The Interagency Geospatial Preparedness Team (IGPT): An Interview with Susan Kalweit, Chief, IGPT

By Joe Francica

Directions Magazine (DM): Please explain the basic mission of the IGPT and the formation of the team.
Susan Kalweit (SK): The need for geospatial technology is without a doubt a necessity; when something occurs, the first question that someone asks is "where is it?" What does it look like? The second question is 'where are my assets necessary to respond? And how do I get those assets from where they are to where I need them.' And how do I get people safely out of harms reach, if you will, because all of these kinds of questions depend on having the correct information about the incident; about the area that's affected and the area where resources will come from.The resources may come from the immediate area, but they may come from other states.

And where we stand right now in terms of that geospatial information, is that although there is a lot of geospatial information resident in our government, its not all interoperable; its not all shareable.And that is just unacceptable when you really have to be have to be able to plan evacuation routes, such as where are the roads; and it's not just a question of 'where are the major roads' and 'how are you going to get in or out,' but where the population center is...and oh by the way, you don't want to move people into the hazard.

A terrific example of that was during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City (see above article) when the initial and evacuation route actually had people going right by a major chemical plant.When they finally discovered that, they suddenly decided to reroute the evacuation route.

So, the utility of geospatial information for planning, emergency response, and recovery is of utmost importance to our nation's preparedness.And what we have noted, anecdotally, is that some areas of our country are very prepared with geospatial information technology.Although it was a tragedy that occurred on September 11th, at the same time, from a geospatial practitioners standpoint, we were very fortunate that it happened in New York City because they had such a tremendous base of geospatial information and geospatial technology to help in the response and recovery effort.

Our nation needs that base level of capability, instantly, across the nation.FEMA recognized that we need a national strategy for geospatial preparedness.They decided, what made sense to them, was to be the lead in coordinating the establishment of an interagency body to identify what is needed for geospatial preparedness across our nation, what capabilities already exist, and where the gap lies.And how do we address that gap over time, such that we can easily establish an underpinning framework of geospatial information and geospatial technology for preparedness.So, they approached two of the leading geospatial agencies in the federal government that being the U.S.Geological Survey and the NIMA to ask if we can lead this effort. As an interagency effort, to bring in other agencies to participate, so, we have a member from the US Department of Agriculture's Forest Service; NOAA and we're talking with other federal agencies as well.

DM: What is the end result or end product of the team?
SK: The outcome of this activity in a year's time from now will be a strategy; a strategy of how our nation achieves geospatial preparedness. And the strategy that results from this investigation; what is needed, what capabilities exist and then what is the gap between them.

Let me focus first how we discover what is needed - it comes from the emergency management preparedness team.It comes from looking at emergency planning.I gave you an example of evacuation route planning where we need to establish what routes are available.We need to know where people live, so we want to do a demographic analysis and realize we need demographic and census data; we need to know if this is a hurricane-prone area is or a flood-prone area is or an earthquake-prone area or whatever the hazard might be.I need to be able to model or simulate those hazards to determine what areas might be affected...And that's how we plan on identifying the need; by looking at the gaps and by working with emergency management agencies, finding out what they do, and be able to match that with the available geospatial data and geospatial technologies that exist.And, over the course of discovering these needs, we're also discovering what's out there.Quite frankly, (GIS) industry is becoming a critical piece in discovering our needs and capabilities.They have a lot of market research into what the needs are and they've delivered many of the capabilities.And they also hold many of the capabilities that will be used in the event of the next crisis.In the event of the next crisis, they will provide the just in time service.

The two critical components that will identify the (the enterprise architecture business case) investment strategy will be one, the federal contribution through programs and initiatives that the federal agencies have ongoing in the geospatial arena, and what's needed in the form of grant money for state and local level so they can contribute their assets.All of this hinges upon standards for interoperability that we are leveraging from Geospatial One-Stop and the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC).The point for those standards and those aspects of interoperability are needed by the individual federal initiatives, and state and local initiatives that all come together in a common capacity for our nation to leverage. In the financial piece, the other critical aspect is the issue that money flowing in will seed the foundation for our national spatial preparedness. But over the long haul, it is an expensive proposition to expect the federal government to continue putting money in and to sustain it.So, we will be looking at potential market mechanisms that will allow this program to become self-sustaining.And market mechanisms such as those similar to what the flood insurance program uses already, whereby if you adhere to certain standards, using flood mapping data, you get a break on your insurance.Why not have something similar in the case of managing and maintaining your critical infrastructure in a GIS, and thereby "hardening" your city through knowledge of your critical infrastructure.Knowledge that includes how well your structures are being maintained.Knowledge that would reduce the risk to the insurance industry perhaps.Point being is that it is important to identify how to make this a sustaining mechanism.

Published Wednesday, March 5th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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