USGS holds homeland treasure

USGS National Map

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PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. Geological Survey, with its massive collection of the most comprehensive maps of the United States, has become an unlikely partner in the war against terror, a top government official said June 30.

Marty Eckes, senior policy adviser for USGS, told a gathering of federal officials that the agency's collection has become essential for homeland security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. USGS has the only maps showing the entire infrastructure of the United States.

While most intelligence-gathering efforts have looked abroad, Eckes said the collection known as the National Map provides much of the information government officials and first responders would need to help fight terrorism.

Eckes said the collection included vast amounts of information about transportation, structures, water systems and boundaries. It also has detailed maps of 133 urban areas that show power lines and institutions such as hospitals.

"We already have it here. We don't have to re-create it," Eckes told the gathering at the second annual Government Symposium on Information Sharing and Homeland Security, sponsored by the Government Emerging Technology Alliance.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Eckes said communities have been working with USGS to add details about their areas and make sure that information is available for first responders. For example, a firefighter will be able to click on a hospital that is designated in red and get information about how to get there and what kind of traumas are treated at the facility.

While the information provides a rich repository for U.S. officials, it also is available to anyone anywhere in the world. Most of it is not classified and is readily available on the USGS' National Map Web site (nationalmap.usgs.gov), Eckes said.

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