CrisisCampDC

Technology + Humanitarian Relief Barcamp (June 2009)

The Importance of "GPS Coordinates": Hurricane Dean AAR

http://www.emergencymanagement.org/#GPS_Coordinates
Another Good After Action Report (AAR)
Texas Governor's Division of Emergency Management's 2007 Hurricane Dean AAR

The importance of "GPS Coordinates"
"The SOC should consider including the GPS coordinates of key locations (including reception centers, command centers, fuel points, etc.) in communications."

(One can bet there were many more similar lessons from the 2008 hurricane season.)

A Google search on "Hurricane Dean AAR" yielded this overall very solid report. Mapping/GPS issues focused upon here.

Given it is just days away from the start of the 2009 Hurricane Season, the Dean AAR once again shows in plain language the importance of map (GPS) coordinates in plans, for operations at EOCs, and by responders and disaster workers in the field. Such matters are of critical and life saving importance.

If nothing else, given Hurricane Dean ended up missing Texas and hitting Mexico, the lessons of this report are of special significance: the road signs were still in place; it was simply a potential disaster with days of warning. Given all that, an already capable/competent state emergency management enterprise reported out these (easily fixed) sources of operational friction that in times of crisis...cost lives.

Interesting to note that the first two items at the top of the first "quick fix" list were:
"Include GPS coordinates of key locations and staging areas in all responder messages" and "Encourage the personal use of GPS devices among responders." Just a few other items down the list: "Consider obtainment of a large number of 'personal vehicle' GPS devices, which can easily be programmed with addresses or coordinates of destinations and provide routing information for drivers unfamiliar with the area to which they have been directed."

One substantial weakness in the report, no reference was made to USNG being what everyone should set their maps, GPS, plans and protocols. USNG is the standards-based solution for much of the confusion, chaos, lack of unified command and control (C2), the"rabble" occurring and reported on disaster after disaster.

Having GPS, maps, plans, commo set to and using any and all of the many different coordinate systems available, including proprietary ones that won't work with GPS..., all at the same time on the same disaster makes no sense at all. Why then do we keep doing it?

U.S. National Grid-NAD83 (older units use interop MGRS-WGS84) is the standard of choice for many reasons including flexibility and ease of use by anyone, civilian, trained responder, etc.

Operation centers/plans/commo all on the same common operating grid (USNG) that the National Guard and Federal response assets use is a fundamental and powerful tool for consequence management when disaster hits. This, of course, so that the GPS coordinates will work with professionally gridded maps and communications to enhance interoperability with the state and national military assets and other responders (like USAR Teams) coming in from outside areas..., a common language of location for operations...(often in support of street addresses).

Do we want all of our responders and citizens alike to be on the same map sheet of music or don't we? If the smorgasboard of civilian maps at gas stations and stores in a disaster impacted area, most with their own unique grid reference system (local coordinate systems that won't work with GPS), if these are the maps that large proportions of disaster responders have no other alternative but to use..., is that sensible? Is unified C2 even possible? Can we afford such ops friction when there are many lives at stake? What exactly is the role of "emergency management" in such matters?

It's not like there hasn't been, from the most professional of sources, easy to accomplish and basic common sense recommendations over the years. There have been: "...Several grid systems to identify locations, a lack of standardization that can create time-consuming confusion in time of emergency... standard grid for such applications that can eliminate this spatial confusion. Called the U.S. National Grid (USNG), this standard will permit easy depiction of positions to 10 meters or less anywhere in the United States using an alphanumeric designator about the size of a telephone number...More focused leadership by the Federal Government to promote such basic education as well as training in the uniform application of GPS at federal, State and local levels by emergency responders would pay nationwide dividends for Homeland Security." (Defense Science Board Task Force on The Future of the Global Positioning System, prepared Spring/Summer 2005 and released 10/2005)

The time is now. It is after all, the beginning of yet another hurricane season and Earthquake Preparedness Month was back in April. Many things at the federal, state, and local levels are ready and many others already in motion. Still, much more is needed if we are to take seriously the magnitude and variety of threats/risks facing the USA.

For FEMA, the pump is primed and a few simple moves could provide dramatic results..., very quickly. The National Emergency Training Center (NETC) for example, has many professionals who understand these issues very well and have been ready and willing to share simple standards-based improvements, like those reported out by Texas (but + USNG), with and for the emergency services enterprise. They stand ready and willing to serve when allowed to do so. The new COTR for the Integrated Emergency Management Course (IEMC) being a prime example of one of the best qualified folks on the campus.

Time will tell.

(PS: since this blog was originally written, a new FEMA Leadership has been sworn into office and literally one of their few first "near-term priorities" is: USNG)

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