Monday, November 16, 2009
GeoCam Disaster Response Project members were on the First Prize team "I'm OK". From left to right, Chris Cinelli, Otavio Good, Eric Park, Trey Smith, and Ted Morse. (Our iPhone hacker Hansel couldn't stick around for the awards.)
The Random Hacks of Kindness disaster relief codejam was this weekend. RHoK was an unconference run by all the attendees, not just a few organizers. The goal was to hack together new tools to help in disaster relief. Before the conference, people submitted problem definitions -- their sense of gaps in disaster relief where innovation could make a difference. At the conference we broke up into teams to create open source software and process ideas to address those problems.
Our team "I'm OK" addressed the problem that urban cell networks get bogged down in disasters with people calling their loved ones to tell them they're ok. To address this, we created a mobile phone app called "I'm OK" with just one button. It sends a single SMS to a server that in turn notifies all your friends and family that you're ok through whatever services you use to connect with them, like SMS to their phones, Facebook status update, Twitter update, etc. This is particularly useful because SMS messages don't burden the cell network as much as phone calls, and can often get through when calls can't. Half of the team was GeoCam project members (Eric, Ted, and myself), and we picked up some new friends along the way (Chris, Otavio, and Hansel).
Here's a few more photos.
FEMA Director Craig Fugate gave the keynote address, where he introduced the problem of encouraging people to make a family disaster plan before the disaster strikes.
I talked about NASA's involvement in disaster relief.
The team was pretty exhausted by Saturday morning, but the free food helped :)
The presentation Eric gave about "I'm OK". Otavio did most of the slides.
The I'm OK app running on Android and iPhone. (Credit: Elinor Mills, CNET)
Friday, October 30, 2009
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Phil Wowak (far right) listens as a resident says he did not receive the evacuation warning from the county's reverse-911 system.
Tuesday was our last day at the Loma Fire. With activity slow on the fire itself, the most interesting event was the community information forum in the evening, where all the public agencies involved in the response discussed what happened with local citizens and listened to their concerns.
It was great to see this, because we're embarking on a new initiative called the Citizen Responder Project, which aims to empower citizens to better help each other in emergencies through use of information technology and social media (more on that in future posts). This fire may become our first case study.
The forum started with several presentations explaining things like how the fire progressed, which roads were closed and why, and how the evacuation warning was sent out using the county's reverse 911 system.
A CAL FIRE representative talks about the history of fires in the area. The Loma Fire is in red and the 2008 Summit Fire is in yellow. (It was neat to see this map, as I was in the GIS trailer when Joe Larson was preparing it.)
Then there was a wide ranging open discussion. Some residents were very expressive about not liking road closures that kept them away from their homes. Very calm professional responses from the presenters kept that thread from getting out of hand.
The part that interested me the most was a discussion of how citizens could stay informed. The people who listened to the radio complained about the quality of information. For example, one woman spent an extra hour driving home because she couldn't figure out which roads were closed. Most media reports were targeted at audiences outside the community and left out the details local residents care about most.
Other residents said that their local Facebook friends were the best source of information. Alex Leman's Loma Prieta Fire Twitter feed was also mentioned as a good way to keep up. Somebody asked how they could stay updated when they were away from home, and the advice was to call a neighbor who's always on the computer. Other communication methods were brought up, like a call center to answer questions or a physical bulletin board for official postings. It was interesting to see how different residents had different levels of comfort with official vs. informal channels, which seems to be related to computer literacy and level of social involvement in the community.
Loma Prieta Fire Chief and Community Emergency Response Team organizer Alex Leman (top left) tells citizens how they can get involved in response.
At the end of the evening I talked to a few of the presenters and got some business cards, so as soon as we figure out what questions to ask we should be able to follow up with them to get more impressions of their experience with this response. The forum was a great wrap-up to our involvement in this fire.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Today's highlight was a visit to the San Martin Airport where they run helitack for the Loma Fire. One of the helicopters (an Aerospatiale SA-315B "Lama" type 3) took a GeoCam phone aboard on a recon flight, collecting more than 80 photos. The start of the fire is still under investigation -- many of the GeoCam photos were taken near the point of origin and will remain embargoed until the investigation is complete.
The fire was quiet today with light winds. The team was really trying to put it to bed before a cold front comes through tonight with much stronger northerly winds, predicted to gust locally up to 45 mph. If the wind manages to push the fire across the containment line and Highland Way to the south, the fire will be moving upslope again and things could get hairy.
Other things going on -- we met a whole bunch of folks on ICT 3 and had some good technical discussion with the GIS specialists about ways to improve our data export. Here's a bulk export of many of today's GeoCam photos (cleared for public release).
I'll leave you with some more of the nicer photos.
Loma Fire wide view from the southwest at about 3000'. Fingers of activity move slowly downslope on the south side, zero flame length.
San Martin airport from the air. The helicopters in the foreground are a Sikorsky S-64 "Skycrane" (Type 1) and possibly a Bell 407 (Type 3).
Field observer debrief in the GIS trailer. Observers Steve DeBenedet (left) and Rick Wonneberger (right) are debriefing with GIS specialist Jonathan Pangburn (center).
Sunday, October 25, 2009
GeoCam has just been invited to deploy to the Loma Fire on the border between Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.
The fire takes the name "Loma" from Mt. Loma Prieta, which many people will recognize as the epicenter of the last major earthquake to hit the Bay Area in 1989. The fire started this morning, Sunday Oct 25, at 0425. The area got 10 inches of rain recently, but that wasn't enough to wet down the heavy fuels, and northerly winds up to 30 mph didn't help. According to the last update, the fire covers 800 acres, 0% containment, and growing fast.
The area is in a canyon along the San Andreas fault, hard to access from the ground, and lots of air resources have been called in. CAL FIRE is deploying Team 3 (a Type I team) to the fire. They will take over after a transition meeting at 2000 tonight.
We were invited to the fire by Jeff Gahagan, the comm unit leader for Team 3. We happened to meet him a couple of months ago at the Lake/Napa Unit Emergency Command Center in St. Helena where we staged the phones for fires in the Sonoma area -- we trained him on using the phones and he's seen the web interface as well.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
During summer 2009, I had the great opportunity to work as an intern for the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames, and GeoCam is the project I worked on under the management of Trey. Although I am back at BYU now, I am still working on GeoCam development and researching on how GeoCam can effectively support disaster responder operations.
After the Guiberson fire started, Trey and I were invited by Tom Z to the Incident Command Post, located at the city community center of Moorpark, CA, to deploy the GeoCam system and investigate how GeoCam can support the firefighting process.
The Guiberson fire is a type I fire that burned over 17,000 acres, and involved over 1,000 fire personnel. It was in an area very close to several communities and many avocado farms. The fire started on September 22, and by the time I flew in on September 25, the fire had been almost contained. However, we were still able to let the damage assessment team and the rehabilitation field observers team use GeoCam in their post-fire operations. We also introduced GeoCam to firefighters from various divisions, groups, and regions, and discussed how GeoCam might be useful in their daily operations.
Tom, Trey and I also drove along the fire line and documented the area of the fire. Although most of the fire had burned out, it was still very exciting to see mountains and peaks that were entirely black from the fire. We also caught several small fires that were still burning within the fire line.
We interviewed members of the incident command team, field observers, and GIS specialists (in charge of providing up-to-date maps), and these users provided us great feedback about the GeoCam system. People are very happy about the ease of training. It only takes minutes for a firefighter to become efficient in using the GeoCam mobile software running on the Android phone. Fire crews are especially impressed by GeoCam's real-time (within cell coverage) photo uploading capability. Normally, information only gets updated after field observers return to the base camp, which could be many hours after they collect the information. This capability reduces the information turn around time and also reduces the workload of the field observers after they return when they are exhausted and ready to hit the shower. The GIS specialists also pointed out that the ability to have field observers categorize photos using fire icons directly on the phone can be very helpful in reducing communication errors and workload for the map makers.
I flew out of LA on September 27. At the time, the fire was 85% contained and most of the units were demobilized. It was a very exciting three-day trip for me because it was my first fire. I hope GeoCam can become a useful tool in disaster response operations such as the Guiberson fire to make the firefighters job easier. These great, hard-working people put their lives on the line to protect residents and their properties. They deserve the best!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The Remote Sensing Applications Center, part of the US Forest Service, continually works with NASA to evaluate technology that can help the FS and other land management agencies fulfill their mission. We always seem to begin with fire applications as they elicit the most interest from management and the public. GeoCam certainly has fire applications, and it can also be used in other applications within the FS, like recreation planning and resource management.
Screen shot of the GeoCam Share map of the Guiberson Fire, as viewed in Google Earth.
I was impressed with the GeoCam utility. As Trey has posted previously there were some issues but that is to be expected on a first or even second deployment. As you can see from the map we were able to collect images from all over the fire. We got a lot of excellent feedback from the fire fighters that will allow us to build on this experience for our next deployment.
I was able to get one of the phones from Trey which I will use to develop a training pamphlet and a brief so that we can help firefighters learn how to use GeoCam before they get to the fire and to evaluate the utility of GeoCam in day-to-day land management applications.
Monday, September 28, 2009
[View in Google Earth]
[View in Browser]
GigaPan is another project we work on in the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames. The Gigapan camera is a simple robotic platform for capturing very high-resolution (gigapixel and up) panoramic images from a standard digital camera.
GigaPan can be used to collect panoramas that cover a broad area of terrain at very high detail. That's great for before-and-after shots of post-disaster damage. For example, the Yosemite Extreme Panoramic Imaging Project collected panoramas covering many of the walls in Yosemite National Park. These will be used as "before" images to help estimate the volume of fallen rock after future landslides.
This panorama, taken from a hilltop near Grimes Canyon Road, was stitched together from about 500 photos that took 40 minutes to collect. It covers a broad area of vegetation burned by the Guiberson fire. We hope the information will help guide rehabilitation efforts. For example, landslides are a concern after a fire in rugged terrain like this, and firefighters can take steps to avoid them like installing hardware to guide stormwater runoff.
One technical note -- the camera skipped two frames in the upper right of the GigaPan and we filled the holes in with sky so that the panorama would stitch. As a result the tops of some distant hills have been cut off. The problem is pretty obvious when you see it. None of the other data is suspect as far as we know.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
This GeoCam photo covering a broad area of fire damage will be used to help guide post-fire rehabilitation efforts (credit: Scott Quirarte / CAL FIRE).
Our console in the Situation Unit room. At top is a geotagged photo viewed as a billboard in Google Earth. At bottom is a 2D map in a browser.
Today the fire continued to wind down, but we had several repeat users from yesterday asking to use the phones again. We collected 40 more geotagged photos with 6 phones issued to field observers spread across the Fire Behavior, Damage Assessment, and Rehabilitation Groups.
Fire behavior predicts how the fire will spread based on factors like fuel and weather. Damage assessment estimates the cost of the fire, often documenting property damage with local landowners. Rehabilitation plans to minimize the after-effects of the fire and the response, things like repairing roads damaged by heavy trucks and shoring up soil to prevent landslides. All these groups use field observers and we think GeoCam can help with all of them.
Today we got some great feedback that will help us improve the system:
- GIS Specialist Todd Tuggle advised us to deprioritize the goal of making a local GeoCam server work stand-alone on a LAN without relying on connectivity to the rest of the Internet. He says the network has become so important to their operations that they pretty much always invest the resources to make it happen (at least at "project fires" that keep growing past initial attack). If we follow his advice it will greatly simplify our software development.
- We successfully exported Friday's photo positions as points in an ESRI shapefile that their GIS tools could read in, and the GIS guys said they expect it to be a huge time saver for them when constructing maps. They are also really excited about allowing field observers to select icons from the fire symbology.
- An important issue we were unaware of is the approval process for new map data. Typically all new data needs to be approved by both the Sit Unit Leader and the branch or division chief for that area. In the future we'll need to provide separate views of "approved data" (for all responder personnel) and "all data" (restricted to folks involved in the approval process). This is to prevent people on the line from making decisions based on bad data.
- Several field observers told us battery life is a problem on the phones. We may invest in booster packs that can charge our phones from the AA batteries that are found everywhere in fire camps.
Friday, September 25, 2009
For the first time, GeoCam phones were used for post-fire damage assessment (credit: Chris Waters / CAL FIRE).
Today we distributed seven GeoCam phones to field observers at the Guiberson Fire and collected 55 photos. Rob Lewin, the incident commander, reviewed our interface and gave us his take on what CAL FIRE wants from new sensor technology -- the most important thing is that we produce the right kind of high-level map for them to use in planning operations.
Unfortunately, we arrived at the fire too late for our information to really impact their planning process. Barring major weather changes most of the crew here will demobilize by Sunday. As activity dies down we're still figuring out whether we'll return to Ames or try to engage in post-damage activities on this and the Station Fire for a few more days.
In the morning we watched Aerovironment test their Puma aircraft, trying to use its thermal IR camera to trace the fire line. Here we see prep for launch near the ground station.
Some other events today:
- Many thanks to Chris Waters' crew in Fire Behavior and Nancy Parson and Geovani Stoute in Damage Assessment for testing out the phones. We'll also be talking to folks in the post-fire rehabilitation crew tomorrow.
- Todd Tuggle and Jennifer Valdez in the GIS mapping trailer are advising us on how to export data from GeoCam Share to an ESRI shapefile format their tools can read in.
- Tim Ball, a thermal infrared analyst and helicopter pilot out of Reno, took one of the phones up in his helicopter to evaluate. He explained how he reduces his data collection process to the very barest essentials that can produce the data product the IC wants, namely a registered map of hot spots. Hopefully GeoCam can be stripped down a lot as well after we get more experience.
- Our host, Sit Unit Leader Buddy Bloxham, had a lot of insightful comments. He was impressed that field observers could learn to use a GeoCam phone in five minutes. He also reinforced the importance of some of our key goals -- focus on ease of use, cutting down the admin time required to set up an incident (when the crew is at its busiest), and ability to view other products like track logs in the map. IC Rob Lewin said it would really help to enable sharing of quick natural drawings on a map.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Our friend Tom Zajkowski from the US Forest Service is acting as liaison with our host, Buddy Bloxham, the Sit Unit Leader from CAL FIRE Incident Command Team 10. Lanny Lin, who interned with GeoCam this summer, is flying in from BYU to help. We'll have 9 GeoCam phones altogether and will get as many as possible in the hands of field observers on the ground and aircraft crew.
The Guiberson Fire (Credit: fivedollarones @ Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0)
For more about the Guiberson Fire:
Friday, August 14, 2009
So far we haven't had any contact with the IC on the fire, so we don't know if they've accessed the GeoCam Share server to look at the data. We're hoping that some of the folks we know from the Sonoma/Lake/Napa Unit will deploy down there so there's a better chance to put GeoCam into action.
Two photos taken around 12:30 Thursday at the Lockheed fire, probably from 4500'. (Credit: AA 140 crew / CAL FIRE).
Monday, August 10, 2009
Before getting into the details, I want to thank the gracious staff of CAL FIRE for taking the time to talk with us and suffering through my barrage of questions with well-spoken answers. This group is top notch. After living in California for most of my life, I know I owe these folks a lot for all their dedication and hard work.
I am away from my normal office at the University of New Hampshire to be out at NASA Ames for a week and half to collaborate with the GeoCam team. The GeoCam project, lead by Trey Smith, is similar to a number of ways to projects that I work on. They use the G-1 Phone with Google Android to upload tactical information from CAL FIRE personnel in the field (specifically geotagged images with position, orientation, and notes), which are then displayed on web interfaces and inside of Google Earth. This is very similar to what I would like to see be available for the marine debris, oil spill, and whale location teams in NOAA. I am also interested in mobile applications that allow creation of content for products like the GeoCoastPilot – a 4D interactive port visualization used by mariners before entering a port. Collaboration and cross-pollination is even easier in that both the GeoCam team and I use Python, Django, and Google Earth. The python usage in the GeoCam team might be partly my fault from when I worked in the same building at NASA Ames in the mid to late 90’s.
On Friday, Trey, Alex Roederer and I went to north of the San Francisco Bay to visit two CAL FIRE installations as a part of the GeoCam project. The GeoCam team was delivering phones to these sites and training the staff how to use them. For me, it was a chance to see the phones, training, and most importantly the operations of the CAL FIRE staff. The CAL FIRE team has one key property that NOAA’s response teams do not have – CAL FIRE responds to huge number of incidents during fire season in a small area (California). NOAA’s teams respond all over the country and sporadically as incidents occur infrequently.
Our first stop was the CAL FIRE Air Attack Station in Sonoma, CA. This facility houses two S2T Turbo Tracker tankers and an OV-10 observation plane. Trey described these planes in a previous post and he has some excellent pictures of the OV-10 (Air Attack 140). You can read more about the history of the planes use for fire fighting in California in the CAL FIRE aviation history writeup.
OV-10 observation plane (left) and S2T tanker staged on the tarmac ready for operations.
Alex and I got a tour of the S2T (T-85). Where as the OV-10 circles overhead providing coordination, this plane delivers fire retardant right in front of fires from 100-150 feet over the ground at 150 knots (172 mph). We got an explanation of how the plane operates while sitting in the pilot and copilot seats. That makes it all very real. Before getting in the plane, we were instructed exactly what not to touch as the plane was ready to go for fire fighting.
Kurt (left) and Alex (right) in the cockpit of the S2T Air Attack 85.
Once inside the cockpit, the most striking thing is how low tech the controls are. There are no map displays and the only electronic displays are at most a couple of rows of text. I’ve become used to seeing radar and automatic identification system (AIS) chart display systems on ships that show what is around. The aircraft has a GPS with a text display and a TCAS that displays the identity of aircraft around, but requires scrolling through the list of planes. This identification display is even more restricted than the minimum keyboard display (MKD) that mariners have concluded is almost useless. However, in this case, the pilots are being directed from overhead by the controller in the OV-10 observation plane, so it’s less important to have this as a map display. Navigation is done on paper charts on the team’s kneeboards. The S2T has bubble windows in the cockpit, so it is possible to put your head outside of the frame and see straight down or behind the plane.
We did not get as much time with the OV-10 as it was in the middle of some quick tire work to get it rapidly back into service. These impressive observation platforms saw service in Vietnam. The visibility appears to be even better than that found in the S2T. These guys are monitoring and able to talk on up to 6 radio frequencies at the same time. They have to be communicating with the fire fighters on the ground, the helicopters, the S2T tankers, approaching aircraft, and the operations centers.
GeoCam Mobile G-1 image from the back seat position in the OV-10 as the plane crosses Lake Berryessa on the way to an incident.
We got a look at the dispatch center for the air operations in Sonoma. These are the people who oversee the reading of planes and send them off to fight the fires based on the requests sent from the command center.
View of the tarmac from the dispatch center.
When the call comes in with a location, the team uses the computer to generate a range and bearing. They use the wall mounted maps to double check the computer. They send the range and bearing along with a longitude and latitude allowing the pilots to also double check.
The secondary map for range and bearing used to cover all of California.
The officer in charge spent quite a while with us explaining how the team coordinates operations both in the office and on-site. For on-site, they have a relatively new strategy to ensure everyone is safe. It starts with an outer ring where an approaching fire fighting aircraft reports in to the observer. If the craft does not hear anything, they can proceed to a next ring a number of miles out. At this ring, they have to hold in an orbit if they do not hear from the observation plane. Once they have been called into the fire scene, they have to enter one of three levels based on the aircraft type. Closest to the ground is the region where the helicopters operate. Above that is an altitude range for the S2T tankers to orbit awaiting instructions to attack the fire. At the top/highest altitude is where the OV-10’s orbit in an opposite direction from the tankers. By orbiting in opposite directions, they are only in a each others blind spots for a fraction of a second on each pass. When a new OV-10 observation team enters the scene, they pull up on the observer plane that has been before and orbit together passing operational information with both observers having almost the same perspective.
Tom Knecht at one of the 5 command desks at the St. Helena command center.
After spending the first half of the day with Sonoma Air Attack, we headed over the hills to the Sonoma/Lake/Napa Emergency Command Center in St. Helena. This center was recently upgraded to give each station 4 to 5 separate computers to handle all of the IT needs in addition to the radios they are using to coordinate operations. While we never hope that there are fires, a fire called in just after we arrived was a good opportunity to see how they handle the initial moments of an incident. We heard the 911 call for a fire from someone’s cell phone with a very vague description of the location of the fire. A team of three discussed what the caller meant by the place names the person used. They combined computer searches, Google Earth, and traditional maps to quickly come to agreement as to the location. It turned out to be in the operational area of the command center to the north, so the team crisply handed off the operations to the neighboring center.
Trey training CAL FIRE staff how to collect images and notes with the GeoCam Mobile application.
After the fire handoff, the team was able to rotate team members outside to Trey and Alex for training on the GeoCam phones that the CalFire folks are testing. The most notable moment of the training came at the end of the session where several Captains remark how easy it was to figure out how to use the phone with the GeoCam application.
Inspecting images collected with a GeoCam Mobile G-1 phone in the Google Earth view of the GeoCam Share database.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Sonoma Air Attack 140 overflew three fires and took more than 20 aerial photos with the GeoCam Mobile G-1 phone. We were able to view some of the photos in the GeoCam Share map at the Emergency Command Center in St. Helena just a few minutes after they were taken.
However, for many of the photos the downlink was delayed and we lost the position data due to a critical interface bug in the phone software (we figured out what happened and have a workaround, but will be modifying the interface to prevent this happening again!).
Many thanks to Chris Jurasek and Brian Combs of Air Attack 140 for taking the time to snap the photos and dwell over a cell tower to downlink them. Thanks also to Tim Streblow, Joe Petersen, Tom Knecht, and the rest of the ECC staff for hosting us.
The Morgan Fire as seen from AA140 flying at 2500', taken by the pilot with the GeoCam Mobile software on the G-1. The camera was aimed to the right as the plane circled clockwise above the fire. (Credit: CAL FIRE / Brian Combs).
A tanker drops fire retardant on the Morgan Fire. (Credit: CAL FIRE / Brian Combs)
Observer Chris Jurasek, sitting behind the pilot. (Credit: CAL FIRE / Brian Combs)
Joe Petersen (left) and Tim Streblow (right) discussing resource positioning at the ECC operations map magnet board.
Tom Knecht at a dispatch console in the ECC. The GeoCam Share map is displayed to his left.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
On Thursday we met the staff, got introduced to their operation, and enjoyed some great home-cooked food at lunch. The planes did not fly any missions, with no major fires in the cool weather.
Sonoma Air Attack 140, an OV-10 Bronco observation aircraft