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Spring 2009

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Indiana Department of Homeland Security Implements Disaster Response System


  • The IDHS system uses a Web portal to link local and county resources with state and federal stakeholders.
  • The system component IndianaMap is a single, statewide geospatial resource for Indiana.
  • The department now has powerful capabilities for mitigation, response, and recovery.

Esri ServicesLarge-scale emergencies—floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, terrorist attacks—are multifaceted events that impact tens of thousands of lives. Response to these major incidents involves multiple agencies. The key to a successful response—to get people, equipment, and supplies where they are needed as quickly as possible—is establishing a communication network that provides a complete picture of what's happening in real time. It also requires bringing together all necessary parties, from private entities to city, county, and federal agencies, to share information and resources and to work in an effective, integrated fashion.

  click to enlarge
A screen shot from the Emergency Operations Center service depicting a quick assessment of total possible damages. The end user creates a polygon depicting the extents of the affected area.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) recently embarked on an ambitious campaign that provides just such a communication network based on server, desktop, and Web GIS technologies. It provides a two-way stream of information flow among local, county, state, and federal agencies that is vital to disaster response.

"We wanted to leverage resources already in place with other state agencies and in the universities across the state," says Roger Koelpin, GIS/critical infrastructure planner, IDHS. "We are able to work with those partners as resources for our internal disaster recovery strategy and continuity of operations planning. Ultimately, we hope to turn this into a viable process for bottom-up reporting of data to meet federal data calls and to keep our federal partners informed as part of our routine, authoritative, common operating picture."

Outlining Project Goals, Selecting a GIS Partner

In 2006, IDHS worked with internal state government partners to develop a vision for an enterprise information system that could support a common operating picture to assist homeland security, disaster response, and recovery. The goal for the agency was a project that would establish an authoritative source of geospatial information for the agency and its partners before, during, and after an event.

"Since all disasters are local," comments Koelpin, "our focus fixed immediately on enabling counties to maintain and host their data and then to incorporate our products in their views of the situation on the ground."

The agency identified four goals for the project. First, a process to collect information from the counties needed to be developed. Second, agency officials wanted to transform county data into a statewide dataset while reconciling the individual county data structures with standard state and federal data models. Third, the agency wanted to provide enterprise-class services for users both within the homeland security community as well as those in the broader communities of government and private business. Lastly, the agency needed to build the system in the most cost-effective manner possible.

Following a period of evaluation, IDHS selected Esri for its GIS software and services. Esri Professional Services staff worked with IDHS staff to incorporate Esri software, including ArcView, ArcEditor, ArcInfo, and ArcIMS, into its disaster response system. The technology framework of the system involves Esri Business Partner ESi of Augusta, Georgia, and its WebEOC Web-enabled crisis information system. In addition, Safe Software Feature Manipulation Engine (FME) from Esri Canada Limited Business Partner Safe Software of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, was selected to help extract data from stewards' Web Feature Services and to transform the data to the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data model.

ArcGIS Server was deployed as the integration platform that would eventually allow county Web feature services to be automatically consumed and would present the aggregated data to first responders for real-time situational awareness when a large-scale incident occurs.

"The current focus of the project is on consuming datasets hosted by various stewards and joining them together for publication," says Koelpin. "Identification of customer needs and development of additional functionality will begin once the migration to a production environment is completed in the coming weeks."

A Common Operating Picture Using Web-Based GIS Services

"During emergencies, a lot of time and effort is spent trying to verify reports," adds Koelpin. "Allowing end users to map their observations and requests will streamline this. Also, call takers staffing various emergency support functions will be able to virtually see how the situation on the ground is unfolding."

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A screen shot of the Executive View service, which was tailored for use during response and recovery from the June flooding.

The enterprise disaster response system provides several functions. First, it can be used for mitigation, with state agencies identifying high-risk populations, infrastructure, natural resources, and other assets. Second, it can provide instant response capabilities. When a disaster strikes, real-time situational awareness occurs. Using GIS, commanders can make quick decisions on where to send law enforcement, fire personnel, emergency medical services staff, and other responders. They can instantly see available resources, prioritize activities, and monitor events in real time as they unfold. This capability also helps with long-term recovery.

A major component of the system comes from Indiana university partners who are already using GIS and related technologies to publish IndianaMap: a single, statewide geospatial resource for Indiana that includes a wide variety of information in a format accessible to both expert GIS users and the general public. The strategy of working with universities allows IDHS to leverage the databases and tools these academic institutions use in their individual GIS work. It also provides a decentralized information network that can supply data and applications should state government information systems be disrupted or become inaccessible.

Part of the system involves the ability to automatically extract, transform, and load (ETL) consumed data into the U.S. DHS geospatial data model to create one seamless geodatabase. It also involves the ability to produce map documents using the DHS data model in one standard format. Users can publish map documents as Web map services that can be securely and easily used by first responders. Short-term goals include being able to inform back-office support to field response personnel. Commanders and planners can currently use uploaded data captured remotely to publish a geocoding and geoprocessing service to locate incidents and estimate their impact.

Extending the System

Presently, 23 counties offer data in support of the IDHS disaster response system. Roughly one-third of Indiana's 92 counties host their own GIS software and databases. Another third of the counties have vendors hosting their data in proprietary 911 call-center applications. Some of these counties are working with their vendors so that they may help maintain the IDHS common operating picture. Some of the counties in the remaining third are using grants to bolster GIS operations either with vendor support or on their own.

IDHS is currently working with county stakeholders to more fully integrate and extend the different GIS efforts.

"We'll continue to develop solutions that meet evolving local, state, and national geospatial needs for homeland security," says Koelpin. "Our reliance on a standards-based architecture to collect data is allowing counties to leverage efforts on behalf of IDHS for their internal needs. Internal needs within counties are growing as state agency counterparts automate their data collection and reporting lines of business. Planning for the future means further exploration of shared capabilities and needs at the local, county, state, and national levels."

More Information

For more information, contact Roger Koelpin, IDHS (e-mail:, tel.: 317-232-0181), or Alex Wernher, Esri (e-mail:; tel.: 909-793-2853, ext. 1-1157).

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