Microsoft, NGA team for hurricane work

Microsoft and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) are combining forces to help citizens, government agencies and partner organizations prepare for another active hurricane season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook on Monday but forecasters are already predicting major hurricanes.

NGA, which provides geospatial data for national security purposes, has developed a customized version of Microsoft’s online mapping service Virtual Earth to aid disaster recovery efforts. The Virtual Earth license allows NGA to build on Microsoft's integrated mapping and search platform through a programmable application program interface.

During hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, NGA used Virtual Earth to create a portal that provided citizens, government users and partner organizations with maps and aerial imagery of the disaster area. NGA was able to disseminate satellite imagery online from commercial imagery vendors to first responders, agencies and concerned citizens.

Through a viewer focused on the affected regions of the Gulf Coast, users could see street maps combined with NGA’s aerial imagery.

People could search for specific street addresses and specific places such as "Superdome" or "gpt,” the code for Gulfport, Miss., airport. Citizens could see if their houses had been flooded. The public had access to certain datasets, while registered government users and partners could see a wider array of information.

With the Virtual Earth application, NGA could focus on distributing aerial imagery, instead of aggregating maps.

Microsoft officials say the Virtual Earth solution can be tailored to compare traffic flow data with past years’ data, enabling organizations like the Red Cross to plan evacuation routes.

“You can actually take the historical data, see and measure that data in preparation for the hurricane season. If you have historical traffic data, you can see what roads backed up during any period of time,” said Curt Kolcun, general manager of Microsoft Federal. "It is a new way of developing applications."

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