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The Louisiana Army National Guard Deploys GIS to Make the Most of Its Data
The Mission of Coordinating Safety
The Louisiana Army National Guard (LANG) is an organization with multiple missions. The federal mission is to provide trained and ready soldiers, airmen, and units for deployment in support of national military objectives as designated by the president of the United States. The state mission is to preserve and protect life, property, peace, order, and public safety under state authority and as directed by the governor of Louisiana. At the community level, the mission is to focus on initiatives that enhance community relationships and provide mutually beneficial support.
In fall 2008, Hurricane Gustav struck the same area that had been pounded three years earlier by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, destroying entire communities and displacing millions of people.
Before Gustav hit, federal, state, and local agencies worked around the clock to prepare for the worst. LANG, which had firsthand experience dealing with Katrina and Rita, did its part to prepare and assist, producing maps, performing analysis, and providing fundamental situational awareness.
From the aftermath of Gustav and the previous hurricanes, LANG learned that future responses needed a more efficient method for processing vast quantities of imagery. Attaining the raw data wasn't the problem—quickly making it available in a usable format was. The State of Louisiana had been proactive in deploying a network of state and local government GIS departments for capturing, maintaining, and sharing data. As a result, large volumes of imagery, elevation data, vector data, and other spatial layers throughout the state have been collected, but the need to quickly access and process imagery had become a critical issue.
A GIS for Federal, State, and Local Levels
In 1997, LANG hired Mike Liotta to develop a GIS that would assist with its missions at federal, state, and local levels. Liotta's sole responsibility was to develop a robust GIS for comprehensive decision support. Typically, the GIS section helps LANG administer its property, assets, and field deployments. It manages spatial data related to infrastructure, assets, and personnel, as well as produces field maps for training purposes. However, during emergency operations, its responsibilities broaden from a local to a statewide mission.
"Initially, we focused on mapping solutions for managing our military properties," says Liotta, now GIS manager, LANG. "As the state missions became more frequent, we had to look at mapping on a much larger scale."
Through the state GIS community, Liotta got word of a new GIS server platform that was available—ArcGIS Server with the Image extension.
From Hours to Minutes
Before implementing ArcGIS Server, Liotta and his staff built an accurate needs assessment. They worked with the Joint Operations Center, which coordinates LANG emergency operations, and the aviation units that conduct the emergency aerial operations to determine which GIS tools would improve their efficiency in emergency response.
Next, the LANG GIS section teamed with Geographic Information Services, Inc. (GISi), an Esri Business Partner and GIS consulting firm headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, to carry out implementation and development of applications and services.
"We didn't have the resources in-house to develop the tools," adds Liotta. "GISi had an excellent track record of quickly and effectively developing tools."
In October 2008, LANG deployed ArcGIS Server with the Image extension. Immediately, raster datasets that had been deemed unusable because of their size were made readily accessible via image services.
"We had a 14 TB storage area network," says Liotta. "It was 70 percent raster data that was just waiting to get accessed by our users." In addition, LANG had more than 200 GB of newly acquired six-inch digital imagery of its installations.
What once involved many hours of manpower and computer processing had evolved into a sleek, effective process for delivering imagery. ArcGIS with the Image extension fundamentally changed how LANG and its GIS section consumes and deploys large volumes of imagery.
"In the past, as new data came in—especially imagery—we traditionally could only distribute that data by printing maps," explains Liotta. "It was very time and resource intensive. But our new platform has changed all that. With our previous methods, it would have taken several days to get the imagery in widely accessible format." Now, with ArcGIS Server in place, it takes just 30 minutes to turn the raw data into a readily available image service.
"The processing power and speed are amazing," says Liotta. "We can quickly make changes, add or update map and image services, and provide the same view to both Web and GIS desktop users."
Liotta and GISi also rolled out an application that allows Web users to locate coordinates on a map, whether by manual entry or a mouse click on a location. The application allows users to view the data in a variety of coordinate readout formats: DD, DMS, DDM, UTM, MGRS, and more. Users can also enter an address and have it automatically connect to Esri's geocoding service, which locates it on the map and converts it to any of the above-mentioned formats.
"This conversion becomes mission critical when you are trying to get resources to an address location," stresses Liotta. "Whether it's in the air or on the ground, they need that address to translate into a coordinate."
There are also sets of tools for creating graphics and text on the map and quickly measuring distances and areas. These tools allow Web users to create accurate situational overlay maps, which help them better plan their missions.
Another tool exports a digital GIS map to PDF format based on templates created in-house. The map can be exported at various sizes and include a military grid, graphics, text, and imagery. The user can then print or save the document or e-mail the PDF to those who need it.
"We now have the capability we need to effectively provide imagery for our day-to-day operations." says Liotta. "More importantly, when the next large-scale emergency occurs, we'll be able to quickly turn around newly acquired data and imagery to our command staff, soldiers, and first responders. This can make a big difference."
For more information, contact Mike Liotta, GIS manager, Louisiana Army National Guard (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel.: 318-641-5772), or contact Geographic Information Services, Inc. (e-mail: email@example.com, tel.: 205-941-0442, Web: www.gisservices.com).