completed in a matter of weeks.

In developing the overall plan, the company will work with city staff to interview workers at varied other federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service, the National Park Service, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia also will be consulted.

This June, Washington, D.C., launched a Web-based mapping tool called DC Atlas, which harvests information from its 67 agencies and makes it accessible to city employees at their desktops. Antenucci said this GIS emergency plan would be an expansion of that utility.

Since 1994, PlanGraphics has worked with New York City's technology and emergency management agencies. Before Sept. 11, the company helped develop a Web-based GIS application called the Emergency Management Online Locator System that helped city emergency workers guide residents to the nearest "cooling centers" via the fastest route during a heat wave.

Antenucci said that application was modified after the terrorist attacks for a wide range of needs, including what areas were accessible by pedestrian and vehicular traffic, what utilities were available during a particular time of day, and what storage areas could handle, for example, 100 dump trucks. He said the application also was modified during last fall's anthrax scare to track medical facilities and bed availability, although it was never deployed for this use.

The company, he said, has also worked with Chicago officials to develop a data warehouse of all property information within Cook County, including ownership, boundary and transactional history of land transfers.

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