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FCW : March 15, 2014
March 15, 2014 FCW.COM 19 load and run in the cloud for a few dollars. Mitre, a nonpro t organization that operates research and develop- ment centers sponsored by the govern- ment, developed GeoQ for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as Hur- ricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast in late 2012. The app allows ana- lysts to compare real-time images after a disaster with existing satellite imag- ery to conduct damage assessments and provide other valuable informa- tion. It also provides a Rosetta Stone of sorts for geodata, allowing users to import, convert and combine virtually all the commonly used formats. The app has thousands of federal users, 2,000 of whom used it during the Boulder, Colo., ooding in September 2013, said Jay Crossler, senior principal software engineer at Mitre. Yet anyone can download the code and run it on a virtualized machine in the cloud for about $14 a year. "We ve made it all available so that anyone can set it up," Crossler said. In early 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency s Of ce of Water began an effort to simplify how it conveys the complex infor- mation it has collected for decades. Nine months later, the agency launched a map-based application called "How s My Waterway?" that allows users to check pollution levels in almost any U.S. lake, river or other waterway via the Web. The project s launch coincided with the 40th anni- versary of the Clean Water Act, which requires states to report data on water- ways to the EPA. The agency in turn periodically updates Congress on the condition of the nation s waterways. That data has always been avail- able to the public, but until "How s My Waterway?" it was compiled in technical databases and used mainly by scientists who knew what it meant and how to access it. Now anyone can input a ZIP Code or select his or her current location from any Web-connected device and receive basic information on whether a water- way is polluted and when it was last assessed. Users can move around the map to other waterways or click on a speci c one to get more details, such as the nature of the pollutants and what is being done to mitigate the problem --- all of which is presented in terms that the average user can understand. The tool has been so popular that in the weeks right after its launch, the high volume of users caused the site to crash several times, said Doug Norton, senior environmental scientist in the Of ce of Water. Tens of thousands of people now use the application on a regular basis, with rates that uctuate depending on the season and weather. In short, mapping technology "proved to be a terri c mode of com- munication in getting points across and informing the public, " Norton said. It was also cost-effective because it did not require a lengthy procurement process. Instead, a team of 12 water- shed scientists, public outreach experts and coders used existing data and worked with the contractor that man- aged EPA s technical database. "'How s My Waterway? was an effort to take existing datasets in our techni- cal database and just con gure them in an easier, more user-friendly manner, " Norton said. "We were able to get infor- mation in tabular and map form, and that is what enables us to use GIS and mapping as an effective part. " "How s My Waterway?" recently won the rst Igniting Innovation award from the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council. And because EPA s databases are continu- ally updated with new information, the agency s small investment in using maps to educate users will continue to pay dividends for a long time. --- Frank Konkel safety director. The company often partners with the Federal Emergency Management Agency during disasters. "Not only do you have the single view of what is happening in time, but if you have the appropriate credentials, you and other stakeholders can log on and be connected to the same view of data for shared situational awareness," he added. Disaster response has also spurred geodata-based applications that any user with access to GitHub can down- EPA: Using maps to make sense of water pollution data West Virginians did not need an app to know that the Elk River had been contaminated when this Freedom Industries facility's retaining wall failed, but there are tens of thousands of less famous waterways that the Environmental Protection Agency has identified as polluted. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
March 30, 2014