A clear and mapped-out view

Florida Division of Emergency Management

When Tom Horness, a senior geographic information systems specialist for the city of Sheboygan, Wis., asked fire department officials for their preplanning documents to put in a new mapping application, he was surprised to receive two three-ring binders.

"I was like, 'This is it?' " he said. "It's just pieces of paper. Some of them were handwritten; some of them were typewritten. Then they photocopied aerial photos that I gave them and took a yellow highlighter and marked the building and threw it in the book."

To bring the city's first responders into the Digital Age, Horness earlier this year began testing a new emergency response application from Autodesk Inc. using a $50,000 grant from the company and a $5,000 grant from the city.

Autodesk's Emergency Response Solution lets fire officials, for example, call up buildings' floor plans, calculate how much water would be needed to fight a fire and render a 3-D image of the downtown area. The software can integrate layers of building photographs, aerial imagery, demographic and property data, and other maps.

The San Rafael, Calif.-based company, which formally unveiled the product July 26, ran pilot tests in Sheboygan; in Grand Forks, N.D.; and for the Florida Emergency Management Division.

Chris Bradshaw, vice president of Autodesk's Infrastructure Solutions Division, said the Emergency Response Solution is based on the company's MapGuide software and integrates computer-aided design databases containing detailed building plans with GIS technology. The result is a product that lets first responders drill down to specific information, such as the locations of sprinkler systems and electrical panels.

Horness, who has been using MapGuide for a number of years, said Sheboygan officials have incorporated detailed floor plans of 75 buildings — including schools, government facilities, commercial properties and other critical infrastructures — into their tests of the solution. Using its preplanning component, officials now can call up digital floor diagrams, see attached photos and view hazardous materials reports. Police and fire officials will be able to access data through mobile terminals in their vehicles.

Autodesk's tool offers ease of use and reduced purchase, development and implementation costs compared to other products, according to some users. Bradshaw said the product is data-agnostic and the average implementation costs between $30,000 and $50,000.

Officials at Florida's emergency division are planning to give local officials access to many of Autodesk's emergency response software components, said Gary Watry, the agency's GIS administrator. Last summer, the division unveiled a password-protected Web site that incorporates GIS data built on MapGuide.

The software could help emergency officials better respond to events, he said. For example, an application called Bomb Blast calculates the extent of bomb damage, ranging from a pipe bomb to a truck filled with explosives. Blast rings on a map show how much damage is expected within a certain zone emanating from the explosion.

A 3-D depiction of an area can help a police officer determine the line of sight of a sniper who is situated in a particular location. "This tool is so accurate that if I back [the sniper] up 10 feet from the edge of the roof, it really shows the change in what's viewable to him," Watry said.

Another application, Northridge, would enable local officials to upload data directly to the system without having to first transmit it to state officials. Local commanders could show in real time where they have put up barricades or established mass care centers, Watry said, adding that "as soon as they load it, everyone in the system sees it."

The Emergency Response Guide, another Autodesk application, provides information about a variety of chemicals and proper procedures to follow after hazardous spills, including a rudimentary rendering of a contaminated zone.

So far, Florida officials have mapped more than 140,000 structures, such as schools, stadiums and arenas, theme parks, bridges, ports, government buildings, nuclear power plants and other facilities, Watry said. Local governments also can create mirrors of the state site and add details relevant to their communities. They would just need to buy the software and licenses, he said.

Horness said officials in Sheboygan's surrounding jurisdictions have also expressed serious interest in the Autodesk solution. Some people may think the city is an unlikely terrorist target, but Horness said they would be wrong. Federal and state representatives have said the same to city officials.

"They said, 'Don't be thinking just because you're a little 50,000-population place in the middle of dairy land Wisconsin you can't be a target,' " Horness said. "That makes you a prime target."

Sheboygan was once rated the top place to live in the country, it's among the top 10 destinations for golf, and international car races are held there annually. The city also hosted the premiere of a Kevin Costner movie called "Open Range" a year ago.

***

EMERGENCY RESPONSE

Autodesk Inc.'s Emergency Response Solution offers a variety of applications to aid public safety workers and law enforcement officers:

The applications:

Display the extent of damage that can be caused by detonating a certain amount of explosives in an area.

Integrate a building's floor plans, addresses, photographs, aerial imagery and other data.

Calculate the number of gallons of water per minute needed to fight a fire.

Provide an emergency response guide with information about a variety of chemicals, their effects and proper mitigation actions.

Estimate a person's line of sight on a map.

Add symbols on a map to display staging areas, command posts, hospitals, triage centers and others.

Source: Autodesk Inc.

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