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Summer 2009
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Updated Operations Center Helps U.S. DOI See Bigger Picture

Esri ServicesCreated in 1849, the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) has a different role from that of the interior ministries of other nations, which are usually responsible for functions that, in the United States, are performed by the Department of Homeland Security. Known as "the department of everything else" in its early history because it was tasked with an assortment of unrelated functions, DOI has evolved to become one of the country's principal public conservation agencies responsible for protecting the United States' natural and cultural resources and acting as steward of its trust responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives. This work is done through the Interior bureaus: Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Minerals Management Service, National Park Service, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey.

The department affects the lives of millions of people, from the family taking a vacation in a U.S. national park to the 48,000 children studying in Indian schools to the more than 67,000 employees and 280,000 volunteers located at 2,400 offices across the United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. territories, and freely associated states. DOI oversees 500 million acres of surface land—one-fifth of the country—and 1.7 billion acres of the nation's outer continental shelf. In that immense area, the department presides over the country's 391 national parks, 548 national wildlife refuges, and 479 dams and 348 reservoirs that provide water for 31 million people. In addition, the department administers 8,526 active oil and gas leases and operates 58 hydroelectric plants.

The scope and scale of DOI are hard to grasp on any given day. In an emergency, the effort to synchronize the people, resources, and data quickly for all the Interior bureaus becomes monumental.

Modernizing Emergency Operations at DOI

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In a demonstration to DOI leadership, fire scenarios in the Redding, California, area were used to illustrate how the IOC's geospatial and demographic analysis capabilities could be used for situational awareness during the fires.

To help manage that effort, DOI completely redesigned and modernized its Interior Operations Center (IOC), a secure facility that serves as the principal focal point for reporting significant incidents to the Secretary of the Interior; sharing emergency information with the National Operations Center at the Department of Homeland Security; and disseminating alerts, warnings, and other emergency information to bureaus and offices.

The modernization included updating IOC's situational awareness capabilities by implementing Esri's Esri Situational Awareness. This packaged enterprise GIS solution was selected because it can be implemented rapidly and with minimal effort on DOI's part. Esri Situational Awareness comprises hardware preloaded with terabytes of prerendered, precached basemap data for the nation; a powerful data fusion and analysis engine; and a set of fully customizable clients, including a 2D browser-based viewer, a 3D desktop client, and a data management and analysis client. The package includes the services and training to use the system quickly.

The solution lets IOC leverage the enterprise GIS infrastructure at DOI to merge emergency information from bureaus and offices with emergency management activities into a common operational picture for information sharing during an event. Says Karen Siderelis, geographic information officer for DOI, "We have thousands of datasets already available that we want to make available through the solution's capabilities. The ability to bring in our own rich data and fuse it with the basemap data and capabilities of the system is critical."

Esri's Professional Services Division installed and configured the basic solution in a week, integrating spatial and attribute information from DOI's vast data repositories. It customized the 2D viewer to give users easy access to local data; data from other DOI databases consumed as Web services; and data from live MWS and RSS feeds, such as real-time hurricane, earthquake, and wildfire status.

The grand opening of the new IOC was held on January 9, 2009, and according to Larry Broun, head of emergency operations at DOI, it was pressed into service almost immediately for the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2009. The National Mall, in which many inaugural activities took place, is a national park and thus under DOI jurisdiction. IOC watch officers monitored reports of incidents around the National Mall, geolocating them as necessary and reporting to law enforcement staff or appropriate agencies. The inauguration, attended by more than 1.8 million people, proceeded without incident.

Seeing the Big Picture

At the grand opening of the new IOC, outgoing Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne was given a tour just before he was due to meet with incoming secretary Ken Salazar. Siderelis and her team capitalized on IOC's enterprise geospatial capabilities, pulling together data to demonstrate the full range of operations at DOI in a new way—through geovisualization. Using Esri Situational Awareness, demonstration team members navigated to areas around the globe that the IOC watch team was monitoring, such as Mt. St. Helens, and showed everything from dams to Indian schools under DOI jurisdiction. They showed fire scenarios in the Redding, California, area, demonstrating how IOC's geospatial and demographic analysis capabilities could be used for situational awareness during the fires. Using data about Hurricane Ike—a category 4 hurricane and the third costliest in U.S. history—they also exhibited how IOC could use GIS for everything from evacuations to recovery efforts before, during, and after an emergency. "We really wowed everyone with both the story of DOI and with the scenarios we generated," comments Siderelis.

Kempthorne was so impressed by the visual depiction of DOI's operations, says Siderelis, that when Salazar arrived, Kempthorne asked her team to give the incoming secretary the complete picture of the department he was to inherit. Salazar, too, saw the value of the demonstration, and when he officially took office on January 20, he began sending his staff to IOC to learn the story of DOI. Since then, Secretary Salazar has been briefed in the IOC and is so enthusiastic that he has used the center on several occasions to brief others. He is a great advocate of using science and technology to further the goals of the department.

GIS Becomes Critical Transition Tool

In short order, GIS became a critical part of the transition within DOI, helping new key staff members understand operations across all of DOI. This, in turn, generated a new awareness of the capabilities of enterprise GIS.

"The solution implemented at IOC has become the flagship and icon of a more enterprise approach to GIS," says Siderelis. She believes the fast implementation of a total solution, with everything—hardware, software, data—ready to go quickly, is affecting people's perception of the potential of enterprise GIS. For the past three years, DOI has had a geospatial modernization blueprint with the objective of coordinating and integrating enterprise GIS activities across all bureaus and offices. Siderelis says that the technology at IOC pushed that blueprint forward with tremendous momentum. "We're light-years ahead of where we would have been," she asserts.

Next Steps

Siderelis says that DOI's immediate next step is to make the IOC's geospatial capabilities accessible to a wider set of teams across DOI via Web services. DOI intends to continue to customize the 2D viewer to support the IOC operational workflow. Esri Professional Services will assist DOI in creating widgets (pieces of code providing specific functionality) for the viewer that offer capabilities such as the ability to see the demographics about any area in the United States or the number of federal employees in a user-specified area. Another widget in development will provide integration with ESi's WebEOC product, which will become an integral part of the operational procedures to record, share, and archive information at IOC.

"Where we really want to take this is to have an impact on our programs," concludes Siderelis.

More Information

For more information, contact Karen Siderelis, Department of the Interior (e-mail:; Bob Pierce, U.S. Geological Survey (e-mail:; Larry Broun,; or Pat Cummens, Esri (, tel.: 651-454-0600).

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