Friday, July 13, 2007

Situational Awareness Tool: Virtual Alabama

Alabama DHS's situational-awareness tool for municipalities and first responders, Virtual Alabama, is getting some good press:

The Alabama De­partment of Homeland Security hopes every county will have use of its Virtual Alabama com­puter system by the end of this year, revealing images of the state's infrastructure.

Virtual Alabama is available to any agency with a dot-gov In­ternet address. At least 1,000 reg­istered users have signed up for it. Users can view evacuation routes, flood zones, school dis­tricts and watersheds.

The software required to view the program is available free to counties and municipali­ties, DHS officials said.

The system has a multitude of uses for emergency response planning, roadbuilding, fire­fighting and other situations that require government re­sponse.

"We're working with city and county agencies to increase the data layers available," EMA planner John Kilcullen said Thursday. "It's only limited by the information you put in."
The system provides real-time information - useful for establishing situational awareness during a disaster:
Department of Transporta­tion camera feeds are available on the system, Kilcullen said, al­lowing officials to monitor ma­jor thoroughfares and critical intersections, which helps in planning a hurricane evacua­tion.

If an aircraft flies over a dis­aster area with a camera, the photo can quickly be download­ed onto Virtual Alabama. With revenue maps online, officials can estimate the property losses in short order.
The information that's supplied is useful in both emergency and non-emergency situations:
Walker said law enforcement agencies also could use it to track sex offenders or plan tacti­cal operations, such as meth lab raids.

Firefighters could call up floor plans for schools and take a look at building contents.

"All that information as firefighters are going into a scene would benefit you," DHS Director Jim Walker said.
This is a nice example of two-way communication between state and local authorities. Local authorities can provide the information and state officials make it widely available through an easy-to-use interface. All too often the information gets pushed down to local governments. It's good to see locals sending the information upstream, and then seeing that information being utilized in a useful way.

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