EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — August 23, 2006

USGS Natural Hazards Support System
Near Real-time Integrated Hazards Monitoring

Susan E. Goplen
Information Technology Specialist
USGS, Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center
Geographic Technology & Applications

Avagene Moore
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! We are pleased you could join us today! Today's topic is the "U.S. Geological Survey's Natural Hazards Support System (NHSS): Near Real Time Integrated Hazards Monitoring."

It is a pleasure to introduce our speaker today, Susan E. Goplen. Susan is an Information Technology Specialist and Lead Developer at RMGSC. She has worked on several natural hazards support applications including the Natural Hazards Support System (NHSS), Fire Data Ordering (FDO), NORTHCOM’s Interagency Operating Picture (IOP) and DOI Watch. She has been with the USGS for 20 years, during which time she has been involved with systems administration, hardware and software support and systems development. If you have not read the background page, please do so after our session today to learn more about our speaker and to check out the related Web site references.

Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum, Susan. We are delighted to have you with us today. Susan, I now turn the floor to you for your formal remarks.


Susan Goplen: Thank you Avagene. I am pleased to be here. Today I’m going to present one of our many natural hazards monitoring systems, the Natural Hazards Support System (NHSS).

This presentation will be given in five parts:

Who are we?
How did NHSS get its start?
What is NHSS?
What benefits does NHSS provide?
What is the future of NHSS?

Who are we?

The Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center (RMGSC) is part of the Geography Discipline of the United States Geological Survey (USGS). We’re located in Denver Colorado and we are actively involved in a wide-range of activities, including a significant number of natural hazards monitoring and analysis activities.

We care about natural hazards because one of the core goals of the Geography Discipline is to study the impacts of natural hazards on the landscape, and to monitor and assess the impacts of these natural disasters in an effort to mitigate the potential for loss of life or property. RMGSC’s advanced monitoring systems and lead-edge analysis products have proven to be a key to implementing these goals.

How did NHSS get its start?

In the summer of 2000, wildfires were raging out of control in the western United States, and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) was struggling to manage the deployment of resources to fight the fires. At that point in time they lacked the capability to geospatially monitor all of the wildfires, so they contacted RMGSC and asked if we could quickly develop and deploy a national wildfire monitoring system.

RMGSC, working with a wide-range of federal partners, immediately began development of a web-based geospatial application called Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination (GeoMAC). Today, with over 40 million hits a year, GeoMAC has become one of the primary public tools used to monitor the current location and status of national wildfires (http://geomac.gov).

The success of this application demonstrated the value of combining geospatial data with near real-time wildfire information and providing it via the Internet to both the public and emergency response community. This success also set the stage for the next step in natural hazards monitoring; combining multiple types of natural hazards into a single application.

NHSS takes this next step of combining a wide range of natural hazards events into a single geospatial, web-based viewer. NHSS allows users to easily see the geospatial relationships of different natural hazard events. NHSS information also contributes to the analysis of the potential impacts of multiple natural hazards.

What is NHSS?

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Natural Hazards Support System (NHSS) helps monitor and analyze natural hazard events, including earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, severe weather, floods, wildfires, and tsunamis (http://nhss.cr.usgs.gov).

NHSS pulls it’s near real-time hazards information from the following sources:

• Earthquakes – National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC)

• Weather Watches/Warnings – NWS, NOAA

• Fires – National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)

• Hurricanes –National Hurricane Center, NOAA

• Active Volcanoes – Alaska Volcano Observatory (USGS Volcano Hazards Program and Southwest Volcano Research Center)

• Buoys (Tide Monitoring) – National Data Buoy Center, NOAA

In addition to providing information on the actual geospatial location of each natural hazard event, NHSS also provides a hyperlink to the source agency in order to provide the user with access to the most detailed information.

Geospatial data is presented to users in two separate, easily accessible map modes, North America (default) and Global. The North America view provides the user with access to national seamless geospatial data for boundaries, bodies of water, transportation, utilities, land cover, elevation, cities, and population data. Essential facilities data (hospitals, fire stations, etc.), using the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) HAZUS as a primary source, has also been integrated into the application.

The North America map mode contains near real-time dynamic data for earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, weather watches/warnings, tide monitoring buoys, Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS), NEXRAD severe weather radar, and USGS stream gages.

The Global map mode presents globally seamless reference data for boundaries, bodies of water, transportation, elevation, cities, and population data. In addition, the Global map mode contains near real-time dynamic data for earthquakes, hurricanes, and tide monitoring buoys.

Also included in NHSS are sophisticated and yet easy to use tools. For example, the "Find Place" tool allows users to quickly and easily find a location based on a named geographic feature, or a specific latitude/longitude in North America. And the "Identify" tool allows users to display all of the attribute information associated with any feature in the map.

What benefits does NHSS provide?

During the 2005 hurricane season and the active 2006 summer fire season NHSS provided crucial and timely natural hazards monitoring support to federal, state, and local natural hazards monitoring, analysis, response, and recovery activities.

NHSS, which contained information on the path of the hurricanes integrated with near-real-time information on stream levels, wind speeds, and precipitation, allowed federal agencies to efficiently monitor, and respond to the impacts of the hurricanes.

During national events like the 2005 hurricane season, RMGSC was called upon to quickly incorporate both pre- and post- event information into these monitoring systems, as well as generate a wide variety of accurate analysis products for support of the response and recovery activities of federal and state agencies including the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and National Guard troops.

For example, during the first days after the flooding of New Orleans, the RMGSC developed automated feature extraction techniques to identify and assess structural damage. Once the pumping of the greater Orleans Parish began, issues surrounding the increase of sediments in Lake Pontchartrain began to surface. The commercial satellite datasets were utilized to generate a time series of image maps depicting sediment plumes in the lake in close proximity of the pumping stations. These maps were use by hydrologists to determine the extent of the sediment plumes based on water samples collected from the lake.

What is the future of NHSS?

NHSS is continually evolving. As each new natural disaster occurs we learn more about what data and capabilities are useful. We will continue to enhance the data content of NHSS as new data becomes available and new needs arise. I encourage you to visit NHSS at http://nhss.cr.usgs.gov.

This concludes my presentation. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. I turn you back to our Moderator.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Susan, for a fine presentation. We will now turn to questions from our audience.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Sernell Johnstown: How does NHSS work with programs like CAMEO and ARCGIS? Independently, or are there connections?

Susan Goplen: Sorry, Sernell, I do not know what CAMEO is. NHSS is an ArcIMS application.

Scott Eyestone: The Disaster Management e-Gov systems already benefit from Common Alerting Protocol messages from USGS on volcanic and seismic activity. Could we explore an interface development with this system?

Susan Goplen: Yes, Scott. We would be happy to discuss development possibilities with you.

Mike Morellato: Could you elaborate on the "automated feature extraction techniques" you mentioned for assessing structural damage? How was this developed?

Susan Goplen: Thanks for that question Mike. It was done using a variety of remote sensing software, guided by FEMA assessments.

Amy Sebring: Susan, how do you get the events and related data into the system? Are you integrating existing Web mapping services, or is there a manual element to maintaining the system?

Susan Goplen: We are using numerous methods depending on the type of hazard. For instance, with earthquakes we are reading the CAP file being produced by the NEIC and populating our own spatial table. The thing we are using an existing map service for is NEXRAD.

Christopher Effgen: I assume that the system is manned 24 –7. How many people are on the staff?

Susan Goplen: That’s a great question Christopher. Yes, NHSS is manned 24/7. It runs on two redundant web servers between a load-balancing switch. The system is self-monitoring. We have a number of support individuals that the system will contact via a page and email if it detects any issues. There are currently 4 people that rotate on the pager. If there were a problem that the system people could not fix, myself and one other individual are available also.

Scott Eyestone: Do you expose data via the OPEN GIS Consortium's Web Map Services standard? If so, we would like to be able to bring NHSS data as a layer/overlay into a system used by local responders during incident response.

Susan Goplen: Yes, the map service can be accessed via OPEN GIS. Please contact us if you wish to integrate NHSS into your system.

Joe Sukaskas: Susan, you mentioned that data displayed were "near real time" -- how often are different datasets refreshed, and are there any that require manual intervention to be current?

Susan Goplen: Good question Joe. Earthquakes, weather and hurricanes are automatically updated every 10 minutes. Active volcanoes is a couple times a day. No manual intervention is needed.

Amy Sebring: Susan, is there anyway to download data from the system?

Susan Goplen: We are currently not making downloading of data available through NHSS. We do have several other hazards sites with that capability. Please contact me separately to discuss.

Avagene Moore: Susan, is the system intuitive or are there instructions for use? A tutorial of sorts?

Susan Goplen: There is a help button on the interface with user instructions and a complete list of data layers.

Amy Sebring: Any thoughts on including severe drought extents in the future? I could see where that might be useful in relation to the wildfire data for example. Do you currently have NWS fire weather?

Susan Goplen: The NWS issues drought and fire weather alerts. NHSS contains those alerts.

Amy Sebring: I have also seen some interesting USGS experiments with flood extent mapping in the past. Is this one of the things you might consider for the future? Or are there any other future hazards you are currently considering?

Susan Goplen: Flood mapping is something that we are exploring.

Avagene Moore: Susan, since disasters occur worldwide and this sort of information would be useful around the world, has there been any thought of sharing, duplicating this effort globally?

Susan Goplen: Yes, we definitely would like to enhance the content of our global map view. Currently we only have earthquakes and active volcanoes on global extent. The difficulty there seems to be locating good data sources.

Amy Sebring: I just think this is a great resource that emergency managers need to be aware of. I am also finding the system to be very responsive, i.e., fast. What kind of daily usage are you getting so far Susan, e.g. numbers of hits?

Susan Goplen: That really depends on what is happening. When there is a large disaster (i.e., hurricane Katrina) we were getting up to 100,000 hits a day.

Anita L Parker: I'm kind of new to this and may be taking on the EMD position soon. What is the site web address?

Susan Goplen: http://nhss.cr.usgs.gov

Avagene Moore: Susan, adding to Amy's comment about this being a great resource for emergency managers, what type of promotion or publicity has been done or is ongoing to make folks aware of this resource?

Susan Goplen: NHSS is now a link off of the main USGS home page as well as the DOI Emergency home page.

Amy Sebring: My question was basically the same as Ava's. Are you doing any outreach efforts, such as conference presentations etc.?

Susan Goplen: Yes, NHSS being presented at conferences all the time. The NHSS map service was recently used during the ESRI User Conference in San Diego, CA.

Mike Morellato: Have any efforts been made to coordinate with the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (who deal with public safety as well), or have data restrictions been a problem with cross-borders efforts (if any have been pursued)?

Susan Goplen: The only problem using/getting data across borders is finding the right person to talk to. Can you be of help?

Mike Morellato: I could definitely liaise as a third party and give some good references / contacts.

Susan Goplen: Thanks Mike. That would be great.


Avagene Moore: Susan, would you like to give your email address for Mike and Scott?

Susan Goplen: Yes, [email protected].


Avagene Moore: Thank you, Susan. We also owe gratitude to Jill J. Cress, Computer Scientist, at the Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center. She was very helpful in making today's session happen. We greatly appreciate both of you and wish you continued success in your work with the USGS.

Please stand by a moment while we make a few quick announcements. If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

We have one new EIIP Partner to announce today, Compassion Alliance; http:www.compassionalliance.org; Chad Holgerson, Vice President of Disaster Relief, is the Point of Contact to the EIIP. Welcome Compassion Alliance!

Please check out our Partners from our home page and visit the Web site of this Partner and others. If you are interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the "Partnership for You" link on the EIIP Virtual Forum homepage http://www.emforum.org.

Again, the transcript of the August 23rd session will be posted later today and you will be able to access it from our home page. An announcement will also be sent to our mail lists when the transcript is available.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We especially appreciate our audience! Before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Susan Goplen for a fine job. The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned!