Information Systems Coordinate Emergency Management
- Saturday, 01 January 2011
NVision—a minority, woman-owned firm—engaged with Stennis through multiple dual-use and SBIR projects. An initial outcome was a precision agriculture system that harnessed NASA satellite data, research, and algorithms to allow farmers to generate efficient strategies for treating crops with fertilizers, pesticides, and other crop control chemicals. (The technology was commercialized through InTime Inc. of Cleveland, Mississippi—another NASA partner with origins at Stennis.) That work found a new application in 2003, when Louisiana’s St. Tammany parish suffered flooding in the wake of Tropical Storm Bill. To answer the parish’s need for more efficient acquisition of flooding estimates and damage assessments, NVision applied elements of its precision agriculture system to create a real-time flood alert system—a system the parish still uses today. With additional NASA assistance, the company further developed the St. Tammany emergency response system and realized the significance of this new direction.
“We didn’t have that much farther to go to have a comprehensive emergency management system,” Harvey says. This was the beginning of NVision’s Real-Time Emergency Action Coordination Tool (REACT).
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, NVision immediately volunteered its GIS-based emergency management expertise to assist in Hancock County’s recovery efforts. Using NASA data from Stennis, the company churned out thousands of unique, custom maps per week to support emergency operations needs. The experience the company gained during Katrina translated into even more robust, comprehensive emergency management capabilities. (The solution Harvey devised to find the missing woman, for example, became a search and rescue tool now used as standard practice on the Gulf Coast.)
When Stennis constructed a new emergency operations center following Katrina, NVision tailored its REACT system to NASA’s specifications. The NASA-derived technology ended up perfectly suiting NASA’s own needs, says Ron Magee, emergency director at Stennis.
“The REACT system pulls from our GIS systems so it has the most current mapping and data layers that are associated with geographic coordinates,” he explains. “It gives us a one-stop shop where we can have all of the information at our fingertips.”
Those capabilities impressed emergency managers at other NASA centers, and through a Phase III SBIR agreement, the REACT system was established at NASA Headquarters and every NASA center nationwide, allowing the Agency to launch coordinated responses in the event of an emergency situation.
NASA, however, is far from the only beneficiary of the REACT technology. Today, REACT is NVision’s flagship product and has resulted in more than $2 million in revenue. Recently designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology, REACT is currently in use by varied organizations throughout the country for a broad spectrum of emergency management applications.
Simply put, REACT is a Web-based information system for enhancing decision making before, during, and after emergency situations.
“REACT looks at an emergency in a comprehensive way,” Harvey says. “What sets it apart is that it is all handled with a geospatial perspective.” Accessible through any computer and even handheld devices for use by emergency workers in the field, the system provides a Common Operating Picture combining everything from water levels to the location of police cars to the number and current capacity of shelters and hospitals, and more— all in real time. “We’ve got satellites, river gauges, housing data, tax base data, elevation data,” says Harvey.
REACT also functions as an effective emergency management training tool and, in nonemergency circumstances, as a facility management system for running the day-to-day operations of a building or campus. Incorporating the DHS National Incident Management System and Incident Command System, REACT even encompasses standardized government elements such as forms, allowing officials to quickly access and complete necessary paperwork. The goal is to provide emergency managers with all of the tools for making and executing informed decisions, even under duress.
“It really boils down to this: Quicker, more efficient decisions save lives,” Harvey says.
REACT has been used for emergency response to Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, Gustav, and Ike. The Hancock County Emergency Operations Center, Mississippi National Guard, and the Environmental Protection Agency used the system during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, tracking the extent of the spill, the location of oil booms, and air and water quality monitoring efforts. The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security employs REACT as a counterterrorism solution for large stadiums and venues, and the U.S. Navy’s Center for Asymmetric Warfare has standardized the NASAderived technology for use during its large scale military training exercises. The benefits to these and other REACT users include significant cost reductions; Harvey notes that the U.S. Coast Guard has recognized multimillions of dollars in savings from response initiatives employing the REACT system.