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Early September historically sees the most disaster damage in the US, because it’s the height of the hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin. In time for this busy season, FEMA has released Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) templates for Survey123 for ArcGIS. The templates streamline data collection on handheld devices and mark an ongoing digital transformation from traditional paper forms.


A PDA report is mandated by Congress in order to determine if disaster damages warrant a presidential major disaster declaration and the funds that come with it. The templates address one of the primary goals of FEMA’s new strategic plan—to reduce complexity—making it easier and quicker for communities and individuals to receive the assistance they need.


“We designed the survey to be easy for anyone to fill out,” said Erin Densford, Recovery Operations Officer, FEMA headquarters. “We know that state, local, tribal and territorial governments sometimes have to rely on people that have never done a damage assessment before, and the language on the survey is meant to be very straightforward.”


The PDA process starts at the local level where damage details are initially collected, shared, and validated by State, Tribal, and Territorial authorities. These entities generally have 30 days from the start of an incident to determine whether or not federal assistance in the form of FEMA Individual Assistance, Public Assistance or other federal programs may be necessary.


Many local authorities thankfully face disasters for the first time or go decades between events. For those new to the process or refreshing their understanding, the process is well-documented in a detailed manual. However, the level of detail is hard to process in the immediate aftermath of a disaster event.


“With the templates, you can look at the data schema and have a good sense of what we want within five or ten minutes,” Densford said. “It’s far faster than looking through the 60-page manual, which users can reference for clarification.”


The template approach has been in the works for some time. It has been tested in pilot programs with state and local authorities. Refinements have reached the point where it’s ready to be shared broadly with the emergency management community.


This process isn’t a great leap forward in time savings for individual assessments, but it greatly improves accuracy and overall reporting. In testing, it takes a bit more time than paper because the step-by-step form-based approach requires that each field be filled out for each assessment.  With this template approach, “We’re getting all the pieces of information that we hope to collect, whereas we had gaps in the paper-based process in the past,” Densford said.


This improved accuracy also relates to improved location details.


“We have used GPS for some time,” Densford said. “With the manual effort, it was easier to get a location wrong by incorrectly transposing long numbers of latitude and longitude which meant we weren’t able to create maps based on the data.”


With Survey123, location is automatically registered to the damage details and photos of the damage, making map-based reporting as easy as hitting a button.


Work is ongoing on streamlining the data flow from the data being collected in the templates to the Public Assistance grant program system (PA Grants Manager). This next step promises to speed the flow of funds needed to rebuild, repair or replace damaged infrastructure in impacted communities.


“We have priorities to reduce the complexity and deliver individual assistance quickly, and this tool speaks to both of those objectives,” Densford said. “We’re making the process more transparent and hopefully condensing the time it takes for a community to achieve recovery.”


Learn how to configure and optimize the FEMA Preliminary Damage Assessment templates using Survey123 in this GeoNet post.


By Mike Cox, Fire and EMS Industry Manager, Esri


The 38th Esri User Conference (Esri UC) was an incredible success. When nearly 18,000 Esri geographic information system (GIS) technology users gather for a week of learning, networking, and sharing ideas, the result can only benefit all involved. The content ranged from integrating data from “low earth orbit” satellites to dealing with a total solar eclipse “where the sun don't shine”.

This was my first User Conference since becoming an employee of Esri, and while I had attended the Esri UC previously as a user, my role this year provided a new perspective on the event. It was humbling to see the commitment of Esri personnel to our user community. Our only focus is to support our users, to see them succeed, and to serve. It is through this servant role that we see the incredible accomplishments of our users. For those of us in the public safety industry, these accomplishments mean saving lives, preserving property, and protecting the environment. The 2018 Esri UC had multiple examples of GIS leveraged to do just that—maintaining safe communities and protecting our neighbors.

For the public safety team, the event started with the National Security and Public Safety Summit (NSPSS) @ Esri UC. The theme this year was Prepare for the New Normal—explore new ways to overcome increasingly complex and unpredictable threats and hazards. This two-day preconference event had its largest attendance to date. Over 450 defense, law enforcement, fire, emergency medical, and emergency management personnel gathered for presentations about the successful use of GIS.

These NSPSS presentations covered topics including responding to wildfires, managing significant events such as the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four tournament, and sharing data with multiple agencies to coordinate preparations for and response to disasters. Local, state, federal, and international agencies demonstrated how GIS is used to prevent, assess, and respond to incidents. As an example, the European Union (EU) Satellite Centre presented on the use of satellite data to provide geospatial intelligence to a wide range of users within the European External Action Service and the EU member states. This presentation showcased the use of Esri technology, ranging from analysis performed on the desktop to the services being delivered through portals, from the management of the migration crisis to the support for the dismantlement of chemical weapons depots in Syria.

The theme of this year's Esri User Conference was Inspiring What's Next. As always, the main event began with Jack Dangermond presenting his vision at the Plenary Session. While his vision included where the technology is going, Dangermond started the week by having all in attendance consider what's next for our planet. What does that mean to individuals, families, and our communities? We live in a complex, interconnected world, and we can use geography to connect us. This constantly changing world creates many challenges—climate change, drought, deforestation, pollution, increasing urbanization, and many others. These challenges require us to fundamentally understand our world, as understanding precedes action. The Science of Where provides the framework and process for applying geographic knowledge that we can use to change our world. You can watch the 2018 Esri UC Plenary Session if you missed it earlier.

The Plenary Session maintained the Inspiring What's Next theme with a discussion of the emerging capabilities for the Esri platform. These capabilities include augmented reality, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. The increasing use of embedded devices in vehicles, clothing, and our environment—all with a geographic component—will impact our lives every day. With 3D capabilities providing a better understanding of our environment, first responders can—in seconds—identify the location of a person needing help, such as which floor in the building the person is in. GIS removes the technological complexities to allow us to solve real problems easily.

The latest release of ArcGIS Pro can help you visualize, edit, and analyze your geographic data in both 2D and 3D, providing full context to the area you are mapping. You are able to easily share your work—from mobile web scenes to paper maps—creating tailored experiences for different types of users. ArcGIS Pro 2.2 has many new features that are exciting, particularly when it comes to editing in 2D and 3D; performing quick visibility analysis; and sharing your 3D content on any device, anywhere, anytime.

Esri's ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World continues to evolve and provide multiple data sources for our users. One example of Living Atlas data is Sentinel-2 imagery for the entire planet. Each place on earth is reimaged every five days, and the data is updated daily. This service provides imagery and infrared views. The rich content of the Living Atlas is brought together in the Earth Systems Monitor. The monitor allows you to view climate data, real-time weather conditions, and urban development as well as a global human footprint map. You can review some of the Sentinel-2 capabilities at

Thousands of attendees from over 140 countries gathered in the San Diego Convention Center to learn how the innovative use of GIS addresses the issues impacting our planet. Examples of this work included the following:

  • Environmental modeling and assessment
  • Planning and urban design
  • Engineering and public works
  • Utilities and telecommunications
  • Public health and demographics
  • Public safety and security
  • Portal for ArcGIS, open data, and citizen engagement
  • Cartography
  • Story maps

The week continued with multiple technical workshops on subjects ranging from basic GIS capabilities to in-depth data analysis and application use. These technical workshops can be reviewed at

One of the event highlights for Esri staff is the direct interaction and support we provided to our customers. For the public safety team, these exchanges primarily occurred in the Public Safety Neighborhood at the GIS Solutions Expo. This area allowed us to provide one-on-one demos, answer questions about solutions, and demonstrate solutions from our partners. There were also comprehensive presentations by our skilled staff in the Operations Platform for Safety/Security (OPS) Center Theater.

The Esri UC always focuses on our user community and its success. Throughout the conference, attendees could join other users during their presentations about the use of GIS. One of the most interesting sessions I was able to attend was about one community's effort to deal with "Where the Sun Don't Shine"! Trich Van Wagner, GIS manager for Bonneville County, Idaho provided an extremely entertaining presentation about how the county used GIS to manage the influx of visitors in the Idaho Falls area for the August 21, 2017, solar eclipse. Hundreds of thousands of people across the nation were vying for the best viewing spot, impacting localities across the nation.

Van Wagner and Bonneville County staff leveraged GIS to create incident maps and web apps for local government use. They mapped campsites and emergency response resources, and they used mobile applications such as Survey123 for ArcGIS and the ArcGIS  environment to provide real-time incident data. This data was analyzed and communicated via story maps and dashboards. This presentation clearly demonstrated how The Science of Where helped provide a safe and efficient response to this significant special event.

Dangermond clearly stated that the goal of this year's Esri User Conference is unchanged from 38 years ago: to be together, learn from each other, share knowledge, and—from time to time—have a little fun. By all indications, we met this goal in 2018.

Please join us at the 2019 Esri User Conference, to be held July 8–12, 2019, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.


By Mike Cox, Fire and EMS Industry Manager, Esri


The Thomas Fire was a wildfire that affected Ventura County, California, in December 2017. It burned approximately 281,893 acres becoming one of the largest wildfires in modern California history. The Thomas Fire caused two fatalities and destroyed at least 1,063 structures while damaging 280 others. The incident required the evacuation of over 90,000 residents.

The Ventura County Fire Department covers a county of 850 square miles with 950,000 residents. The fire department is innovating the use of technology in response to wildland-urban interface incidents. Ventura County has had some of the largest fires in California history and regularly responds regionally to support its neighbors. The fire department coordinates this response with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) at the state level.


The capabilities of agencies responding to these incidents are the best they have ever been. Despite these capabilities, this fire was one of the largest in state history. Environmental conditions, such as weather and fuel management, drive the occurrence and severity of these incidents. The intense Santa Ana winds fueled the Thomas Fire. The increase in the severity and number of these incidents requires the use of technology to improve the effectiveness of the response.

The Ventura County Fire Department deployed field observers to provide an initial assessment and an incident map and to begin to develop a common operating picture of the fire. The weather conditions preceding the Thomas Fire indicated the need for increased preparedness. Ventura had just deployed resources to other wildland incidents prior to the Thomas Fire. When the fire grew at such a fast rate, nearly all available resources were committed to rescue and evacuation of residents. This hindered the ability of field observers to perform the initial assessment, delaying the development of the common operating picture.


The county emergency operations center was assisting with the management of evacuations including the use of a reverse 911 system. In the midst of this operation, the area lost power complicating the evacuation effort. Fire department personnel were estimating the fire perimeter, and this information was being communicated through traditional and social media.


Examples of the mapping products used during the Thomas Fire response are shown below. These products include web and mobile based applications.

Ventura County Fire Department personnel used mobile devices to collect data in the field and transmit that data in real time. Frontline personnel viewed and updated the map from a mobile device.

Cal Fire's Situation Unit assumed the responsibility of developing the incident map. As the fire progressed into multiple operational periods, data from aerial reconnaissance, remote cameras, and Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite was included in the mapping. This data, developed with Esri partner Intterra Group, was communicated to tactical units through mobile devices, shared with the emergency operations center, and sent to outside responding agencies.

The importance of using a single geographic information system (GIS) platform to develop and share this data with partner agencies was evident during the Thomas Fire. All map products were updated seamlessly, providing a current view to all stakeholders.

Lessons learned from this significant incident included developing policy and practice to share information electronically. The traditional methods are effective, but paper-based information products can prove to be difficult to maintain with real-time data during a fire incident. The fire ground changes rapidly under extreme weather conditions, so field units must have the most up-to-date information. The development of a common operating picture, the collection of incident intelligence, and the communication of this data must be a priority.


The planning cycle must be supported with accurate data. In an incident such as the Thomas Fire, a large number of resources had to be deployed rapidly. These resources needed to receive data in real time as they are deployed. The use of real-time data, GIS, and a common operating picture provided a more efficient, effective, and safer deployment of personnel and resources.


For additional information, please contact Esri or the representatives listed below:

Vaughan Miller, Deputy Chief, Ventura County Fire Department,

Mike Cox, Fire and EMS Industry Manager, Esri,

David Blankinship, Cofounder, Intterra Group,

By Mike Cox, Fire and EMS Industry Manager, Esri


Around the world, fire and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies of every size use spatial data to improve their preparedness, response, and risk reduction programs. Agencies gather reliable, actionable information that every fire and EMS professional can use anytime, anywhere.


The challenges for public safety agencies are complex, and they continue to evolve every day. There are more demands on agencies from an aging population, the increasing severity and frequency of disasters, and the fact that the role of public safety is changing as we strive to keep our communities livable. The health of a community depends on the effective operation of its public safety agencies, and geographic information system (GIS) technology can improve that effectiveness.


The City of Charlottesville, Virginia, dealt with one of these emerging threats in August 2017. The Charlottesville Fire Department was able to leverage GIS capabilities to manage a significant civil disturbance and provide for the safety and accountability of public safety personnel. Esri technology was used to improve planning, communication, and collaboration. GIS enabled faster decision-making for a safer, more efficient response. Responders developed situational awareness, managed resources, and made sound decisions based on reliable data.


The Charlottesville Fire Department and its partners in fire, EMS, emergency management, law enforcement, and the health care system experienced a series of unprecedented events that led to the largest deployment of public safety assets in the Commonwealth of Virginia since 9/11, and quite possibly the largest-ever deployment of the Virginia State Police.


The Unite the Right Rally drew over 600 members of the alt-right movement along with many organized national protest groups (some with a history of violence), three heavily armed militias, clergical groups, national political figures from across the political spectrum, many local citizens, and international media.


The unified commanders understood the importance of a common operating picture for the local, state, and federal agencies involved in the response. This common operating picture had to support the objectives that were developed during the incident action planning process. These objectives included

  • Ensuring responder safety.
  • Providing triage, treatment, and transportation of the injured and ill.
  • Supporting law enforcement operations.
  • Providing for responder rehabilitation and medical needs.
  • Maintaining emergency services coverage to the larger community.


The Virginia Department of Emergency Management's (VDEM) regional all hazards incident management team (IMT) was deployed to assist at the event. The team immediately began leveraging GIS capabilities as part of the planning process. VDEM and IMT GIS personnel coordinated with the City of Charlottesville's GIS department to produce incident-specific products to manage this special event. A request for support was submitted to Esri's Disaster Response Program to provide additional GIS resources.


One of the first requirements addressed by GIS personnel was to define the area of operations and produce an incident map. The same map would be used in all additional products and provided to all decision-makers. This map could be updated in real time, so all responders viewing the map would immediately have an updated, verified map view. This prevented the distribution of multiple versions or outdated mapping products.


This common operating picture clearly defines what areas would be managed by the unified command structure, and what areas would remain the responsibility of day-to-day operational resources. Any incident or resource request that fell outside the geofenced area would be handled according to normal response procedures. Those incidents within the geofenced area were to be handled by the unified command for the event.


Through the incident action planning process, command personnel were able to establish a management structure that best suited the geographic features of the operational area. As an example, the fire and EMS resources were managed in operations with the following command structure.

Participating public safety agencies, the IMT, and VDEM personnel combined each agency's individual operations plan into one unified incident action plan and thus into one common operating picture. Response resources were identified for real-time tracking to allow the closest appropriate unit to be identified and dispatched based on incident type. The Esri Disaster Response Program provided GeoEvent Services for resource tracking in real time.


This model not only allowed the dispatching of the closest appropriate resource, but it also increased responder safety and accountability. Command personnel could identify the location of mobile assets, such as walking teams, for deployment as needed.


The capability to identify the location of resources became critical as the event escalated. The increasing call load required the quick establishment of task forces made up of multiple agencies. The command staff was able to identify the available resources, pinpoint their location, and determine the best method of deployment. This would not have been possible without the ability to track response resources in real time. The map below captures the available resources that were located at the incident base.



The protesters and counterprotesters began arriving at 0900 while some public safety personnel were still in operational briefings. It became immediately obvious that separating the groups would not be possible without significant, high-risk law enforcement engagement with hundreds of armed protesters and counterprotesters. The driving operational concept of keeping the two groups separated broke down almost immediately, resulting in chaos and conflict.


As conditions devolved, resources could only operate safely with multiagency coordination. The common operating picture provided by GIS allowed command staff to join responders from any agency to perform lifesaving operations while being monitored from the command post.


Several key takeaways were identified during the after-action review. This review involved all agencies that responded to the event. Lessons learned included the following:

  • Technology provides the flexibility to redeploy resources in an appropriate command structure. Units will be pulled together from different agencies and different disciplines.
  • Resources will not be deployed from a static location.
  • Command personnel must be able to determine the closest appropriate resource.
  • Personnel accountability during the event is critical for responder safety.
  • Operations would have failed without Incident Management Team support.


It should be noted that a similar gathering occurred in Charlottesville during August 2018. Several groups assembled to mark the anniversary of the 2017 event. The 2018 event had a better outcome, in part due to the further adoption of GIS technology. Chief Baxter of Charlottesville Fire Department noted several issues that impacted the successful deployment of multiple local and state public safety agencies.


The first, most important step in fully leveraging GIS for large events is to ensure that all participating entities understand and are committed to the importance of creating a common operating picture. The key agencies in the Charlottesville summer 2018 incident shared that commitment from day one, thereby allowing them to maximize the capabilities of the GIS platform.


GIS was an essential component in the planning process and in the execution of the Incident Action Plan. The common platform allowed commanders to rapidly develop a clear understanding of the defined area of operations, deploy and track resources during a dynamic event, and maintain emergency services coverage to the larger community.


GIS was also essential in providing regional situational awareness. This was the basis for the successful deployment of over 1,200 personnel across multiple jurisdictions in response to rapidly developing threats on the ground over several operational periods.


Public safety agencies worldwide already have access to many of the capabilities used during this significant incident. These capabilities are applicable to daily operations, disaster response, planning activities, and many other areas of public safety agency operations.


If you have any questions about deploying these capabilities for your agency, please feel free to contact Esri


by Ryan Lanclos, Esri Director of Public Safety Industries


With fiery lava flow from Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea Volcano prompting urgent evacuation orders, one might expect the last thing on residents’ minds would be cleaning house. Yet, many locals of Leilani Estates, a neighborhood now mostly destroyed, not only took the time to clean their homes, they also did extra gardening, planted fresh flowers, and left offerings to honor the volcano that was threatening their homes.


This last-minute preparation paid respect to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Kilauea Volcano continues to wreak havoc in spectacular fashion, spewing billions of gallons of molten lava across the landscape of Hawaii’s Big Island and into the ocean. But the Hawaiian people are pragmatic and accepting, viewing Pele’s activity as part of the natural process of destruction and creation that forms the Hawaiian Islands. They clean their homes to return them to Pele in a good state, since they believe she gave them the land in the first place.


This ongoing eruption of the Kilauea volcano, which started in early May 2018, continues to shock geologists. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) notes that such an event is unprecedented in the past 200 years, and there’s no telling how much longer it will continue. Already, the Halemaʻumaʻu crater has grown to seven times its previous size by volume, creating almost 700 acres of new land. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and more are still at risk. Yet, the threat to lives has ebbed significantly since the early days of the eruption when evacuations and search and rescue operations, including a drone strike team, went into full force.

Pele offerings

The Hawaiian people pay homage to Pele, the volcano goddess, by leaving offerings to be burned up as the lava advances.


First (robot) responders

Among those responding to the volcanic eruption were a new breed of emergency responders: robots from the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, or CRASAR. A five-person team of highly trained volunteers from CRASAR deployed to Kilauea a few days after the eruption. They brought a fleet of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), commonly known as drones, to assist in the rescue operations.


CRASAR, a nonprofit organization, champions the use of small unmanned vehicles in emergency response. Disasters present dangerous and sometimes life-threatening scenarios to first responders. Disaster robots can go where people or emergency response dogs can’t, minimizing the risk to life. CRASAR assisted at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and since then has supplied robotic assistance for 28 disasters including earthquakes, building collapses, floods, nuclear accidents, tsunamis, and underground mine explosions.


Kilauea provided a new challenge to the team, and they executed the first known use of drones in emergency response to a volcanic eruption. While drones have been used previously to map volcanoes, CRASAR’s fleet was the first to use them to officially aid disaster response. The team’s participation also freed up drone resources from the University of Hawaii at Hilo to focus on geological observations during those crucial first days.


Breaking this new ground made an impact on the experienced team. Justin Adams, president of CRASAR, described their encounter with Pele vividly:

“It was unique. I’ve never dealt with lava before. None of us have. We’ve dealt with mudslides, and we tried to compare it to mudslides. But just the color of the lava, the sparkling of it burning up the vegetation and trees, looked like blood flowing down the side of the mountain. It looked like arteries because of the way it was pulsing.”


Ground truth by drone

Over a six-day period, from May 14 to May 19, CRASAR flew 44 drone flights, 16 of which happened at night. These missions were invaluable, since manned aircraft such as helicopters were prohibited to fly at night. The crew staged the drone flights from restricted-access roads near the volcano, driving their vehicle through the eerily quiet evacuation zones and moving locations often to follow and map the lava flows.


During these flights, the drones were outfitted with thermal sensors. They identified a new fissure (Fissure 8, which continues to expel lava months later), mapped the lava fronts using thermal cameras, and provided data to the USGS to help determine the speed of lava flow.


To capture the data, a drone would hover above the front edge of a lava flow, take an image straight down, and note the GPS coordinate of that image. Several minutes later, the drone would follow the leading edge of the flow to its new location and repeat the procedure. This was a much safer maneuver than previous USGS data collection, according to Adams.


“They had been gathering data by a person getting close to the lava, taking a GPS coordinate, waiting, and trying to walk down in front of the lava flow to take another GPS coordinate,” he said.


During the day, drones mapped fissures and measured dangerous sulfur dioxide emissions, reducing the number of costly helicopter flights needed.


In one daytime mission, emergency personnel received an alert that someone might be in danger in an isolated house. One of CRASAR’s drones quickly deployed to verify. Known as “ground-truthing,” emergency responders must validate the accuracy of incoming information, especially when it can mean the difference between life and death.


“Citizens were calling in reports, so first responders called CRASAR and we had a strike team that would go and do validation of air quality, lava flow, or lava extent,” Adams said. “We acted as an on-demand task force crew.”

thermal image

The CRASAR team used a thermal sensor to map the lava fronts, cutting through the smoke to show the lava extent.


Expertise, experience, and technology

Many factors contributed to the effectiveness of CRASAR’s efforts during the emergency response. Three stand out: technical and scientific expertise, disaster training and experience, and specialized software.


The CRASAR team members’ expertise fostered good communication with other first responders and the USGS. Their scientific backgrounds allowed them to speak the same language as the scientists and engineers involved.


Experience with previous disasters prepared the CRASAR team for Kilauea. They knew which questions to ask in an emergency and what their drones could do to assist the operation.


Finally, they used specialized software to automatically tag images with their locations. They visualized the information in real time on a digital map by using geographic information system (GIS) technology. They employed another application to take panoramic aerial photos automatically instead of manually, expediting situational awareness.


“CRASAR has equipment and technology that was placed above what we’re used to,” said Christian Wong, Executive Director, Hawaii Science and Technology Museum. “In particular, their capability to do 360-degree views of an area very quickly. They used a lot of pre-programmed applications with their drones that are able to do certain tasks that normally, if you relied on a pilot, might take a little while to get done and it wouldn’t be as efficient.”


Next steps for Kīlauea drone response

The CRASAR team’s work was a success. They reduced cost and risk, and increased situational awareness for all involved responders, government agencies, and the public. The team hopes this will build support for future use of robots in disaster response and public safety.


While CRASAR has completed its official operations in Hawaii, the team remains on standby, communicating with first responders often and ready to deploy again should the situation change.


The work of drones at Kilauea continues with the University of Hawaii at Hilo performing daily monitoring of the eruption, as reported by CNN. The drones provide a reliable stream of visual information helpful in communication with the public during this kind of emergency.


“The visual data drones collect is very useful in helping show the people why they’ve been evacuated from certain areas,” Wong said. “Once they see the devastation and damage, they understand why they cannot be let back to their homes.”


Wong noted that CRASAR’s participation had an unexpected outcome. It inspired local students from Hawaii’s Big Island to start creating their own disaster robot designed specifically for volcano response.


While the Hawaiian people feel Pele will always be unpredictable— taking and giving land according to natural cycles—emergency responders and scientists can now fly drones above a volcanic eruption for a safer way to observe and measure her awe-inspiring power.


Learn more about how drones are being used for social good and humanitarian missions in this Esri & The Science of Where Podcast.

by Ryan Lanclos, Director of Public Safety Industries, Esri


Esri Releases New and Updated Pre-Configured Solution for Emergency Management Operations


Living in the Houston, Texas, area, my family and friends experienced Hurricane Harvey firsthand. This historic storm dropped more than 60 inches of rain in areas of southeastern Texas. Over a four-day period, Hurricane Harvey dropped enough rainfall to cover Harris County's 1,777 square miles with an average of 33.7 inches of water. We were very lucky compared to many others around us and our property did not sustain any direct damage.


Looking at the global picture, we see how acute shocks associated with a changing climate, increasing social unrest, and evolving terrorism tactics are putting more people at risk every day. Compounding the effects of these threats and hazards are the ongoing, slow-moving stressors that underlay the fabric of our world. Chronic stressors, like poverty and aging infrastructure, tend to exacerbate the impact of acute shocks like Hurricane Harvey. As a result, the cost to our communities will continue to rise. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States set a new record in the cumulative cost of weather-related disasters, exceeding $300 billion. What used to be unthinkable has become our reality. This is our new normal.

        NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI): 2017 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters


Here at Esri, I have the privilege of leading a passionate team that is dedicated to helping organizations respond to incidents of all types and sizes. This team combines the science of geography with Esri's geographic information system (GIS) platform, called ArcGIS, to provide location intelligence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for organizations around the world. In the 20-year history of the Esri Disaster Response Program (DRP), 2017 was the busiest year. That is now our new normal.


Organizational Assessment

As a geographer, I believe that the element of location is key to understanding. I also believe that having a baseline location intelligence capability in place is a crucial component of being prepared for the new normal in emergency management. Organizations need the element of location to help them make better decisions, and they need solutions that enable these critical decisions to be data driven. Therein is the value of location intelligence.


I am often asked what the most common request is for the Esri DRP. People want to know what others are asking for so that they can assess whether they have that capability. It's like they are looking for a benchmark to measure their organization against. I think that is a great mind-set!


Instead of seeing just one challenge that you can assess your organization against, how about having a list so that you can do a true organizational assessment? Here are the most common business challenges we help organizations solve when we activate the Esri DRP (note that every single one requires location intelligence):

  • Monitoring real-time situational awareness
  • Understanding potential impacts to the community
  • Conducting initial damage assessments
  • Presenting dynamic incident briefings
  • Managing public information and scaling for the news media cycle


How Do You Compare?

Now that you know what the most common business challenges are, how do you compare? Do you have solutions for each challenge that, when combined, provide you with the baseline location capability outlined above? If you do, are these solutions integrated on a common operating platform that allows data and information to flow between apps and users? Can you get information out of your business systems and into the hands of partners or the public when needed?


If you can answer yes to these questions and you have trustworthy solutions for the challenges above, then my next question is this: how are you using these solutions on a daily basis for your agency's operations?

Integrating these solutions into the daily operations of your organization is the next step. Don't just shelve these solutions and expect to "break glass in case of an emergency." Use them to support daily operations, be confident in them, and continually update and maintain them so that you are ready for the next incident.


Where Next?

I hope we never have another storm like Hurricane Harvey, but we all know one is coming. Also, other disaster-related incidents like the recent wildland fires in Napa, California, and flooding in Ellicott City, Maryland, will continue to set new records and redefine normal. At Esri, we've learned a lot over the years while assisting our users through the Esri DRP, and I believe addressing the issues outlined above can help you be better prepared.

I'm excited that recent lessons learned have resulted in the release of a new pre-configured solution for emergency management operations that can improve your organization's operations during incident response as well as daily, "blue sky" operations. You can download and configure these solutions yourself, or we can provide Esri services to deploy and configure them for you. We can also help you develop a plan for surge staffing in your Emergency Operations Center (EOC), using qualified GIS professionals from Esri to augment your capacity if needed during a response.


Esri was founded as a private company in 1969 to help make a difference in the world, and we still carry that mission forward today. I work here because I believe in that mission, and I want to help you be better prepared when it comes to geospatial technology and GIS. I want to help you make a difference in your own organization, in your community, and in the world. It is going to require all of us working together to prepare for our new normal. Let's start working toward that baseline capability together.


Learn more about the Emergency Management Operations solution and start modernizing your agency’s operations.

Around the world, emergency dispatch centers are grappling with outdated analog systems that are not capable of handling today’s complex mobile technology. Advances in text messaging, video, and sensor data now play important roles in information sharing. Migrating existing systems to digital solutions will provide more accurate location data and improve the transfer of critical information to PSAPs and those who are assigned as first responders. Download the 5 Ways GIS Empowers Next Generation 911 to learn how location intelligence can modernize your computer-aided dispatch. 

Download this eBook to Learn:

  • How to ensure first responders arrive at the right location
  • How you can consume real-time data feeds 
  • How to provide location awareness and indoor routing 
  • How to rout emergency calls to the correct PSAP 
  • How you can provide field interaction and reliability 



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By Mike Cox, Fire; Rescue, and EMS Industry Manager; Esri


Natural and man-made disasters test public safety agencies at the local, regional, and state levels on a daily basis. These no-notice events often require regional, statewide, or interstate mutual aid. Such incidents can create an environment where missions and priorities change at a moment's notice. The processes that organizations have relied on for years often put stress on agencies seeking assistance during the initial stages of a significant incident.


Modern challenges require a modern approach. Agencies and organizations need tools and operational capabilities to adapt to fluid risks and to support a variety of mission requirements. Today, we must be able to identify the need for assistance, request the appropriate type of resources, locate available resources, deploy them in a timely manner, and analyze the success of those efforts. Through the power of geospatial technology, organizations can now adopt a smarter, more integrative approach to mutual aid.


The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has identified the need for this approach and, through a partnership with Juvare and Esri, is developing the National Mutual Aid System (NMAS). This application will incorporate the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Homeland Infrastructure Foundation Level Data (HIFLD) being collected by fire departments across the nation. During large-scale emergencies and disasters, it is critical for response personnel to have easy access to a mutual aid system for managing their resources. The IAFC will manage information sharing, event reporting, and task management in a central, web-based environment that allows the IAFC to effortlessly connect to partner agencies and organizations during response efforts.


The IAFC has several initiatives that impact the implementation of a national mutual aid system. These initiatives support the vision of the IAFC and advancements in the use of GIS in the fire service. This includes supporting leadership, governance, and policy development during the implementation of GIS technologies. GIS allows us to increase responder safety, reduce risk, and build stronger relationships with our communities. These geospatial tools improve outcomes through spatial analytics and data-driven decision-making.


These initiatives include the IAFC GIS Portal, which links fire chiefs to data. This portal allows fire departments to access existing data layers, create their own data layers, and share data with other stakeholders. This portal (available at educates fire service members on the value of GIS resources. Using GIS web maps allows responders to share data across jurisdictional boundaries during significant incidents.




The portal provides access to Esri's ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World data including Tapestry Segmentation data. Tapestry classifies US residential neighborhoods into 67 unique segments based on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. The data allows departments to get insights so that you can identify your community members and people in need.


The IAFC promotes the use of GIS field applications for real-time data collection. These applications are changing the way incident commanders are making decisions. The ability to collect incident intelligence in real time allows for better data-driven decision-making.


Geoenabling field data collection, mutual aid coordination, and logistical support brings the response process into the twenty-first century. This allows us to know where the resources needed for a response are located and where they should be deployed.



Recent hurricane responses in Texas and Florida provided case studies on the effectiveness of the technology to support response. The implementation of these field applications provided incident intelligence in real time during the response. Urban search and rescue teams were provided with Esri's Survey123 for ArcGIS field application and just-in-time training during the response to the hurricanes. These teams were then able to collect and submit real-time data to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), command personnel, and Emergency Operations Centers during the response. The use of field applications and operations dashboard views allowed decision-makers to coordinate resources based on an assessment of actual field conditions.


IAFC National Mutual Aid System

The IAFC's Mutual Aid Net program began in 2008. It includes a static resource database involving multiple states. There was an identified need to provide geospatial data to support this program. NMAS is the result of this need. It is everyone's everyday mutual aid application.


What NMAS Is

NMAS is the evolution of the Intrastate Mutual Aid System and Mutual Aid Net. It leverages the technical innovation and expertise of WebEOC and Esri, combined with the practical experience of the IAFC with state and local partners.

In October 2017, the IAFC, leader in emergency response worldwide, entered into an agreement with Esri and Juvare to build the next generation of NMAS software. In partnership with Esri and Juvare—the global leaders in spatial analytics and health and safety solutions, respectively—the IAFC is excited to bring this valuable contribution to the next stage. The new software version combines Esri's powerful geographic information system, ArcGIS, with Juvare's crisis information management software, WebEOC, to better manage and track emergency service resources during large-scale emergencies that require mutual aid.


NMAS is designed for all-hazard mutual aid coordination at the regional and state levels, including systems such as Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The IAFC is working with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service fire and aviation management on Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS) data exchange capabilities.



Localities will enter and manage their resources in NMAS. Single resources, strike teams, task forces, or mission-ready packages will be entered by the authority that has jurisdiction, and the resource availability will be determined at the local level.


During an event, localities and states can create an incident report in the NMAS application. This incident data will provide responders with a common operating picture of the response.



The requesting locality can then request resources and filter the available resources by type, location, and cost. 

The NMAS application will send a request to the resource owner, which may accept or deny the request based on the needs of the resource owner.


The system will then route mutual aid resources to the event location. This routing will allow the requesting agency and the resource provider to track resources on the map and know their status during the response.



NMAS will provide unparalleled information sharing, decision support, and situational awareness capabilities to jurisdictions, regions, and countries around the globe. NMAS develops the ability to visualize where resources are, where they need to go, and the response time for immediate decision-making and action. NMAS allows for real-time data exchange between system administrators and responders in transit and at incidents.


GIS provides the ability to manage data with a visual perspective that easily communicates the resource status during a response. It also allows public safety officials to analyze multiple datasets to determine how these incidents will impact citizens, infrastructure, and the environment.


If you have any questions or comments about NMAS or the use of GIS for public safety, please feel free to contact Esri fire, rescue, and emergency medical services industry manager Mike Cox (, or Jeff Dulin, assistant director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (

By Ryan Lanclos, Director of Public Safety Industries, Esri


As San Antonio, Texas prepared to host the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four Championship in early April, a series of bombs exploded in nearby Austin.


“That put everybody on edge, then one of the bombs went off at the FedEx transfer facility in Schertz, which is just 17 miles up the road, and it brought the risk home,” said James Glass, deputy director of the Southwest Texas Fusion Center, one of many such centers across the US that collaborate with all first responders to detect, prevent, investigate and respond to criminal and terrorist activities.


Fears continue to escalate as the world experiences more tragedies at big events. In response, local and national law enforcement agencies are enhancing venue security and raising public awareness with promotional campaigns such as “If you see something, say something.”


“For the NCAA games, people were paying closer attention,” said Douglas Berry, San Antonio Fire Department Battalion Chief. “There were a lot more reports of suspicious packages, and the ability to vet those quickly was very important.”


Forces on Foot


The NCAA Final Four weekend in San Antonio included a three-day music festival at Hemisfair Plaza, a fan fest at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, and games at the Alamodome. With all event venues within walking distance of each other, hundreds of thousands of people milled around the city’s compact downtown. San Antonio deployed a large force of on-foot officers to ensure safety. The challenge for the Southwest Texas Fusion Center was twofold: give every officer the maps and data they needed for each event and maintain visibility of each officer’s location.


“We had been getting details on temporary setups from the NCAA months in advance,” said Sean Cummings, Public Safety Enterprise GIS Solutions Supervisor at City of San Antonio. “We put all of the details on the map, including the buildings, the booths, the road closures, the entrances, the access control points, the stage, and where lines would form.”


The Fusion Center deployed these maps to more than 200 networked smartphones. At command centers, staff could track and share the identity of each phone, and officers could search the map and share photos tied to locations.



Vetting Suspicious Packages


Word went out well before the events that attendees could only bring a clear bag no larger than 12-by-6-by-12 inches. Despite this widely broadcasted message, and free bags distributed at multiple locations, many people brought bags that they ditched when they realized that they couldn’t bring them inside a venue.


This lead to many suspicious bag reports and follow-up responses from officers and joint hazard assessment teams (JHAT) that specialize in bomb and hazardous material threats. With each call, came a rough location. Command post staff used a live common operating picture to correlate each report with the real-time location and input from responding officers. They also were able to access and point the closest CCTV camera to capture and share a view of the scene.


“Even if someone just left a bag, you can’t rule it to chance,” Glass said. “The teams collected 264 separate suspicious packages that they went through, cataloged, and put in the police property room.


In one case, a patrolman forwarded a picture of a suspicious package that turned out to be one of many remote hazardous materials monitoring stations. With the visual evidence, the JHAT team was immediately able to dismiss it and save a time-consuming trip.


“Photos let us vet each suspicious package a lot sooner,” Berry said. “That makes a huge difference on response times and resources when you go from making one run every couple of days to making more than 10 runs a day.”


More Big Moments


At many crucial moments during the NCAA weekend, maps proved vital for those charged with public safety. A few hours prior to the final game on Monday night, the Fusion Center team went out for a quick meal. Just then, they received two suspicious package alerts. Instead of rushing for the door, staff pulled out their phones to look at the live map. They watched a play by play as the package was investigated and revealed to be a harmless diaper bag that had fallen out of a minivan. This real-time situational awareness brought relief, and a much-needed dinner break, to Fusion Center staff.


During the March Madness Music Festival, Fusion Center staff noticed a sudden convergence of officers near the main stage. Training a camera on the gathering, staff noted that officers were not responding to an incident but were showing support for performer Jason Aldean, a country music star who was last on stage in Las Vegas in October 2017 when a gunman opened fire on the crowd. The officers gathered for an impromptu “we’ve got your back” moment, making their presence known to the performer and the crowd.


In command centers throughout downtown San Antonio, dashboards displayed details beyond the live common operating picture. Staff could see an incident log for different zones across all venues and a running tally of events with levels of activity. Dashboard users could zoom into each logged event for more details. Another dashboard provided the historical record, parsing the number of calls for service and types of calls over time.

Dedicated Bandwidth for First Responders


AT&T recently won the contract to set up a high-bandwidth first responder network called FirstNet, which provides a dedicated interoperable public safety broadband network. In the first phase, it prioritizes network bandwidth for every SIM card assigned to the FirstNet network, putting priority on messages and images shared by first responders. In phase two, it will provide a completely new infrastructure to separate law enforcement communication from consumer communication.


“It’s one thing to have the software and the hardware to do it, but you’re only as good as the cell phone towers,” Berry said. “When 200,000 people cram into a small area downtown, the network starts to bog down. It’s huge to be able to bump selfie traffic in order for law enforcement to communicate and send text messages and photos.”


The phones and the FirstNet network augment the professional radios that each officer carries. While the radios provide secure communications, they don’t provide location services or the ability to text or take photos. Because phones use GPS as well as WiFi and Bluetooth signals, each one returns an accurate location for the officer carrying it whether they were indoors or out.


Fusing Intelligence


Law enforcement agencies increasingly share intelligence, and today’s digital workflows make this easier. San Antonio set up its Fusion Center more than ten years ago, taking an all-crimes and all-hazards approach to information sharing across the city’s public safety community.


The need for a new special event management solution centered in the Fusion Center became apparent after an incident at the city’s annual ten-day Fiesta historical celebration. When someone passed out from heat exhaustion during the parade, emergency medical staff rushed in to help. Seeing this, nearby police officers thought it was the beginning of a fight and moved in. The two groups forcing their way into a small and crowded area caused some minor injuries in the crowd.


“It really screamed to us that we needed a common operating platform where we can communicate amongst each other,” Glass said. “We had two different dispatching systems and dispatchers that didn’t communicate in a crisis.”


The Fusion Center now centralizes calls for service and aggregates intelligence from a variety of different systems. Using mobile phones for the NCAA event made fusion easier than ever before by getting everyone on the same page fast. FBI agents, plainclothes police officers, and various food inspection and ordinance enforcement personnel each had their own phones. Everyone with a phone could easily access relevant information and communicate with their peers. Live tracking of each phone’s location gave the command centers a clear picture of available resources.


“That’s really the power of a web-based map,” said Aric Jimenez, special projects manager at the Southwest Texas Fusion Center. “You have nothing to set up except granting people access and sending them a URL.”


Accountability has become a driving force in law enforcement with the advent of body cams and bystanders taking and sharing images and videos from their phones. The solution San Antonio deployed for the NCAA Final Four helped in the moment and afterward by providing a record of the event.


“Going forward, it’s very important to not only track activity, but to look at the data a number of different ways, capture it, and then analyze it and do forecasting,” Berry said. “Everybody has a different perspective, fusion allows us to break down the data so that each person can see what they need when they need it.”


Using Smart Devices to Increase Situational Awareness


The Fusion Center deployed Workforce for ArcGIS to provide the common view for both the officers on foot and the command centers. The software provides the means to define the roles and work areas of different field workers. In this case, the Fusion Center defined the location and geographic extent of each officer’s post as well as the expertise and incident type best suited to each officer. It also provides the overall status of each person that both the Fusion Center and individual officers could view on a real-time map. This data fuels the Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS for the flexible display of real-time information at a glance. The software enhanced the centralized dispatching and incident response system, allowing the Fusion Center to efficiently and effectively respond to any call. Workforce and Operations Dashboard are used widely in public works, utilities, construction, field sales, and public safety domains. The software and mobile device applications fill in data gaps while maintaining connections to enhance the coordination of activities.

By Mike King, Global Public Safety Manager for 911 and FirstNet


Recently, the National Association of Counties (NACo) published recommendations to county officials regarding FirstNet, the First Responder Network Authority.  The council was sound. Here is some additional information that could help you accomplish your goal of having proven solutions that work in the FirstNet environment.


Esri has been actively involved with FirstNet for a number of years, providing thought-leadership about GIS and the value, location intelligence brings to first-responders. In two live incidents in the past 4-weeks, Esri technology has been proven to work with FirstNet to enable mobile devices on both a fixed-broadband network and also in a portably deployed network.


As a license holder of Esri technology, you have a host of free solutions at your fingertips and they can be used with your secure data inside the FirstNet network, on any device, at any time.


Firefighters and Emergency Rescue teams can benefit from easy to configure solutions like; “The Fire Run Book” map which is used by fire personnel to author maps that include a book cover, map pages, and street index, suitable for printing. These map documents can be used to create a complete fire run book for individual stations or a fire district. We’ve already built solutions for Fire Hydrant Inspection, Pre-Incident Plan Development, AED Inventory and many more.



Law Enforcement Agencies can benefit from solutions like; “Develop Tactical Plans” which provides command staff with easy to configure tactical operations plans for active shooters, barricaded gunmen or other high-risk operations. There are also solutions built for Field Interview collection, Reducing Traffic Fatalities, Opioid Events, Neighborhood Crime Reporting, Public Safety Incident Maps, Crime Analysis and more.


Emergency Management personnel can lean upon Esri for solutions like a “Community Impact Dashboard” that can be used to present aggregated information.  By aggregating community impact reports, organizations can better understand how resilience can be improved, and which areas are affected. This configuration of Operations Dashboard can be deployed by emergency management organizations and used by members of the organization through a browser or as a desktop application.  Some additional solutions are Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Public Information applications.



There are solutions for PSAPs (emergency dispatch), fusion and intelligence centers and many more public safety responsibilities. Because these solutions are built with ArcGIS, the capabilities extend to other county departments like health, transportation, surveyor and many others, organizations that are important to FirstNet during a major incident.


Esri’s Living Atlas of the World provides the foremost collection of geographic information from around the globe, including your communities. It includes maps, apps, and data layers to support your work. You can explore Esri’s Solutions at:


Learn more by visiting our public safety pages at: or email Mike at:

By Mike King, Global Emergency Call Taking and Dispatch/FirstNet Industry Manager, Esri



Public safety officials around the world benefited from the collective attention and expertise of nearly 200 who gathered in San Francisco, California, on March 23 and 24, 2018, for the FirstNet Public Safety Hackathon. The event, created by FirstNet (and supported by AT&T), was sponsored by Esri, IBM, and Samsung. Each sponsor took part in providing developer software and technology along with skilled advisers, who offered one-on-one mentoring and technical assistance throughout the two-day event.


Hours before the event began, FirstNet revealed its application challenges to the group and stated that each challenge was created through a series of public safety discussions that had been held across the country. The use cases came from police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel, who had focused on voice and data communications during major, multijurisdictional events. Esri was invited to sponsor the event because location information is a common element of every mobile technology-based solution. Given Esri's proven history as the maker of the GIS technology preferred by developers and end users, inviting Esri to this event simply made good sense.


Developers from around the world listened to instruction by AT&T, Esri, IBM, and Samsung staff during the inaugural FirstNet Public Safety Hackathon, held at Covo in San Francisco, California, in March 2018.



Specifically, law enforcement attendees had requested "solutions that collect and synthesize data from disparate sources," with a goal of having location intelligence that leads to actionable decision-making. Firefighters had said they wanted tools that would assist them in creating preplans as well as provide real-time asset management, building schematics, and in-vehicle routing. The firefighters also mentioned the need for real-time information about call status, emerging risks, and sensor data like traffic reports and weather conditions. Emergency medical responders had echoed the concerns of police and fire staff but added the need for solutions that "collect situationally relevant patient information for effective triaging [patients] and medical response" and provide real-time information for proper delivery of customized care, all while maintaining efficient records management for easy tracking and reporting. And all had agreed that any solution developed must be easy to deploy and use.


Throughout the night and into the following day, the developers consumed large volumes of caffeine and a never-ending pile of food and treats, taking catnaps whenever possible.


As the two-day marathon came to a close, the developers gathered to share their creative works and be judged. Those participating in the event challenged the status quo of public safety workflows and even cutting-edge technology.


The resultant applications showed promise, as evident by an application (shown) that was designed to locate and track firefighters in buildings, using 3D capabilities in ArcGIS. Other applications focused on citizen interaction with public safety staff as well as first-responder communication with dispatch, command, and control centers and emergency rooms.



With persistence, refinement, and the right amount of exposure, some of these apps could be in the quiver of tools used by frontline public servants in the future.   


With cash awards totaling $28,000, interest, energy. and enthusiasm remained high throughout the 30-hour event.


Esri recognized team S-Rescue (Michelle S. Lee, Wei-Ting Yap, Anirudh Nair, and Yon Zheg Xi) with an award for the best use of ArcGIS technology. Their application demonstrated how 911 callers ("victims") or emergency personnel can be located inside buildings. They showed a 3D floor plan with victims and first responders as points on the map (color coded). In order to show updated locations and movement, the team took advantage of ArcGIS Online and configured a web scene, configuring it with ArcGIS API for JavaScript.



Would you like to learn more? Email Mike King at or click one of these links:
Esri Developer Tools
Esri Startup Partner Program
Esri Public Safety Solutions
FirstNet Developer Ecosystem

By Ryan Lanclos, Esri


You’ve heard for years how the world is undergoing a digital transformation (DX). In fact, your own home probably has more sensors than you realize. They might control everything from your air conditioning to lights or even provide real-time audio and video from your front door. However, many of us don’t fully realize that the ongoing digital transformation is more than just a buzzword or the inclusion of smart sensors into our homes.  Digital transformation is about how we apply and integrate digital technologies to support the business processes of our organizations. For those who work in public safety, the ongoing digital transformation around us presents an amazing opportunity to build safer communities.


As you plan your work in 2018, here are 4 key trends in public safety that will help you take advantage of the ongoing digital transformation. While some of these trends may currently be a disruption, they will become more common over the next few years. Now is the time to prepare and position your agency as a digital transformation leader in public safety.


Drones Fly High

In 2017, the Los Angeles Fire Department used drones for the first time to fight the Skirball Fire. Their aerial drone provided situational awareness and helped assess hot spots around the fire using infrared imagery. The Austin Fire Department’s Robotics Emergency Deployment Division now has 21 employees supporting their efforts.  As standards are developed and regulations are simplified, more and more public safety departments are looking to integrate drones into their arsenal.  As this transformation continues, GIS tools like Esri’s Drone2Map provide the ability to integrate data directly from your drone into ArcGIS. From there you have the full capabilities of ArcGIS at your disposal. You can conduct image analysis and create apps that provide decision support to first responders and operators. For more info on Drone2Map, visit:


Machines Are Getting Smarter

Machine Learning (ML) continues to make ArcGIS smarter.  At Esri we are focused on where ML and GIS intersect which in turn means that public safety organizations will be able to make better data driven decisions.  For example, ML provides law enforcement agencies the ability to derive predictions about where crime may occur, or allow an emergency management planner to determine where a certain hazard might strike and what part of the community is most vulnerable.  The massive amounts of data already available within, and available to, many of our organizations becomes the training data that allows ML to work its magic.  By connecting the data in your records management system (RMS) to ArcGIS and then leveraging ML, you can gain insights on where to position your limited resources to mitigate potential issues. When a disaster strikes and post-event imagery is made available, ML enables you to classify an image to determine damage estimates in areas that may still be inaccessible.  ML will continue to evolve within ArcGIS and provide you with tools that help you make smarter and more data driven decisions. 


Real-Time and Event-Driven Actions

I started this article talking about how sensors are showing up in the most unexpected places.  But what about the sensors you have access to within your public safety organization?  Traffic sensors, cameras, stream gauges, weather stations, air quality monitors, and even smart assets like streetlights and trashcans provide you with real-time data that can be leveraged to your advantage.  By connecting to these sensors and exploiting the location element within this network of sensors, you can begin to trigger actions based on the real-time information you are receiving. When a certain set of criteria or business rules are met, your system responds to this new information in real-time.  A simple example might be that you proactively dispatch resources and alert citizens in a flood prone area based on changing weather conditions. Esri’s Real-Time GIS capability provides you with the tools to improve situational awareness and enable a faster response that can help save lives and property. Learn more at:


Dedicated Connectivity

At the end of 2017, all 50 states opted-in to the nation’s first public safety dedicated broadband infrastructure that will support communications across the public safety industry. FirstNet provides communities with access to a broadband network that enables a much-needed priority flow of data and information to first responders.  This means that your GIS applications running on mobile devices in the field will have priority access to bandwidth during an incident.  The apps your first responders rely on will now have a dedicated network capable of providing high-speed connectivity that improves information delivery, collection, and collaboration.

Learn more about how Esri helps you embrace digital transformation in public safety by visiting

We look forward to seeing you at the 2018 FedGIS Conference. To help you and your organization gain the maximum benefit from this event, we have highlighted a few resources among the hundreds of different activities, workshops and Expo opportunities available on March 20-21.  Learn more at 2018 Esri Federal GIS Conference

By Mike King, Esri Public Safety Team


Last week, 9-1-1 professionals from across America met in Washington, DC, for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 9-1-1 Goes to Washington event. This annual event brought together hundreds of 9-1-1 professionals, who spent much of the week discussing the important challenges faced by the roughly 6,100 emergency call centers across the country. These centers are staffed by professional telecommunicators who prioritize and assign the 240 million calls for help each year.



The event rang the celebratory anniversary bell for the first 9-1-1 call, made 50 years ago. The conference also brought national attention to the need for modernization of the 9-1-1 system, highlighted in an informative article in the Washington Post.


The NENA conference provided a stage for a number of outstanding presentations from industry leaders, including Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai and FCC Public Security and Homeland Security Bureau chief Lisa Fowlkes. Laurie Flaherty, the coordinator of the National 911 Program, provided a comprehensive overview of data-gathering efforts and insight into the pending next generation 911 (NG911) cost study. Other high-interest topics included device-based hybrid location determination, the reclassification of telecommunicators, and legislative activities by lawmakers.


In tandem with this event, at the annual NG9-1-1 Institute Technology Showcase in the Rayburn congressional office building, government 9-1-1 leaders and experts met with members of Congress and their staff to spotlight and advocate for the emergency call-taking industry.


A number of evening events were held to recognize individuals who exhibited outstanding leadership or actions deemed exemplary in emergency response. The 9-1-1 Heroes event included presentations from the 9-1-1 community, members of Congress, and executive branch leaders.


Esri congratulates the 9-1-1 community on 50 years of providing dedicated service to those in need. Esri joins them in pledging continued research and investment in improving location services. You can learn more about Esri's efforts in improving address database management, 3D mapping and analysis, real-time analytics in the dispatch center, and mobile capabilities and dashboards at




by Mike Cox, Esri Fire and EMS Industry Manager and Jeff Baranyi, Esri Public Safety Assistance Program Operations Manager


We realize that public safety agencies face challenges that are more complex and unpredictable than ever before. These events involve social unrest, public health issues, and severe weather events that create an environment where missions and priorities change daily. The approaches that organizations have relied on for years are no longer as effective to secure our communities.


Modern challenges require a modern approach. Agencies and organizations need tools and operational capabilities to adapt to volatile conditions and support a variety of mission requirements. Today, we must be able to identify threats, collaborate and unify operations, rapidly respond to events, communicate with the public, and analyze the success of those efforts. Through the power of geospatial technology, organizations can now adopt a smarter, more integrative approach to safety and security. With the right technology, data, people, and processes, every community can become a safe community.


The challenges for public safety agencies are complex, and they continue to evolve each day. There are more demands on agencies—from adapting to an aging population to the increasing severity and frequency of events that we must respond to and the fact that the role of public safety is changing as we strive to keep our communities livable. The health of a community depends on the effective operation of its public safety agencies, and GIS can improve that effectiveness.

One concept for addressing these emerging issues efficiently is the establishment of a comprehensive community risk reduction (CRR) program. CRR coordinates emergency operations with the goal of preventing and mitigating the effects of an event across the community and at the fire station level. Involvement of frontline personnel is critical for field data collection. GIS can provide solutions to lessen the impact of the day-to-day activities of the frontline personnel.

The benefits of a comprehensive CRR program include bettering the health of the community and improving firefighter safety, which can impact the accreditation process. An effective CRR program allows us to identify new and emerging hazards and provide data to influence the budgetary process, track the changing demographics of our community, and identify under-served populations.


CRR is not limited to fire prevention. This program can be applied to any risk you identify. Consider the risk assessment for fires occurring in single-family dwellings. Might a similar assessment, including demographic and CAD data, be applied to fall prevention or any health problem for which data is available? The CRR process allows us to focus our efforts on the population in need efficiently.


Fire and emergency medical services exist not only to respond to emergency incidents but also to proactively prevent or mitigate the impact of such incidents within their communities. CRR provides a more focused approach to reducing specific risks. In addition, a comprehensive CRR program involving community partners, responders, and other staff can result in an organizational culture that recognizes the importance of reducing risks within a community.


This is the CRR planning cycle provided by Vision 20/20. Like many of our planning activities, it continually assesses the community, prioritizes risk, implements risk reduction activities, and evaluates those activities. This process may influence an agency's accreditation process. The CRR process provides a focused approach to reducing specific risks.




The process begins with identifying the risk. Risks can be man-made or naturally occurring. These can include preventable injuries, controllable health risks (e.g., obesity, diabetes) mass casualty incidents (e.g., active shooter), major hazmat releases, and terrorism as well as severe weather, flooding, hurricanes, and earthquakes.


Risk assessment allows public safety agencies to prioritize those risks. This initial step in preparedness allows for mitigation efforts, planning, and the ability make data-driven decisions to properly deploy resources. This is accomplished by gathering information about what is occurring within your community. The data will be used to identify both current risks and trends based on historical information. Typically, there will be many resources from which to acquire the data that's necessary to identify current and potential risks.


The following data is available for analysis:

  • Fire Department Incident Data
  • Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) Data
  • Emergency Management Disaster-Related Data
  • Public Health Data


GIS provides the ability to present this data in a visual perspective that easily communicates the risk within a community. It also allows public safety officials to analyze multiple datasets to determine how these risks will impact citizens, infrastructure, and the environment.


How would you prefer to assess risk? How should we view and analyze our data? Here is some National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data:



What does this view tell us? It lists the fires that occurred, the incurred property loss, and the incident type. Or is the following visual perspective better? It provides a better way to easily assess and communicate the risk within specific areas of a community.



This map contains the same data and provides a visual reference to the fire by incident type, occupancy type, and location. Here we can easily identify areas of our community that have concentrated risk or risks of a certain type.


When evaluating fire department incident data, it will be necessary to identify those factors contributing to the severity of the hazards and those populations at greatest risk. We accomplish this by developing a community profile. This profile will include demographic data such as age, gender, income, and other socioeconomic and cultural information. The data from a tax parcel layer can be added to evaluate housing type, age of structures, and density.


You can find demographic information in many places. One excellent source is Esri's Tapestry Segmentation. Tapestry helps you understand your community's lifestyle choices such as what the people in your community buy and how they spend their free time. Tapestry classifies US residential neighborhoods into 67 unique segments based on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. Tapestry can help you gain more insights so you can identify your community members and under-served markets. You can also get higher response rates because you avoid less profitable areas.



Another component of conducting a community risk assessment is to identify specific target hazards within your service area. These are sometimes referred to as critical facilities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines these as "facilities in either the public or private sector that provide essential products and services to the general public; are otherwise necessary to preserve the welfare and quality of life in the community; or fulfill important public safety, emergency response, and/or disaster recovery functions."


The following map depicts various locations of target hazards based on defined criteria using a scoring system. In this case, properties are color‐coded in accordance with their score, making it easier to quickly identify those with the highest levels of risk. Another option would be to generate a map depicting only those facilities with the highest levels of risk rather than all properties and structures.



Esri has a target hazard assessment tool available. The Target Hazard Analysis tool uses tax parcel data from the assessor's office as input into the analysis. Tax parcel information includes the property boundaries, use description, building area, number of floors, and assessed value. These attributes are used in the analysis to determine the following hazard criteria:

  • Occupancy type
  • Life safety
  • Fire flow requirements
  • Economic impact
  • Building height
  • Building area


In addition, this tax parcel may contain information on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; roof construction; basements; residential elevators; and other datasets that may prove useful.


And if a locality needs specific site data that's not available through tax parcel information, the data can also be collected in the field through the Collector for ArcGIS application on any mobile device and submitted in real time to the evaluation tool. Collecting lock box locations and sprinkler and standpipe connections can be done in a paperless environment, placing the feature on the map in real time.


This assessment is now used to focus efforts on reducing the risk for the population identified. GIS can be used to manage that reduction effort efficiently.



  1. Esri:
  2. Vision 20/20:
  3. American Housing Survey:‐surveys/ahs/
  4. American Community Survey:
  5. Oliver, D. (2011, November). FireRescue Magazine, 42–47
  6. United States Census Bureau:
  7. American FactFinder: