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Geospacial Technology Could Improve Response to Emergencies

Oct. 30, 2007 — Territory officials are envisioning the day when predictions of a looming natural disaster will be trumped by an early response that safeguards the most vulnerable populations.
They're also pointing to a time in the near future when reporting your phone number to emergency personnel is all it will take to guide them to exactly where you live.
Science fiction has come home to roost in the form of geospacial technology that is currently ramping up in the Virgin Islands. The third annual Geographic Information System (GIS) Conference — involving every branch of the V.I. government, as well as private-sector representatives — is slated for Nov. 14-16 at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort. The lieutenant governor's office will host the conference in collaboration with the V.I. Geospacial Information Council (VIGIC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The conference will help determine the strategies necessary to achieve a massive coordination of governmental databases, according to the lieutenant governor's office. That information will ultimately be combined with imagery currently being collected from planes cruising local skies, gathering precise data on the V.I. terrain's natural and man-made formations.
"It's data imagery," explained Mel Vanterpool, director of Homeland Security for the territory. "And how it works is that an aircraft is contracted through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fly over our islands and Puerto Rico … and it will take digital-imagery photos of the entire territory that will be put into an overlay for mapping."
Among other things, the imagery will be used to plan for evacuation and protection services in the event of natural disaster or other threats to the territory, Vanterpool said.
"It's extremely important that the VI have this program," he said. "In homeland security we have three basic functions: The first is prevention, the second is response and the third is recovery. The GIS will support all of these functions we do so we can best prevent things from happening. If we have a no-notice event such as tsunami, with geospacial information we will already have mapped out the low-lying areas where we know flooding will happen … so we can get people away from those areas."
Once all the databases from governmental agencies can be fused with the digital aerial mapping, it will come under the auspices of the VIGIC, in what's known as a fusion center — a location housing software and personnel that manage the databases. A fusion center location is currently being sought, Vanterpool said. However, he declined to predict how long it would take to combine and ready the various data sources to launch the fusion center.
The data for each island will be integrated. Each parcel of land throughout the Virgin Islands will be recorded and located according to specific global coordinates, and telephone numbers associated with those parcels will be linked. For emergency personnel, that means no longer having to rely on landmarks to find their way to the scene a crisis. Instead they can rely on a global-positioning system similar to what's being sold in many new cars. The GIS Conference is a step toward attaining the mapping necessary for the territory to acquire global-positioning systems.
The conference, which is drawing representatives from around the Caribbean as well as the mainland, is entitled "Empowering a Community of Users: Building a Strong Geospatial Connected Network Throughout the Caribbean by Advancing Policies and Best Practices." It is sponsored by Hovensa, the West Indian Company, the Department of Tourism and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
The public is invited to attend, and companies or individuals interested in sponsoring the conference are encouraged to contact the lieutenant governor's office.
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