ArcNews Online

Spring 2010
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Virtual USA Emergency Initiative

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VIPER image showing real-time data.

Esri announces support for Virtual USA, an initiative designed to improve decision making for local, state, tribal, and federal homeland security practitioners. Headed by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, Virtual USA integrates existing resources to provide real-time access to operational information from multiple sources and jurisdictions. Data about weather, traffic, infrastructure, fuel supplies, emergency shelters, and medical facilities can be fully integrated, analyzed, mapped, and disseminated for interagency situational awareness.

Esri will work closely with users and other stakeholders to provide support and resources. The objectives of Virtual USA—which include data sharing, interoperability, and shared situational awareness—are enhanced when combined with GIS tools and analytics. Esri will continue to develop and provide users with tools that are freely available for their Esri platform, enabling comprehensive situational awareness. As the benefits of Virtual USA are realized, multiple jurisdictions and disciplines will interact, share real-time information, and create greater interagency collaboration for better preparedness, response, and coordination.

Virtual USA currently operates a pilot program in eight states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Additional states will join the pilot program.

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As situation reports come in, they are displayed by jurisdiction name to alert the watch center of the submittal.

The State of Virginia, through its Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), has embraced the Virtual USA initiative and achieved real results. VDEM launched the Virginia Interoperability Picture for Emergency Response (VIPER) using enterprise GIS software from Esri. In addition to providing a Web-based common operating picture and analysis tools, VIPER integrates with numerous information systems and links with approximately 250 data feeds. Emergency managers; first responders; and police, fire, and government officials can tap into a single information resource for better decision making. VIPER recently earned the Virginia governor's IT as Efficiency Driver award during the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium. The award recognizes the innovative use of technology to promote efficiency in government.

VIPER is available not only to local, state, and federal agencies but also to the public. Street, satellite, and topographic maps provide a diverse set of basemap data. Feeds from multiple sources supply information related to air incidents, traffic accidents, civil disturbances, earthquakes, floods, terrorist threats, hazardous material spills, hurricanes, reported public health concerns (such as swine flu), power outages, reported suspicious activities, wildfires, and more.

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Summer weather and the afternoon commute out of Washington, D.C. The red diamonds are indications of radar-detected severe hail.

"I have seen firsthand how VIPER has and continues to revolutionize information sharing throughout public safety and across all levels of government," says Charles L. Werner, Charlottesville, Virginia, fire chief and Virtual USA GIS Working Group chair. "Virtual USA has created a momentum that will enhance this capability exponentially and change the way we see, understand, and share data."

As more states participate in Virtual USA, the amount of data sharing, communication, and collaboration will improve all aspects of emergency management, including mitigation, planning, response, and recovery.

More Information

For more information, contact Russ Johnson, Esri (e-mail:

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