Category: Public Safety

Broad Range of Options for Collecting Data with Mobile GIS

By Tom Patterson, ESRI Wildland Fire Specialist and Tim Smith, National Park Service GPS Program Coordinator

In the wake of the disaster in Haiti, we wanted to share with you some of the options for collecting data in the field or conducting a damage assessment.  Given the expanse of the disaster and the number of people that responded with varying degrees of background we’ll present this information in order from the most basic to the most advanced.

GPS-Enabled Camera

During the 2009 Bushfires, we found that the easiest way to conduct a damage assessment survey with non-GIS trained personnel is to use a GPS-enabled digital camera like the Ricoh 500SE.  The location, direction you’re facing, time and date can be collected simply by taking a photograph of the damaged structure, for example.  Additional information about the feature you are documenting, including a voice narration, is embedded directly into the header file (EXIF) of each image and can be displayed in ArcGIS desktop with an extension such as GPS Photo-Link or ArcGIS Explorer using the Geotagged Image add-in.

Digital Pen

We’ve been in the 21st century for 10 years now and as wonderful as the technology has become, it will never totally replace paper maps and forms on a clip board. That’s OK because now we have the means to turn pen and paper into digital data that can be displayed in GIS.  Adapx has a very easy to use solution that requires minimal training for field personnel.  When used with a handheld GPS receiver, this clever method can be used by anyone.  Besides its simplicity and no learning curve, the major advantage to using the Adapx pen is you always have a paper map or forms as a backup.  This is not the case if your PDA, GPS receiver or digital camera becomes damaged or fails.

GPS Receiver

The most widely used GPS receivers by first responders are made by Garmin.   The DNR Garmin Application from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources lets you transfer data from the GPS device into a usable GIS format.  Here is a link to the GPS for Fire Management training course that explains how to collect field data with Garmin GPS receivers and use DNRGarmin to download/convert GPS data to shapefiles that can be used in ArcMap or ArcPad.

SendMap is a free application for uploading custom produced maps to your Garmin GPS.  The latest OpenStreetMap files for Port-au-Prince may be obtained from here and uploaded with SendMap for display on a Garmin receiver.

ArcPad 8

The next option is ArcPad 8 – which is a reliable Mobile GIS data collection method because you carry all basedata with you on the device.  A new feature of ArcPad 8 gives you the ability to synchronize with an ArcGIS server from the field (if you have Internet connectivity) for real-time updates that can be shared with all agencies and organizations.  Custom applets, specifically built for damage assessment purposes, make it easy for non-GIS trained personnel to use the technology.  Many of the newer PDA models have built-in digital cameras in addition to built-in GPS and wireless communication modems which provide a lightweight, all-in-one unit for field data collection and editing capabilities.


ArcGIS Mobile

ArcGIS Mobile is the most advanced solution because it is a part of the enterprise system. It is intended for use by non GIS-trained field personnel but requires a GIS Technical Specialist to maintain an ArcGIS Server and create ArcGIS Mobile data collection projects that can be run from any Windows mobile device including cell phones.  This was illustrated in our recent Live Training Seminar – Creating a Common Operational Picture with ArcGIS.  To get started the Damage Assessment Template could be used to collect data and leverage the base data from ArcGIS Online as shown below.

ArcGIS Mobile supports accessing, consuming, and using data to improve situational awareness where it is most important-in the field. Learn how solutions are designed and built to support this capability

A couple of other ESRI Business Partner Solutions include:

  • Blackberry users can collect field data and upload onto an ArcGIS Server through Freeance Mobile.
  • GeoCove has an ArcGIS Mobile solution specifically for damage assessments. This was detailed in a recent Podcast from Amy Hoyt in Lee County Florida.
  • GeoVisus also provides a hosted solution for ArcGIS Mobile.

We hope that this post improves your productivity as you support the response and recovery to the Haiti Earthquake.  For the latest information on how ESRI is supporting our users with the response, visit our Haiti Disaster Relief and Support site.  If you need disaster assistance, please fill out our Request Assistance form.

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Accessing OpenStreetMap data within ArcGIS to support the Haiti Earthquake Response

In continuing support of our users who are helping with the response to the Earthquake in Haiti, here are some ways to consume data from OpenStreetMap.  OpenStreetMap consists of widely available basemap data to support the response in Haiti.  In this blog post, I’ll lay out the options for consuming OpenStreetMap data within ArcGIS.  We’ve posted some of the layers to the Haiti Earthquake group on ArcGIS Online where we are organizing the relevant data.  There are two basic ways to consume this data – connecting via web service or downloading the data directly.

OGC Web Mapping Service (WMS)

One of the ways to connect is via Open Standards like WMS.  There is a layer package on ArcGIS Online for the Live Updating OpenStreetMap data.  This comes from this WMS service – and can easily be added to ArcMap by adding the layer from ArcGIS Online.  You can then combine this with other layers to support your work.  By adding this layer to ArcMap, you see what’s shown below – both the live, updated Damage Layers and also the basemap layers.  The individual layers within these groups can be turned on and off depending on the mission and need.

Download an Export of OpenStreetMap Data

Another option to access OpenStreetMap data within ArcGIS is to get an extract of the OpenStreetMap XML data either directly or via – which has updated extracts for Haiti in both OSM and ShapeFile Format.

The ArcGIS Data Interoperability extension supports the direct read of the OpenStreetMap XML format.  The easiest way to bring this in to a geodatabase is to right-click on the *.osm file and use the Export > To Geodatabase (multiple) tool in ArcCatalog as shown below.

To support our users who are supporting the response effort, we’ve been providing a layer package with the data downloaded from We provided that as a layer package that can be downloaded from ArcGIS Online here.  This will facilitate the use of this data offline in ArcGIS Desktop or even field use with ArcGIS Mobile or ArcPad.  We’ve been updating this data once a day (note – for the most up to date version of the data use the WMS service above).  Once the layer package is added to ArcMap it will look like the image below:

Here are a couple links to other related resources:

We hope that this post improves your productivity as you support the response to the Haiti Earthquake.  For the latest information on how ESRI is supporting our users with the response, visit our Haiti Disaster Relief and Support site.  If you need disaster assistance, please fill out our Request Assistance form.


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ESRI at the Random Hacks of Kindness Codejam

The Random Hacks of Kindness event sponsored by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, The World Bank, NASA and SecondMuse took place in Mountain View CA Nov 12-14 as a codejam focused on new solutions for disaster relief. ESRI sent a team to participate and work on tools for the open source community.

Onsite the ESRI team built a working widget for the Sample Flex Viewer. This widget, called Geo Status, will be available soon from is now posted to the Flex API Code Gallery.  Since the Sample Flex Viewer is a framework for integrating maps, data and services and is very extensible the team was able to quickly complete the task.  Many agencies, such as the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, have benefited from and contributed to this community of widget builders.


The Geo Status widget allows the user to link the tool to their HelloTxt ( account which may be linked to up to 59 different social networking sites. Geo Status lets you click on the map to insert X,Y location coordinates to send with your message. There is also an “I am OK” function that allows for a quick message to be sent out (with location information) with a simple message that lets friends and family quickly know that you are OK. The widget can easily be configured to work with any hellotxt account.


ESRI supports low-cost and no-cost solutions with a number of free mapping APIs, as well as a user community that shares code freely to extend these viewers. For more information on our free web API’s, please visit the ArcGIS Server API’s Community page at

The Geo Status widget developed at the Random Hacks of Kindness event will be made available for free download soon from the Flex API Code Gallery at  

The next Random Hacks of Kindness event is in the planning stages for the end of February on the east coast. Hope to see you there!


Contributed by the ESRI Random Hacks of Kindness Team – Andy Gup, Moxie Zhang and Tim Craig (pictured above)

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Got Live Feeds? The USGS Releases the Natural Hazard Support System based on ArcGIS Server

The USGS Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center (RMGSC), based in Denver, CO, recently released their Natural Hazard Support System (NHSS) application based on ArcGIS Server and the ArcGIS API for JavaScript.  This application ( contains a wealth of dynamic data including Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Wildfires (from GeoMAC), NOAA Weather Warnings and Watches and much more.

The Data Resources page discusses the sources of each of the data sets as well as the legend.  Also at the bottom of the page you’ll see info on the publicly available ArcGIS Server services:

Three map services were created for use in the NHSS, and each of these services is also publicly available for use by other Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Map Service Name: nhss_haz

Map Service Content: U.S. Volcanoes, Other Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Wildfires, Wildfire Perimeters

Map Service Projection: GCS_WGS_1984

Map Service URL’s:  


Map Service Name: nhss_weat

Map Service Content: Weather Watches and Warnings

Map Service Projection: GCS_WGS_1984

Map Service URL’s:  


Map Service Name: nhss_info

Map Service Content: Stream Gages, RAWS, Tide Stations

Map Service Projection: GCS_WGS_1984

Map Service URL’s:

These services can easily be added to the Emergency Management Common Operational Picture Template or Sample Flex Viewer by just adding a few lines to the config.xml file.   Simply copy the following XML in to the livemaps section of the config.xml file above the other layers:


label="USGS NHSS Other Information"

label="USGS NHSS Weather"

label="USGS NHSS Natural Hazards"



Furthermore you can leverage the data from and use it within the Live Layers Widgets in the Flex Viewer.  This will allow you to bring more attention to the data layer(s) and bring up some of the record details.

Create an xml configuration file for the Live Layer perhaps by making a copy of the LiveLayerWidget.xml in the comesrisolutionsflexviewerwidgets directory of the web application and call it LiveLayerWidgetWildfires.xml.

Edit the file to include the information needed such as REST End Point to the map layer, the fields to include as well as any hyperlink information.  To do this for the Wildfires layer use the following:

      <query>OBJECTID > 0</query>

Finally add an entry to the config.xml file within the widgets section for this Live Layer Widget:

<widget label="Wildfires" 
menu="menuOplayers" config="com/esri/solutions/flexviewer/widgets/LiveLayerWidgetWildfires.xml">


Note that by clicking on the orange arrow that you will be taken to the hyperlink for more information.  In this case the hyperlink leads to the National Interagency Fire Center.  This technique can be used to highlight any of the dynamic data from the NHSS ArcGIS Server layers.

In summary the Natural Hazard Support System provides a wealth of information and you should visit the site often to keep abreast of current hazard information.  For more details about this application click here – Furthermore if you’re already using other applications like the Emergency Management Template COP or the Flex Sample Viewer you can easily add the services from the USGS NHSS application.

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2010 Homeland Security Summit Call for Papers

Make sure to submit your papers for the 2010 Homeland Security Summit. The deadline is November 13th. We’re interested in learning from you and sharing your hard work and experiences with the homeland security community. To submit papers, please visit the below link

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Demographic Thematic Map Layers Now Available!


Demographics are a key piece of information to understanding vulnerability and risk for mitigation purposes.  There are now 12 new demographic thematic map layers available on ArcGIS Online offered at no charge to the ArcGIS Online user community.  In many cases these layers are based on current year demographics.  These map layers can be leveraged both on the web and on the desktop.

You can access the layers here –  The demographic variables include:

  1. USA 1990-2000 Population Change
  2. USA Average Household Size
  3. USA Daytime Population
  4. USA Diversity Index
  5. USA Labor Force Participation Rate
  6. USA Median Age
  7. USA Median Home Value
  8. USA Median Household Income
  9. USA Population Density
  10. USA Projected Population Change
  11. USA Recent Population Change
  12. USA Unemployment Rate

You can interact with these layers in an application here –

If you want to add this to your Emergency Management Common Operational Picture Template or Sample Flex Viewer simply add a new mapservice element within the livemaps section of the config.xml such as:

<mapservice label=”US Daytime Population” type=”dynamic” visible=”true” alpha=”0.75″></mapservice>


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Post ESRI Homeland Security GIS Summit and International User Conference Information

Well another ESRI International User Conference and Homeland Security GIS Summit have come and gone.  Thanks to everyone who attended the Summit and/or public safety activities at the User Conference.  It was great to see you and meet with you and learn from your experience.  For those of you that joined us (and for those who couldn’t) the materials from the Homeland Security GIS Summit and User Conference are now online.  Here are some of the highlights.

2009 ESRI Homeland Security GIS Summit:

2009 International ESRI User Conference:

Also, special thanks to everyone that attended our technical workshop focused on the Public Safety Resource Center entitled Emergency Management Applications using ArcGIS.  It was a pretty full room and we got a lot of great feedback from you on the templates and good suggestions for directions moving forward.  Some of the suggestions and comments include:

  • A special events template
  • More focus on industry data standards
  • Templates that help smaller units

Thanks for attending and we look forward to seeing you next year in San Diego!  Mark your calendar for next year’s events:

                ESRI International User Conference        July 12-16, 2010

                ESRI Homeland Security GIS Summit    July 10-13, 2010

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ESRI Homeland Security Summit and UC Public Safety Events and Activities

ESRI Homeland Security Summit – July 11-14, 2009

ESRI International User Conference – July 13-17, 2009

This coming weekend kicks off the merge of 2 very important ESRI Conferences.  Saturday the 11th, the ESRI Homeland Security Summit, the only geospatial conference dedicated to homeland security, starts off with an afternoon plenary session focusing on the latest advancements GIS has made in the industry and keynotes by Cindi Salas, CenterPoint Energy and Dr. David Boyd, Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate Command.  On Sunday, the conference convenes back together for panel sessions on intelligence analysis and data fusion.  Industry leaders will share their solutions and experiences and will be ready for questions.  Sunday wraps up with three breakout tracks on Data Fusion, Critical Infrastructure, and Situational Awareness.  This conference is a must attend for the public safety community.   Additional details on the Homeland Security Summit can be found at:

On Monday, July 13, 2009, ESRI customers across the globe are invited to attend the world’s largest gathering of GIS professionals.  Our world in Public Safety is being challenged by rapid change. You’ll see how to meet these challenges head-on at the 2009 ESRI International User Conference (ESRI UC). The weeklong geographic information system (GIS) conference offers sessions, exhibits, and technical information for public safety professionals.

Some conference highlights, not to be missed, include:

Sessions: The moderated paper sessions run throughout the day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – A couple sessions I would recommend to include on your agenda are:

 ”Emergency Management Applications using ArcGIS” in Room 17B on Wednesday at 1:30.  Come prepared with your feedback on the Public Safety Resource Center web site. 

Implementing FusionX CORE within a Homeland Security Data Fusion Center“, in Room 17A on Tuesday at 8:30am. Learn from ESRI and Microsoft staff how you can quickly stand up a geospatial based collaboration system for a fusion center that supports intake, analysis, and dissemination.

Threat Assessment and Critical Infrastructure Protection“, first offered in Room 17A on Tuesday at 3:15pm.

For more details on the sessions focused on public safety and homeland security please see the linked flier.

Exhibits: don’t miss our business partner solutions and the ESRI Public Safety Showcase for ESRI solution demonstrations and demo theatre that runs short demonstrations all day.

Special Interest Group Meetings:

            GIS in Homeland Security SIG – Room 17A on Tuesday

            GIS in Emergency Management SIG – Room 17A on Wednesday

            GIS in Law Enforcement – Room 17B on Thursday

We look forward to seeing you at the upcoming Homeland Security Summit and ESRI International User Conference.  Please comment on the blog post to let us know what you think and if there are any specific sessions that you recommend.  We will post a conference after action report following the conferences.  If you can’t make it – stay tuned.

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Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s COP Application – VIPER

Achieving operational and situational awareness in any EOC environment can be a challenge. Given the threat of natural and manmade disasters that can impact the continuity of a civil society and the normal operations government; workflows, procedures, and an operation picture of the event, is paramount to addressing the ever increasing challenges faced by emergency managers and first responders. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) had faced similar tests within their EOC, and were determined to develop a system that provide situational awareness in a timely and relevant manner to decision makers across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Virginia Interoperability Picture for Emergency Response, or more commonly known as VIPER, was the answer that VDEM was looking for to fulfill its mission to the residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia. VIPER was developed utilizing ESRI’s Sample Flex Viewer which is powered by ArcGIS Server


VIPER had an opportunity prove its mettle in several high profile natural disaster and national security events. The most notable ones being Tropical Storm Hannah, the Presidential Election, and the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, President Barack Obama. In each instance, VIPER was integral to providing geospatial intelligence and situational awareness to allied agencies supporting these events. VIPER gave non-GIS staff the opportunity to visualize, analyze, and query relevant information in a common operational picture. Watch officials, emergency managers, first responders, and citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Nation, have all benefited from the pioneering and innovative development of this system. To learn more about VIPER visit - or watch the video posted on the Public Safety Resource Center and the ESRI TV Channel on YouTube.


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New Article in Fire Chief Magazine Highlights Enterprise GIS at Orange County Fire

Check out the May Issue of Fire Chief Magazine featuring Orange County Fire Authority’s use of GIS. Here’s an enterprise platform in place today that’s making a difference in all phases of fire service.

Story Brief

Orange County Uses GIS to Coordinate Multiagency Response | Central Nervous System – FIRE CHIEF Article

May 01, 2009, Fire Chief, By Jesse Theodore

The Orange County Fire Authority uses computer mapping to coordinate the activities of all parts of its organization. Using a spatially enabled enterprise consisting of fully integrated Web, server, desktop and mobile solutions, OCFA supplies an integration platform that seamlessly fuses data, applications, processes and previously isolated departments into a synergistic whole.

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